Some recent events that have come to pass have reminded me of a valuable lesson I learned years ago, when I was an adolescent, and -- had I been asked -- had no need for new knowledge. The older I get, the more I realize I need to learn. I would really like to be able to pass a portion of this important information on to my progeny, but some of this stuff simply must come from painful experience.
The lesson to which I refer above had to do with two young women. The first was a girl named Brenda Combs, who originated out of North Carolina and resided for a time with her aunt and uncle -- in Athens, Tennessee -- the names of whom have escaped me over the years. I never got the details of why she was living with her aunt and uncle, but my assumption was some complication in her home life. Who knows, really?
Brenda was a short, plush and pretty girl who came and went with the metaphoric speed of an ultrasonic F-15 Tomcat in my youth. She tired of my indecipherable BS after only a few months and broke my heart before moving back to North Carolina and disappearing into the ether for all eternity. Most likely, she has no recollection of me, and -- if quizzed -- would reply, "Who?"
The second young woman was a girl named Shelia Mull (yes, I spelt it correctly -- her first name really is constructed S-H-E-L-I-A). We dated for a respectable time before becoming engaged just after high school graduation. She was, for the most part, sensible. She also was pretty, well put together, and had a resonant alto voice which she put to use in a gospel quartet, driven all over East Tennessee and other regions by her Dad, Kenneth Mull, a rail company employee. All of the quartet and musicians were members of East View Baptist Church in Etowah, Tennessee.
In my teen years, as a passenger in the King's Children van, I saw some of the smallest, backwaterest, most welcoming congregations in the history of organized religion. I met good, bad and interesting people, and learned a great deal about the human condition without even realizing that I was being educated. Then, one night at the Mull hacienda, I received the all-important lesson of which I was recently reminded.
To give you some historical data, the Jergens company used to manufacture a hair care product called, for real, Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific; and they were correct. Further, Brenda Combs -- the plush heart-breaker -- utilized said product on her long, luxurious brunette locks. Any time I was confronted with the aroma thereafter, it was a sharp reminder of the pain of this lost relationship. Mind you, I didn't dwell on it; but I didn't forget either.
A couple of years after said loss, I was at the Mull home one evening, and we were having a buffet-style meal wherein everyone served themselves, found a place to perch, and gnoshed on good, southern food (I'm fairly certain that fried chicken and mashed potatoes were involved). I was -- I can see it in my mind, and I still can't stop myself -- standing in the kitchen, plate in hand, trying to figure the best place to break line, when one of the other members of the quartet -- at about 5' 2" -- walked directly under my nose. The following came rolling out of my stupid yap, unabated by any sense of imminent danger:
"You smell like Brenda," said I, the requisite wonder and awe covered not in the least.
To the best of my recollection, I never stopped paying for that particular transgression until the inevitable -- and yes, even more painful -- break-up. Truth be known, I deserved everything I got for it. It was a stupid and hurtful thing to do, and was an important lesson in simple diplomacy.
Absolute honesty has its place on planet earth, as does thoughtful duplicity. They are the yin and yang of communication which must be applied carefully, with a good deal of forethought and compassion.
But gee, her hair really smelled terrific.