True Romance?

(Puppy Love to Dog Lust at Woodstock School) 

Pitter pat goes the heart. A slight elevation of blood pressure. A mild flushing of the skin—just barely a blush. Averting the eyes that are strangely compelled to return to…her. Or him. Breathing goes slightly out of sync. Giggling when nothing is particularly funny. 

You know all the symptoms. 


Indians say marriage is like putting cold food onto a hot plate. The food slowly warms up. Not at all like we do in the west which, Indians say, is like taking hot food and putting it on a cold plate—everything becomes cold. We attended numerous weddings of Indian friends who met at the altar…literally. They had never seen each other before. Their parents arranged the wedding and the romance factor was nil. Zero. But a year later, wow, it was clear there was a bond of affection and romance there. 

But we, we were not Indians. We were red-blooded American boys and girls, albeit caught in a twilight zone, in a land far, far away. 

I have already delved into that touchy subject of…uh, sex. But teenage true love, ahh, and romance, yes, these were a facet of life that provided endless topics of discussion, suspicion, jealousy, and hilarity, often all at the same time.

Inez McKenzie was the first one to tip me off balance. Her dad was a doctor at LCH (Landour Community Hospital) and they lived in the bungalow across from Sunny Bank (and in which as a kid, during a period it was vacant and abandoned, Gordy kicked a can that went flying and whose jagged edge ripped my upper lip nearly in two and provided the first eight of nearly a hundred stitches that I possess in the region above my shoulders). Inez was in seventh grade, I was in eighth. I would sit on the pushta above the gate and we would chat, laugh and stare at each other. I was bewitched and no longer in possession of my senses. 

It was a weird, wonderful feeling–our times were short and furtive but fun. I could not possibly risk the ridicule that would have been heaped upon me if this “puppy love” were to become known. Dog lust was OK for the older kids, but puppy love somehow was routinely laughed out of existence.

“Plusies” was grade-school stuff. Even then we were sorting out this male-female attraction thing. DM + EF (initials sufficed) indicated that someone felt affection for someone else—these telltale signs were left carved in trees, or on the blackboard and, being a small school, anyone could decipher the initials. The primary reaction when confronted or teased was, of course, denial. Deny deny deny was our response. But if it was true, then the reaction changed to “lie, lie, lie.” 

The ditties were endless: “Doctor, Doctor can you tell, what will make poor Sarah well?   She is sick and about to die.   That will make poor Tommy cry!” Or whoever.

“Plusies” evolved into something a bit more once we hit high school. Date someone two times, maybe three, and you were going steady. By that point it was no secret and everyone knew it.

There were a number of social occasions at the school to help get the “getting to know you” ball rolling. Plays, several times a year. Concerts, likewise. Movies in town. And, in some quarters, dances (as I have said elsewhere, in our particular mission circle there were three sins: drinking, smoking, and the third was like unto it, dancing. So we didn’t). It was all pretty tame. A little hand-holding. A little smooching. And it seemed, in our day, that not much got beyond that (OK, having said that I am waiting for my friends to deluge me with their tales of lechery). If it happened, mum was the word, as one couple (who will go unnamed since I don’t want to get cold-cocked at the next Woodstock reunion) discovered after separate visits with the principal, Mr. Burgoyne.  As a result they were not at school for the rest of that semester.

After Inez it was Jane Brooks. In fact, this was my first official date and it occurred in the spring at the end of eighth grade. Jane was not an MK, her folks were with US AID or something. She was dark haired, vivacious and beautiful in every way (and she is showing her husband this paragraph as we speak). It took considerable nerve to ask her out to a concert, but I did it. There were five of us guys that decided to launch into this girl-thing together. Well scrubbed and in the finest we had (which basically meant washed jeans and a clean shirt) we five left together, picked them up together, sat together, engaged in senseless chit-chat together, returned them back to the dorm together, and went home. Not a great start…but a start. 

Do I remember anything else about that first date? Anything at all? The clear night? The moonlight playing with the shadows? Her bright smile and delicate features along with a hint of perfume? Nope. None of that. Just a sense of relief that she had accepted and I had not made a total fool of myself. Plenty of opportunity for that would come later.

For the next several years my one-to-one contact with girls (i.e. dating) was pretty much non-existent. There was lots of one-to-one contact in a group context. The way it worked was like this. If a girl was from your mission (in my case, TEAM) you could be very friendly and it meant nothing. We had lots of fun together; taffy pulls, playing monopoly, ping-pong. Lots of interaction, even occasionally snapping the bra-strap under the pretext of playing tag after a potluck out in the yard at Ellengown Bungalow. To get romantically serious, however was, ah, somehow, a bit, kind of, ah, “incestuous”. Kinda sort of. So Ruthie, Dora Lynn, Mary Ellen, and Miriam and Karen became good friends and we could talk freely and share openly. And we did. It was healthy and wholesome.

It seemed the further along in high school we got, however, the more complicated the whole girl-boy thing became. And at times it got seriously complex.

The vortex that nearly sucked me under began halfway through my Junior year.

The Beatles had hit the scene. Their catchy, and now classic tunes were being played everywhere…even there at Woodstock. More controversial than the music was their hair—a longish mop. They had even made a pilgrimage to Rishikesh, just down and the hill and around the corner from us—less than 40 miles away. Their “guru” was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, he of eventual TM fame (transcendental meditation). Several of us thought it would be neat to go down to Rishikesh see if we could see them at the Maharishi’s ashram, but nothing came of it.

