While I was enduring the eighth grade at St. Pius X School, a dear and devoted person crossed in and out of my life. Debi was my first girlfriend. A student at J. Sterling Morton Junior High, she lived less than a mile away from me, but I hadn’t know her before and someone must have matched us up, or perhaps we met at the roller rink. For no apparent reason that I could discern, she cherished me and put a lot of effort and enthusiasm into our friendship. I was surprised at my great catch. She was not only a pretty girl but also four or five inches taller than I. We were together just a few times, but one of those meetings I’ve never forgotten. At a construction site midway between our homes in fast-growing west Omaha, we passed an hour inside a cozy den someone had made of straw bales. You had to crawl inside it and couldn’t stand up once you’d entered, which suited us fine. At one of the nearby building lots, some fresh concrete had just been poured, and before we did our crawling we did some scrawling, for Debi—who, as you will see, held romantic notions about life—suggested I write our initials in the blank slate of this wet new pavement. Being already well along the road to Baggy Paragraphs, I did one better than initials and went for the self-incrimination of entire names. Among her many other attributes, Debi was also a sensible girl. As I arrived at the R-o-n-n-i of the intended Ronnie + Debi, likely meaning to inscribe our surnames as well, and maybe even our Social Security numbers, she interrupted, and we retreated to our lair of love. It was merely the first time I’ve benefited from feminine judiciousness.
Worse luck for me, though: After just a couple of months, in January of 1969, Debi’s family betook themselves to Overland Park, Kansas. I’ve often thought of her since. Now, for the first time ever, I’ve reread her letters and found myself laughing and being charmed all over again. She evinces such happiness and fulfillment. Of course she was just 13 years old and demonstrates some strange intellectual lapses and the insecurities and petulance and bossiness that might be expected, but overall she emerges from the pages as a well-balanced person, not to mention an excellent writer and observer. Her accounts of the drill squad cliffhanger and the Super Bowl exultation are exquisite.
My great point about people is that character is established early and indelibly. We might learn to temper our behavior and deal with responsibility and so forth, but deep inside, the fundamental traits persist unabated. An exuberant but responsible 13-year-old probably stands a good chance of a decent life 40 years later. Meanwhile, we reserve our pity for the moody youngster haunted by complexity.
Here, with last names abbreviated where they appear in the original and with creative spelling solutions reproduced faithfully, are the letters and the artwork Debi transmitted through Franny and Nancy, a pair of sisters who lived near her but attended St. Pius.
I can go to the Westroads tonite. But I have to go with Sherry & Nancy so you can get some boys to go down with you or come alone.
Do you ever have anything like selling candy bars at your school? We do and its the this time to sell them. I guess I will sell ’em cause for the grade that sells the most candy bars they get a swim party, you have to sell 12 to be able to do.
They had the Security Patrol out there because of the initials. Nancy to[ld] Jerry to go erase them. That is Cindy A________’s brother.
I don’t think I’ll forget what you look like now. We can get some pictures taken of us if ya want to.
You better at least give your mom a hint that you like me. She maybe getting ideas that your doing things behind her back.
I got my hair trimmed just a little but so it’ll grow faster.
Try not to leave words out of your sentences.
See ya tonite. At what time?
P.S. Are you going to walk down with us or should we meet you down there? Be sure and answer this question.
I’m so sorry I wasn’t there yesterday, but Jolene made up some excuse that she had Deby G____ over and I had told her something to tell you but she couldn’t even be kind enough to do that. Goes to show your good friends (you think) wouldn’t even do me a deed in need.
Too bad you lost. If I was there yelling for you, I bet you would have won the game for me, wouldn’t you?
I couldn’t meet you at Jolene’s because her mother doesn’t approve of that (me coming over too meet you). But I sure could and would meet you at that place where they are building the house. I hope you know where that is! Same time, too.
I’m sorry, but I guess I’m just a fool. I read that note out loud (brains?) in front of Franny and Sherry. Franny is going to tease you too. That snot. Boy she makes me mad. I’d rather you’d give the note to Nancy than Franny (if you could).
I always dream about you! I’m glad I won too. Nancy said Jeff still likes me and there was going to be a fight to the finish. If Jeff would have won, I would have taken you no matter what. (That’s supposed to be true, too.)
