Her Name Is Gretchen

April 24, 2011 by  

Her Name Is Gretchen


Thom Cantrall

Her name was Gretchen and she was destined to become one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known.
I first met Gretchen in the summer of 1959 just after

r I turned sixteen.  I was caring for a horse that belonged toa friend of mine and she had approached this friend about riding his horse, not knowing it was at my place at the time.  He said it’d be okay with him, but she had to clear it with me.

On a rare Sunday off from work that summer, she came to me about her request.  She and my younger brother were in the same class at school, so she knew my name and knew of me, though she didn’t know me at all.
When next I saw her, after she returned the horse that day,

we were both in High School, I was a Junior, while she was a mere Freshman.  It was September and football was in the air.  I was out with an injury, so was not eligible to play.  Even though I had my license, I rode the bus to and from school, as we lived some fifteen or so miles from Sonoma, the town the school was located.  On the bus ride home this fateful Friday afternoon, I happened to be sitting in the same seat as her.  To this day, I’m not sure how that happened, but the bus was full, as it always was, and when I realized someone was sitting beside me, I realized it was Gretchen.  I attempted some small talk with her, being the urbane, suave, older man that I was.  I think it was she who really kept the conversation going.  Somewhere along the line, I asked her if she were going to the game tonight and she answered “No, I don’t have a way to get there and back.”
It must be mentioned there that there was NOTHING in this conversation that should be construed as boy/girl interest.  I was fiercely interested in a girl my own age... a foxy French Canadian who had transferred in the previous winter.  I was in this situation now, simply because I knew her and we were sentenced to the same bus ride together.  With this in mind, and the fact that it was common for country folk to share rides to town, I said,

“Hey, I’m going tonight, if you’d like, you can ride with me.”  I never once dreamed of it as anything but a ride to town and back.  (Guess I wasn’t quite as urbane and sophisticated as I thought at the time).
“I don’t know if my mother would let me,” she answered with a smile. “Could you call me later and I’ll ask if it’s ok.”
I picked her up at her home at 7 pm, still just planning on giving her a ride... I figured I would spend the evening with Donna.... at least watching her.

I hadn’t reckoned with Gretchen.  She never once left my side the whole evening.  We watched the game, of course, and had some snacks and we talked a good bit about many things that I’m sure were important at the time, but of which I have no recall today.  It was a pleasant evening even if it was nothing I had planned.  After the game, I delivered her back to her home and went on to mine and forgot the whole thing.

Now, I had an even bigger problem.  Donna had been there and I was never able to even say hello to her.

The following Monday, back on the bus, returning home from school... I’m not sure what happened that morning, whether

one or the other of us got a ride to school, or if I was already involved with some of my buddies when we reached her stop, but it was in the evening, on the ride home that it happened.  I, again, was on the bus and seated when she got on.  She came directly to my seat and asked if it was taken.  I smiled and said, no, it’s not, and made a motion to her to please have a seat.  We chatted idly for a few minutes as the bus passed through the miles of countryside and wine vineyards our route traversed on the way home.  All at once she shifted in the seat some, moving her books so her hand adjacent to me was free and saying “we may as well be comfortable,” and she took my hand in hers, holding it very tightly as she snuggled close to me.

You could have blown me away with a feather.  I had no idea she felt that way.  And she was a very pretty girl.  As her name might suggest, she was of German descent, very blonde and a bit gangly at that age.  She had a nice shape with real boobs... and she was nice. But what was I?  I was just a big ol’ gawky country boy.  I was 6'4" tall and weighed like one-hundred-eighty lbs… So skinny I had to run around in the shower to get wet.  I was not affluent and did not have a fancy car like most in my class at school.  You must remember this was the day of the “custom car” and in Northern California, customs were de’ rigeur... I used my mom’s 1950 Ford with the hood that was denying its black existence and showing red!
There was nothing to recommend me to a lady of obvious breeding… if questionable taste. She lived in a fine home, her father was an electrical contractor and her mother was a beautiful and sophisticated lady.  Now, if you ask me how much of this was in my mind sitting there on that school

