To An Indiana Girl

 The Night I Stood up Sherry Sheridan

I was not much of anything those first couple of years of high school. Being a new kid at University High in Bloomington Indiana I was out of just about every crowd there was. I tried out and played some B team basketball but I was still an outsider. Some very nice people finally took me “in” and I had a group of friends. The year passed uneventfully!

The next summer I was familiar with the Indiana University campus and I played a lot of ball with some of the college guys on the practice courts and I found out that during the summer, the university housed several gatherings of girls from around the state. I can’t remember what they were there for, but I made it a habit to be the unofficial “host” to show them around. I don’t know how Tom Scritchfield learned about my hobby but we got together and we both worked at being the best “hosts” that we could be. With that friendship, I moved to another group within the high school.

I am sure that many people can explain the dynamics of the “cliques” that existed within the school but having been in 2 or 3 of them, it was obvious to me that one of them was based on sports and then there were all the others. For some reason, the sports guys and their girlfriends / cheerleaders seemed to think that I was OK and really not worth beating up, and so I started to hang out with them. There were many smart and beautiful girls around the school but Sherry Sheridan occupied a special place in my mind. I say in my mind because she was Fred Jones girlfriend and if I had even sighed around her he would have turned me into a goalpost ornament. (I have to say that Fred was just about the friendliest intimidating guy I have ever met!) So I kept my mouth shut and admired from afar. Then in November of that year, 1962, I heard that she and Fred had “broken up”.

I had read somewhere that there are very few women on earth who can look in the mirror and be happy; all they see are faults. However, even the homeliest scrawny guy looks in the mirror and sees Paul Newman. That was me. And so unbelievably I asked her to go out on a date with me and even more unbelievably, she accepted! The date of Friday December 7th 1962 was to be my glory day. Of course I don’t have to tell you that when the guys asked what I would like to do on Friday night, I played it to the hilt.

“Sorry guys, I got a date”. And I was nonchalant.
“Who?” several voices spoke up!
I let the silence hang out there and then finally, “Sherry Sheridan.”

Ok, I have had a pretty good life with all kinds of accomplishments, but that moment is among my Top 10. The effect was immediate! Instant pandemonium in the hallway! Several guys wanted me to get last rites because once Fred found out they were sure I would be deceased. The other half thought I was lying but my stupid grin told both groups that I was going out with Sherry and should Fred beat me up, I was counting on sympathy kisses!

The big night came and there was no use in me washing the Rambler because it was an off and on cold rain mixed with snow all day. When the sun went down so did the temperature and it quickly dropped to the low 20’s and then the teens. I was ready several hours early and so I went over to Lee Ballinger’s house to listen to Dick Dale with him and have a Blatz beer. (I only had one!). Then it was time to leave and go to pick up Sherry. As I made my way out of the subdivision bordered by East 3rd and the Bypass, I drove very slowly because the cold temperatures and the wind combined to turn some of the roads to ice. As a new driver, I was going to be cautious.

No one has ever fully explained to me why some of the soft easy turns in Bloomington are banked like the Indianapolis 500 track, but they are. As I rounded a corner near Hillsdale on the high side of the bank, that Rambler started to slide oh so slowly down the banked road right towards a US Mailbox. I hit it with a loud clank. I was flummoxed, but not stuck. I put it in reverse and slowly started to back up. I was going to be ok. That is, until some “parental type” came running out of his house to see what the noise was. I got out of the car, I was ok, the car was ok and the mailbox was just fine. The parental unit wasn’t.

“You have to call the p(oh)lice son”. He said in the time honored Hoosier drawl.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because hitting a US Mailbox is a federal crime.”

Ok, 50 years later I can say “BS” but back then I had pictures of me going to Alcatraz, Sherry getting back with Fred and my parents deciding to trade the dumpy Rambler in on a 409 like Jerry Hartsock had! Needless to say that the police were very busy that night and did not show up for 2 hours and then got mad at the guy for making them come out there. I was 1 ½ hours late to pick up Sherry. Remember, no cell phones in those days and I didn’t think that I would be so long that I should call and cancel. As a matter of fact I would have rather served time on Alcatraz than cancel that date.

When I showed up at Sherry’s house around 9:30 and explained what had happened both she and her mother had a good laugh and Sherry said she thought that I had stood her up! I think that actually put me up a notch in her book. But even though that night was a disaster, it was the beginning of a beautiful few months in both of our lives when we would go out Haunted Housing on the Indiana back roads or to the Starlite Drive-In. Or maybe just drive into the country and explore the world in a way that neither of us had been able to until we were 16. We learned together. It was brief but it was brilliant. I would like to think now for her as well as for me and I have heard third hand that she too treasured those days and her time with me. You are only 16 once.

When I heard that she had died, I cried just as I am doing now. I don’t really know why except that someone that beautiful, inside and out, should not grow old or should not pass away. That is why I am writing this tonight. Much as Thomas Love Peacock wrote Youth and Age to commemorate a love of his life, I am writing this to commemorate Sherry. She was not the love of my life but she was a love in my life. And as much as she may have thought of me, she eventually had a wonderful life with a man whom she loved very much. That made me happy when I heard that.

At the time I learned of her death, I wondered “what can I do” to honor her. I learned that she had a soft place in her heart for Feral Cats, ( of course she would!), and so I sent $32 to a place in Bloomington that looks after them; 16 dollars for her and 16 dollars for me to celebrate the time that we were together.

A few nights later she visited me in my sleep and she was much older than I remember but her smile was just as beautiful and she stroked my cheek a few times and then she was gone.

To An Indiana Girl
(For Sherry Sheridan Sammis)

With Hoagy Carmichael’s ghost
singing In the December forest,
we flew together
across wooden bridges,
past haunted houses,
down dark sparkled roads
that led away from town,
in our 16th year.

Driving along the precipice
of all the sadness yet to come,
we sang Moon River
to the pure black night
that hid the bare branches
of dreams past their glory,
and songs sung long ago,
from innocent eyes.

Now, years later,
the sun rises on a grey day
bereft of promise,
Hoagy’s bones are dust,
and I am alone in this field,
anguished by time,
singing our songs
to an empty road

Thank you for a beautiful hello and a gentle goodbye.
It was so you.
God bless you and rest in peace sweet Sherry