I’m sorry about that night after the basketball game. But I read that boys always have a test they give to a girl to see if you’re willing to do what he wants, if he doesn’t like the results he drops her. I sure didn’t want to be dropped by you! Too bad I disappeared.
Steve B_______ doesn’t like me, in fact I think he thinks I’m a queer. I hope it doesn’t change your mind about me. Jolene has a big mouth, so I’m not going to tell her anything any more. She even told Steve I was going with you. He is the last person in the world I’d want to know.
Are you going to that Nutcracker Suite? We are going on Thursday of this week. Big fun.
Franny and Nancy are trying to talk me into getting my haircut like Jody A_____’s? Should I? They think I’ll look cuter? Huh! Me. Forget it. Not me.
My mom got her tooth drilled today, so I had to play nurse. Then to seal Christmas cards & put stamps on. Icky taste it leaves. Just think I played nurse & mailman in one day.
You sure write cool for a boy. I mean all boys I know are very, very messy writers. But not you.
Do you want me to meet you at that place alone I hope? I’ll be sure to wear a warm coat so I won’t be cold.
As far as I’m concerned (on my oponion) nothing could make me break up with you (maybe if you mom found out). Couldn’t you talk to your mom and explain the situation? I want to be able to be welcome in your house and meet your family.
P.S. I think I’ll seal this letter with a kiss. Dumb aren’t I? See if you can find out what our lucky number is You do it by putting your first & last name & my first and last name, write them in square letters. Like so:
Each line is 1. And so on.
1 £ 1
The number I got is 92. 46 is yours and 46 in mine, too.
[Supertext to next letter] I figured out mine was 46. You must not know how to spell my last name. I got 46 for you 2.
Franny is mad at me, you weren’t supposed to tell her I didn’t want you to give the notes to her.
I don’t know who Luther Burbank was.
You are a great poet tell me more about our future.
I didn’t mean to tell your mom we were going together. I meant ask her if you could have anything to do with them. Like come over, call ’em, go to boy girl parties or have them to your house.
When you write you leave words out of the sentence and it makes ’em sound silly.
Do you write the notes in school? Yes, I guess you do, but some of the teachers at our school read them out loud if they catch ’em.
You better meet me! I have to see you. Could you bring me the picture of you? Or bring it to Franny or Nancy at school if it’s not too big.
I talked to Mary Beth and she said we could meet at her house if we needed to. But do you want to meet me alone or not?
This is a crummy pen.
Here’s one I got from my girlfriend:
Your mine until the ocean wears rubber pants too keep his bottom dry.
You never get any of my notes. But I know you can’t help it
We have a faculty game tonite if we have school and I’ll probably have to walk home.
My mom won’t let me go to the movie anyway cause I’m too young. That is with a boy.
I think I’m coming down with the flu. I hope not because I don’t want to be sick over the holidays.
Will I get to see you at all over vacation? You better see me. I have to have a picture of you. Please. I mean one of you now.
We get out at 3:05 Friday. If we have school, I’ll probably go to Westroads with Sherry.
That note Franny spilled grease on that had about Sherry didn’t it? Sherry’s not at all like that. She knows about it & admitted about Marti she went farther than that too! Sherry’s a whole lot different. Does she have a bad reputation at Pius? She sure thinks so. Tell the people she’s not like that ‘K’?
Thanks for the stationary. I can use it.
The rest of this is from the note you never got.
Thanks for being so faithful. You don’t have to be. Cause isn’t girl watching a boys favorade sport?
Laurie L_______ babysat across the street from your house 2 nites and said she babysat your brother too. He said you have lots of girlfriends. You better make it clear you like me.
Heres some posters for you. I’ve got some up on my wall. But it says your name instead of mine. I made a real cool one real big & I have some sayings on it. I want all of my friends to sing it. You especially.
(put my last name for kicks)
Hope your foots O.K.
P.S. Nancy told begged me for you to ask Steve to come over or home from school with you because she has a present too big to take to school.
Jolene wants to know what you think of her. Hope it’s bad.
Barb isn’t queer! (Ya she is a little & fat too.) Anyway holding her hand was just a joke.
I hate those black & brown shoes. I think they are so ugly. They make your feet look like there about 2 feet long.