What was ringing in our ears was the tag line of one of their songs, “All you need is love, love. All you need is love.”

And that, I thought, was what I needed. Not that my parents did not love me. They did. But what I needed was someone to cherish me who didn’t have to if she didn’t want to. It appeared up to this point that nobody really wanted to.  

In the second half of our Junior year the sweetest thing showed up in our class. Connie Edwards—blond, cute and smart. I hoped that opposites attract. Her mother had graduated from Woodstock in the same class as Aunty Anita and both had returned to India with their husbands. The Edwards were missionaries in Assam and Connie’s mom was a doctor and her dad a hospital administrator. Her younger brother Johnny came too and was in Norman’s class.

Because of the connection with the Warrens, Connie was up at Bothwell Bank a lot and kind of entered our circle of friends. It did not take me long at all to fall fully and fatally into love. Fatally for me, that is.

She went with me to one or two things. But that was it. She was way too nice to be rude, but she said “no” so diplomatically that I missed the point entirely. I was, if anything, blindly persistent. She was faultlessly, positively negative. 

This went on for a year. I ended up taking Lilly Anne Stewart to the Junior-Senior banquet. Finally, in the spring of our senior year (ah, Spring, when love blooms and is sometimes squashed like a cockroach), Connie had had enough. I asked her if I could walk her down to Woodstock Villa for some occasion. There are certain things one never forgets. This moment was one of them. As we came into the yard at Woodstock Villa, she turned and looked at me and said, “Steve, when are you going to realize I am not going to go out with you? Please do not ask me again, for anything, under any circumstance.” 

The “vortex” sucked out every romantic feeling from my being. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

After that function, that same evening, I was coming up from Hostel and just above Hostel I met Hoss and Gamble coming down. We sat down to chew the fat. Hoss liked Kathy Judd and was attempting to get something going with her. I told them my sad tale of unrequited love. Jantzen came along and joined us.

“Well, Van Rooy, you idiot. She likes Jantzen,” Hoss blurted out.

Jantzen was somewhat surprised –this was news to him. Kathy, it appeared, liked Jantzen too. I wondered how Jantzen was doing this. Apart from being smart, athletic and handsome, what did he have that I didn’t? He must have been on the opposite end of my vortex. As we talked it appeared that if everyone moved over one chair, everyone would be lined up with the person that “liked” him. It was a hoot.

And then the Zinger. “And, Van Rooy, the person that is crazy about you is Mary Self.”

“WHAT?!” There was a mild jangling going on in my brain. 

My contact with Mary had not been significant and I wondered how this came about. The mystery of love and romance (if it could be called that) was getting deeper and more mysterious.

Hmmm. I was going to have to weigh this option. But before I could think about doing that, something else happened.

My brother Norman was something of a lady’s man. I knew Norman well. I had grown up with him. What was it that made the girls hang on him like flypaper? It was a mystery to me. At that moment he was “going” with Marilyn Bertelson. That had just started. But it seemed that he also had an interest in Carol Johnson. And this was a bit peculiar. Carol was in the class above him, and one below me. It was part of the code at Woodstock that older guys could date younger girls. But it was considered somewhat “unseemly” if an older girl went with a guy from a class below (a class below was, in fact, a “class below”). But there were exceptions (weren’t there Phil and Hillary?). So here was Carol, sweet, petite, interested in my brother Norman. But he was not available.

So Carol came to me one evening and asked if we could talk. It always starts with these innocent conversations, doesn’t it? Ostensibly she wanted to talk about Norman and that situation. And at first she did. But then, after a couple of these “counseling” sessions, whatever affection she had for Norman had, mysteriously (there’s that dang word again) transferred itself to me.

I tell you I was never going to figure this thing out. What I wanted to happen (Connie) was not going to happen. What I was getting (Carol) was coming off a ricochet. It was too much. I simply succumbed to love. The feeling was marvelous–an inner warmth, a sweetness in the soul, unsullied affection. I was beginning to warm up to that Beatles song again. Indeed, maybe they were right. Maybe all we needed was love!

But (storm clouds please, timpani in a thundering rumble)….Mary. Mary Self did not particularly care for this unexpected turn of events. Mary, it seems, felt jilted and gypped even though in my view she was not a part of the equation. And late one night as I wandered around the chukkar in total pitch black (you could only do this if you knew the path well and I did), who should I bump into above Firs but Mary Self and Kathy Getter.

Now, I have to tell you I liked Mary. She was one sharp cookie. But at that point I had no feelings of affection. I had a certain reservoir of feelings and it was all being channeled a different direction. We had a frank, open discussion. The upshot was that I told her, listen, we were six weeks from graduation and I had my hands full—uh, of exams, the play we were doing in which I had the lead role, “The Crucible,” and there was simply not enough time to sort this thing out given we were all leaving, so let’s all just be friends, OK?

And so, the curtain closed for me on Woodstock School. But just before that curtain closed, another curtain started to open up—to a stage that held drama, trauma, misery and mystery, and oh so much more. 

And ringing in my head was that dang song, “All You Need Is Love”. 

Oh yeah? That and a good spreadsheet to sort out the complexities.


End note:  I am still in touch with and remain good friends with Mary Self (now Skarsten), as well as with Connie Edwards (now Vitaliti) and all the other girls mentioned here.  And, whew, I am now happily married.