Well, now this is going to be interesting! What happens when you suddenly are face to face with your first girlfriend? Fortunately, we were always nice to each other.
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
It was one of those few “warm and fuzzy” plots in the highly successful 1960s TV series, “The Twilight Zone. The program begins with a man in his late fifties, sitting in an armchair at a family get-together. Swirling around him are his children, grandchildren and the wife from Hell, who are all contemptuous of him. He stayed in the Marriage from Hell out of misplaced loyalty to man-hating woman, who has succeeded in totally emasculating him. Now it is too late to get out.
Suddenly, the show’s host, Rod Serling, intervenes and announces, “You’re travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Twilight Zone!” “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man.”
It is not clear, if the man has had a heart attack and passed on to heaven . . . or merely has fallen asleep as an escape from the hostile environment of his daughter’s house . . . and is dreaming. Suddenly, he is transported back to a high school sock hop and he is dancing with his first girlfriend. They both are young, full of life and crazy about each other. The time is Fall 1961.
Life is sometimes stranger than fiction
The first time that we danced together was at the tender age of 12, but as romantic as one could get. We were on a cruise boat, sailing down the Potomac River at sunset . . . as Washington, DC’s monuments glowed against the starlit sky.
She is a real person, who I re-connected with on LinkedIN . . . so we will avoid her actual name and just call her Connie . . . after the name of one of the many 45 rpm records that we won at sock hop dance contests. We also won “Walk Like a Man” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”
Lordamercy, could we rock n’ roll. It was seldom that we didn’t walk away from a Lakeshore High School sock hop with several records in our hands . . . given out by Tony the Tiger Taylor, the top DJ at WQXI radio in Atlanta.
Connie is now a lifestyle and physical fitness coach for senior citizens. She is creating a website that encourages older citizens to thrive in their golden years. She is interviewing on video people, 60 and older, who are thriving, while oh so many of our former high school and college classmates are now fossilized. Two days ago, she asked if she could drive up from Atlanta to the mountains to do a filmed interview of me.
I don’t know if one should call my current situation thriving or surviving successfully, but her interviews are outstanding. She presents a very professional voice and dialogue in these videos. I told her that she should have gone into TV journalism. I accepted the request.
Since we always were respectful of each other and always friends, even after our dating period, I am not worried about close encounters of a third kind. There are no bad memories or intense passions to conceal. Since both of our brains are still very much alive and learning, the conversation will probably bounce back and forth from the past to our dreams for the future. That being said . . . it is still going to be a bit surrealistic.
Six decades of history
My parents moved to Metro Atlanta from Gainesville, GA late in the fall of my seventh grade. I was put into the advanced placement class, which included Connie. For the remainder of the time in public school, Connie and I were in advanced placement classes. That was one of the reasons that remained friends.
We first became an “item” on the annual Fulton County School Safety Patrol trip to Washington, DC. Can you imagine 1200 12 year old students on an overnight Southern Railways “Dixie Flyer” train to DC. No school administrator in their right mind would plan such an event now. However, our generation were quite well behaved . . . even though beginning to be very interested in the opposite gender.
The first time that Connie and I danced on the boat going down the Potomac, there was magic. For unknow reasons, we were perfect dance partners. For the next year in high school – 8th grade – we just danced. I don’t recall us even ever making out.
In the ninth grade, we just drifted apart without any formal breakup. Was it the fact that Rock n’ Roll was transcended by The Twist and The Watusi? In retrospect, it was probably the fact that the gals in my neighborhood were much more interested in making-out (getting “physical”) with me. Actually, we also dated casually some in college . . . but Connie didn’t know that in reality my heart was still in Colonia Nueva Sta. Maria in Mexico City.
At the time, we first re-connected on LinkedIN, Connie’s husband was in seriously failing health. He passed away in 2021. Thus, our communications have been intermittent.
Actually, there was another history with her husband, Charles. We were good friends and classmate’s at Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture . . . but she met him later on. In fact, I would not be an architect today, if wasn’t for her husband.
In the spring of my Sophomore year . . . the exact same time, when I befriended archaeologist Arthur Kelly, I had a weird, occult design prof, who didn’t like masculine Native Americans.
You see . . . in that era, we had a special design project, which would basically determine whether we could continue in architecture. The faculty jury gave me an A-. Just as the exhibition hall was about to be locked up, that prof walked in, erased the grade and wrote in an F. I would be expecting to get an A or B+ on my report card, but instead would have received a notice that I was being expelled from the architecture program. As he was changing the grade, he told astonished students nearby that, “Thornton doesn’t look like an architect.”
Charlie ran me down on the sidewalk going back to the fraternity house. He told me to go back to tell Architect Ike Saporta, the head of the faculty jury, what had happened. Apparently, Charlie “borrowed” a key from the Dean’s office, grabbed my drawings and brought them to me. Violating Georgia Tech rules, Saporta gave me a copy of the design jury’s grade sheet.
I then walked up the Hill to the Georgia Tech Administrative Complex in the rain and demanded to see Dean of Students Jim Dull. I told the secretary that I was not leaving until he heard my complaint. Dean Dull agreed to see me and quickly saw that I had been royally screwed by a racist professor. He told me to my face that the professor had violated school policy, but it was also against Tech’s rules for him to interfere with grading of students. Nevertheless, he unofficially put the screws on the weird prof and my grade was changed.
Three years later, I was one of 18 student out of the original class of 187, who received a professional degree in Architecture. Jim Dull and I became lifetime friends.
By the way, unlike the man in the Twilight Zone, I, by the Grace of God, escaped a wife, who was intent on emasculating me. That moment occurred at the Smithsonian Institute, 29 years and 9 months after Connie and I had toured the Smithsonian. This time, I was with a lovely French actress, who shared my love for history, but also realized that men and women should be their lover’s best friend. Part of her soul would be with mine for eternity.
The greatest thrill at a sock hop for young adolescents were the slow dances. This allowed them to press their entire body against someone of the opposite gender . . . and if a teacher or chaperone was not looking . . . steal a kiss. The most romantic of those slow dances was the last dance. If you were under 16, it would be your last chance to touch or kiss . . . because a parent was waiting in a car out in the school parking lot.
During the Fall of 1961, the favorite song for the last dance was “Johnny Angel” . . . sung by Shelly Fabares.