I don’t think you should come up. Cause I’m going to be so busy packing & stuff. Besides I have to go to Westroads with Sherry. (My mom & dad get kind of mad, too!)
Talking about evil, the boys in my room throw air planes with pins on them. I take the pins and bend them.
I hope you got some pictures for me.
Nancy sent this up at 10 o’clock with her mom. I have ta go to bed now. Good nite.
P.S. We wong won our game today 42-40.
[Note: Maybe Debi wasn’t my very, very first girlfriend, and I must have confessed to her spending an afternoon with a gorgeous blonde who, coincidentally, had also moved away to Greater Kansas City.]
I was real glad to hear from you. I didn’t know if you’d write or not. Sherry’s writing to Chad so I decided to write you. Oh I didn’t tell you Sherry was here. She came down today and gets to stay for 10 beautiful days. We’ll have so much fun and so many things to talk about. Nancy & Steve broke up but Nancy still likes him or that’s what I heard from Sherry.
Yes I’ve been on vacation. I just got back from St. Louis the day you wrote me. I had alot of fun. Just my dad and I went. I bet you had fun in Florida!
I saw Lynn W_____ at Ward Parkway. She’s twice as fat & not too cute at least I don’t think so at all.
Cool girlfriend huh? I hate her.
She’s a big slut and so know [now] all the adults around here think I’m that way too. God, even you know how goody I am. I’ve changed a lot since I moved. I better. I have so many boyfriends. (Not trying to brag, just stating a true fact.)
Who is Bruce L’s girlfriend?
I know all the people from Morton you met except for Claudia. You really got started off on the right foot when you picked your friends!
I go swimming kinda alot but I don’t have a good tan at all. I’m still working on it.
How good are you on the board doing fancy stuff? I’m pretty good. I learned how to do a front flip and I think I’m pretty good at it even though I don’t know or care what other people think. I learned how to do that on vacation. It was so-o hard to learn. I bet I landed on my back 80 times after about 10 times my back was so numb I couldn’t feel it. Wow! Exciting.
Tomorrow I’ll probably be so-o tired. Sherry & I are going swimming from 12-9. We’ve both got to get a good tan, I could care if I turn black.
There’s this one guy at the pool that is a real babe! Hi is so cute! Only I notice him looking at me constantly and I look at him alot too. But I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me. I just can’t get up enough nerve to say hi. That is unusual for me since I’m about the biggest flirt in the world.
Whose your new girl or don’t ya have one yet?
Is Jeff going to write me or not? If he isn’t have him send me a pic of him.
Oh ya—Thanks alot for your pictures. You look really great in them. I’ll send you a picture of me if you want one but I don’t look like that at all now. My hair is about to my shoulders now and blonde too. I finally talked my mom into letting me put a straightener on it. So about a week ago I put ‘Curl Free’ on it. It worked pretty good. Oh ya its to my shoulders in the front and about 3 inches longer in the back.
Well I’m all out of news.
Hi! Well when I was in town I had so little time to do anything or see anybody, sorry.
I pity you for having Tharpe for art. I hate him so darn bad. Tell Mr. Munson Debi T_______ said hi and if he doesn’t remember me tell him the stripper that moved!
I like about 10 different guys, nobody in particular now anyway.
I am 5’4″ and I weigh about 110 more or less. I think my measurements are 32-24-34, I’m not too sure.
We should get our school pictures back pretty soon so by the next time I write you I’ll send you one.
Here’s the best news there can be for anybody. I tried out for drill team & made it. I’ll tell you all about it. Be prepared, here goes. At our school we have a drill team which consists of 45 girls. They go to all the other junior highs in the district and march and do a dancing routine for them. Its so much fun and you are lucky to be on it. Its a privledge I think. Well anyway we went 4 days and learned a marching routine and dancing routine with pompoms. Then we had the first tryouts last Tuesday and about 250 girls tried out. We had to get out there in front of 7 teachers and do our dance routine in groups of 4 people. It was scarey and I only goofed up once. Only 73 girls made it that day and then on Thursday we had to do the marching routine by ourself in front of the 4 teachers. That was real scary!! I goofed up there too. I was doing it perfect until one part then I glanced up at the teachers and just stopped right there & stood there and I had to start over, then I did pretty good. Thursday nite I actually had myself convinced I didn’t make it. Our whole family never went through so much worry as in these past 2 weeks. I lost about 14 hours of sleep altogether. But anyway Friday when I went to school when I saw I made it I started crying I was so happy.
