I worked the same shifts as my brother Danny because he could drive. Danny met a lovely young waitress, Jean, whose sister also worked there. Jean and Kelly were from a military family and had recently moved to the Charleston area. Jean was a high school senior. Younger sister Kelly was a junior, age 17. Both were older than Danny. In time, Jean and Danny wanted to date, but her parents were reasonably strict and only allowed ‘double-dating.’ Thus, I became Kelly’s summer companion. She presumed me to be at least 16. Somehow, my immaturity did not destroy the ruse. Because Jean and Danny enjoyed companionship, Kelly and I steadfastly consented to their accompaniment. We may have attended every movie made in the summer of 1966.
By August, we were with each other on an actual date every week. The seventeen-year-old Kelly didn’t seem to mind my adolescent personality or tendency to make nervous humor from even the most serious of subjects. Kelly had made the Garrett High School varsity cheerleading squad. I was not yet in high school.
One late August evening, Danny dropped me at their house and took Jean with him to fill up the car with gas. We were alone. Kelly placed a Bobby Vinton album on her Dad’s floor model stereo. I sat on the sofa. She was quiet and always seemed shy. She shook loose her light russet hair and came to me with soulful green eyes. Her soft voice was demure, but reserved. She stepped out of her shoes and sat next to me as the Vinton music played. It was momentarily evident that I should establish my truthful date of birth. She curled up and leaned over to kiss me. In my panic I put up no resistance. It was likely the most forgettable kiss she had ever experienced. She told me that she wanted us to have a song together. She got up and moved the needle manually to “Blue Velvet,” a big hit of that era. She sat back down with me, closer yet. I was smitten. This sudden show of affection caught me off guard. She asked me if I found her attractive.
“Of course, Kelly, but…”
Just as I was about to ‘blow my cover’ as a fourteen year old in the precariousness of the unknown life ahead, Jean and Danny walked in. To Kelly, I remained 16. Crisis averted! My promise to the Shoney’s manager was not broken. But I was now enraptured. I had aged forward that evening.
Our next date was to be the following Friday. I could not wait! We were to see ‘The War Wagon’ featuring the great Western actor John Wayne. But Kelly wasn’t at work that day. Jean said she was home. I called to make sure she was all right. Her mother told me she was away and that she would call me when she came home. The evening date time found no Kelly. Danny and Jean canceled the date. I spoke to Jean the next morning at Shoney’s. She was evasive, telling me that Kelly would call me later. There was no call. I called twice more on Saturday and twice again on Sunday. No Kelly. I was now both perplexed and disappointed. When Jean came into Shoney’s on Monday, she spoke with me privately. Kelly had a former boyfriend from the previous high school. The young man had just completed his training at Parris Island to become a U.S. Marine. He had come to Charleston the prior Thursday. They eloped on Friday. Yes, eloped! Kelly’s family was frantic. The beautiful young Kelly had spontaneously married someone I did not even know had existed. That awful kiss must have changed her life. This was an abysmal end to the promising days of a young romance.
So, at barely fourteen, my infatuation with a new girlfriend was shattered when she broke a date with me, the imposter, and married someone else that night. I wonder if anyone else ever had this experience at fourteen? I never saw Kelly again. To this very day, I have never seen that new John Wayne movie, ‘The War Wagon.’
Tommy McQueeney is a born and bred Charlestonian who graduated from The Citadel with a BA in English, and is a 30 year agent with State Farm Insurance in Mt. Pleasant.