bus that warm September day oh so many years ago, I’d have to say that none of it was.  The only thing in my conscious mind was the fire that was scorching my soul.  It was a fire being generated somewhere in her being and transmitted to me through that hand.  I looked down at it.  It was so pale and dainty there entwined with my big ol’ work toughened mitt.  It had bruises and scrapes on it from having been trod on by football cleats, from being on the business end of a claw hammer too many times and from the attacks by turkeys on the ranch I worked on weekends and some evenings..  It was not a pretty hand, but the tiny one in it was beautiful.
She taught me much, this blonde beauty.  She taught me that Thom could succeed on his own.  She taught me that it was possible for someone to like me for me... not for what I had or didn’t have.  She didn’t care that we were often relegated to just a drive on Saturday after work, or, perhaps, occasionally, a movie at the discount theater... If it was important to her, I never knew.  We fell in love, as young love goes.  We were totally dedicated to one another, we went everywhere together. We learned about life together.  And we experimented some with one another.  And we learned what being happy meant.  I truly believe this was the happiest period of my life.  My grades were extremely high.  If fact, they’d never be as high again until many years later when I entered college after nine years in the military.
I never touched her sexually, though there were times I

felt she wanted me to do so.  The first time I heard a woman breathe the breath of passion it was with her.  We were at the drive in and, as is most usual, we were watching the movie enough to describe it if asked, and were doing a LOT of kissing.  She was a wonderful kisser, I thought, though I learned more later, but I just loved to hold her and kiss her, to feel her body so close to mine.  I never even touched her breasts, though I wanted to so badly, but I didn’t ever want to do anything that would lessen me in her eyes, but this one night…  I’m not sure what happened… maybe it was just the ambiance… or the moon was especially bright, but all at once it was like she had lost some kind of control of her breathing… she laid down on the seat, her head in my lap and pulled me down to her to kiss her more and more… it was sooooo special.  I think if that happened today, more would ensue, but then, not sure what was happening, we did nothing more.  We just held one another and kissed one another.  Tongues not having yet

been invented, the kisses were not tongue laden, but were, nonetheless, quite soul driven.
At Christmas, we exchanged gifts, I don’t know, today, what they were, but I do
remember agonizing for some weeks over the “perfect” gift for her.  I do know they were perfect, especially in light of the fact that this was the first gift I ever received from someone other than family.  My birthday fell on July first and she gave me the most beautiful light grey Stetson you have ever seen in your life.  That hat cost more than my car.
On that day, my seventeenth birthday, my Mom handed me twenty dollars and Dad handed me the keys to the car and they told me to go get Gretchen and take her someplace nice.  (You could do that on twenty dollars then... for me, that was a half week’s pay) To that end, we went for a long drive.  To Mt. St. Helena and the trout hatchery there, where I paid for her to catch two really nice trout.  Then we were off to the ocean, where we walked in the sand and kissed in the open.  Right out there on the beach in front of everyone, we kissed.

We broke up that summer.  Why?  I’ve asked myself that question so many times over the years, and the only thing I can say is it was one of two things, or maybe a combination of the two things.  One: she was too compliant.  I really believe that if I had insisted, she would have had sex with me, if it was what I wanted.  She never voiced an opinion contrary to mine.  If I asked, it was always “we’ll do what you want, I’m happy with that.”  That is not my style.  I ask questions because I want answers.  I want input.  To this day, I cannot abide a yes man.  It does no good to agree when the facts are contrary.  Two: I was too young to be committed to one person. I needed to see what other people were like.  And I just loved her too much to hurt her... though I knew it would.
After I was in the US Navy, some years later, she wrote

me.  She thanked me for our time together, and, like me, regretted our break up… but, she realized, the timing was all wrong.  And she sent me her latest picture.  Oh my gawd, but she was the most beautiful lady I have ever seen, I believe!  She had grown into that gangly body and filled out and matured.  She was tall, almost six feet and looked like a goddess.  I could not believe the beauty of the girl.  That was in 1963, I believe and I have seen or heard nothing from her since.  But I think of her often.  And I remember that taking of the hand on the bus that September Day in another era… in another time.
Gretchen, I love you still... and I always will...