I’ll tell you more about this in the next letter I’m so tired. I’m going to fall asleep its pretty late.
P.S. Please write back within a week. I haven’t had a letter in ages it seems like.
October 26, 1969
Dear Ronnie, (or is it Ron now?)
Hi. I’m going to answer your questions first, okay. All I ever seem to do on Friday and Saturdays and most weekdays is babysit. I make over $40 a month no kidding either. Our football team lost 1 or 2 games only. We have 2 teams for each grade level, A team & B team. We always go to the A team games. We only lost our first and maybe yesterdays game, I’m not sure cuz I had to leave early. But today the Chiefs won 42-22. Yea! Oh, yea, tell good ole Nebraska I’m proud of her beating Oklahoma like she did.
Here’s a pic of me. Hope you like it. I’m sending you a colored & black & white one. Please send the colored one back as soon as possible cuz I have to send it to alot more people. I’m sending your pictures back cuz I want you to sign them & mail them back to me. In your next letter I expect 3 pictures coming back to me.
I can type pretty good too. But my fingernails are so long they always get in my way.
I know who Debbie B______ is, are you going with her yet? I like this guy named Jim V______ and he sure is cute!!! He’s tall too, only 6 ft. Thats quite a change after you, shrimp. He called me Friday nite & I was so happy. Tomorrow nite my girlfriends Catholic religion class is having a party and he is in her class and wants me to come. They are going to show a movie for about 15 minutes. Hope something exciting happens. There’s also a all school party on Halloween. Hope he asks me to it. Phone’s ringing I hope its Jim. Darn, darn darn it was someone else.
Don’t let anybody read the next part of my letter please!! I wish I would have made out with you when I had the chance cuz boy that’s almost all anybody does down here, except me of course. The first time I made out was this summer with a junior, was I scared! You know the real reason I broke up with you, it wasn’t cuz I was moving but that excuse came in handy at the time, it was cuz I was chicken to make out. Please don’t show this letter to anyone. Please!!
I think we get our report cards this Wednesday, maybe not maybe its next Wednesday. Boy is this ever a easy week, Monday (tomorrow) I have to go to that party, Tuesday all the 9th graders get TB tests free, Wednesday I might get to model in the girls school fashion show unless some of the clothes the lady brings me don’t fit right & Wed. nite some girl is going to come out and see me about Job’s daughters. Thursday nothing & Friday the school party.
My writing in this letter is crappy cuz its so small. Believe me its not usually this bad.
Don’t be mad about the first paragraphs on this page but I’m sorry but I thought it might be nice you know.
Tell a__ to write me please.
Our drill team hasn’t done any performance yet. We practice every Monday nite after school.
Write soon & don’t forget to send me all the pictures (3 of them) back.
November 23, 1969
Sorry I took so long to write but have I ever been busy! Don’t even have time for myself.
I like your picture. Its good. I like your hair too. It looks really neat.
I’m sure glad you aren’t mad at me. I don’t know why I thought you’d be but anyway I’m glad I told you about it. Hey our anniversary passed a year ago the 18th we started going together. Did you remember? I did!
Our report cards came out. My grades are as follows:
Science – B
I missed the honor roll by one grade. That stupid Algebra teacher hates me and I hate her!
I don’t like Jim any more. See this kid named Dean F______ wrecked it for me. He’s liked me since May (he lives by me) and he’s tried to get me so many times its pathetic but I’d never like him. So he decided if he can’t have me nobody will and he broke Jim & I up from liking each other because Jim is in his woodshop and Dean talked to him in there. Now this other guy I like now is also in Deans woodshop but nobody knows I like him but my best friend & I. I’ve got to get him to take me to the next dance, its not until December 12 so I have some time to work on him. He’s real cute and also about 6 ft. He’s in my Science class so I can talk to him alot in there when we do experiments.
I can’t wait till Thursday! I’m going to go to the Chiefs football game. It ought to be good since we’re playing Denver. Watch it on T.V.
I sure hope Nebraska wins the Big 8. I was really glad when they beat Kansas. I watched the game on TV. It was a goodie!
My sister and brother say hi. Aren’t you lucky?
Would you please tell Sherry A__ to write me? I haven’t heard from her in ages it seems, not since August.
Better go now. Please write soon.
December 8, 1969
Thank you soooo much for the necklace. I just love it. I had told about everyone what I wanted was that and then here I get one. Its just darling and thanks a million.
Hows life been treating you? Still looking good I see.
Write soon you own me.
Hi! How goes it? I’m really sorry I haven’t written and I know you won’t believe me but I actually was going to write you Monday, the day I got your letter. I have been so wrapped up in my 5 activities that I don’t hardly have time for school work. I’ll tell ya my five activities just in case you a curious. Sewing, Drill Team, Jobs Daughters, Babysitting and last but not least BOYS.
How do you like the way the Kansas City Chiefs smeared the Minnesota Vikings? [Super Bowl IV was played January 10, 1970, at Tulane Stadium, New Orleans, and the Chiefs won 23 to 7.]God it was a good game! If you didn’t watch it … well, shame on you. We are the World Champions, NO 1!!!!! Nobody is better than CHIEFS. You couldn’t possibly imagine how happy I was when we won the Super Bowl. But I was even happier when we beat those _______ Oakland Raiders. That quarterback Daryle Lamonica is So-o-o conceited. Their team was so sure they were going to beat us for the AFL title that they actually went out the nite before the game and celebrated. They even had the room in New Orleans all ready. Gosh am I glad we beat them!! I cried too, just a few tears. Back to the Super Bowl. Did you see it? Did you see either game? My gosh was the Super Bowl good!! We had the game all the way. Especially since Jan Stenarud made the filed goal from the 48. My favorate part was when Otis Taylor made that great catch and ran for the touchdown. We were supposedly underdogs in both games. But we went to it and showed ’em! Yep, I watched part of the Sun Bowl [Nebraska 45-Georgia 6] after the Kansas City game. We were playing New York Jets then. If you can’t tell I love football!!!!
Nope K.C. doesn’t have an underground radio station at least not that I know of.
Didn’t you get my thank you note for your present? If not thanks a million. I love it and wear it practically every other day.
My Christmas was great too! I got 2 pairs of pajamas, (one with feet in them) some Wind Song perfume, a billfold, panty hose, Snoopy dog, book, etc.
I haven’t seen Butch Cassady but I saw Dr. Zchivago. I didn’t really like it that well.
It sure has been almost a year since I moved. In fact it will be the 25. It doesn’t seem like it at all to me! This year (9th grade) has gone so-o-o fast I can’t believe it!!
I’m doing okay with boys. About 6 guys like me but I don’t like any of them. I like a junior that lives clear across the city and goes to North. (I’ll go to South next year.) He likes me too. I only seem to see him once or twice every 5 months. I just saw him last Friday and before that I hadn’t seen him since August. In a way he makes me mad. He tells my friend he’d go with me if he had an I.D. or ring. He can at least go out & buy one.
No, I sure don’t remember Debbie H______. In fact I’ve never even heard of her. Tell me what she looks like or do you have a picture of her? I want to know, so don’t forget.
We’ve played 3 our of our basketball games and won them all so far. I have only been to one of them.
Who do you have for Math? I had Lawyer. Ick. I take Algebra. Ick. Its hard!!!!
You think you’ve been busy. I don’t see how I found time to write. I’m supposed to be doing my homework but don’t tell on me okay?!?
What in the world do you mean you’ve been going once a month? Where? Roller skating. I don’t think I’ve been skating since last July. No kidding.
I usually babysit on Fridays & Saturdays. I have to babysit here this Saturday darn.
I charge 75 cents an hour now. Everyone does now. You should go up.
I just looked over your past letters and saw you had Munson for Study Hall. Tell him hi for me and if he doesn’t remember me tell him “the stripper’! That was his special nickname for me. Sweet isn’t it. Tell me what he says too.
Better go and get my homework done.
That was her last letter. Afterward she utterly disappeared from my life. Reviewing all of it now exposes how I had very early established the type of girl and woman who would consistently interest me: spirited yet self-contained, from a good family background, clear about her goals.
The irrepressible Debi must remain at large on the face of the earth. My guess is she curates a photo archive.
I wonder if she still hates the Raiders.