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The wheatgerm crush

My very own red coat

It was my first real crush. He’s never going to read this so I’ll tell you his name – Alex Smythe. I was fourteen and he was twentyish and gorgeous. And I probably should have been charged with stalking; although I didn’t know the word in the pestering context or would have been more restrained. Actually no, I probably wouldn’t have been. It wasn’t easy to negotiate my way into the same groups he attended at the church Easter camp. Our pastor seemed surprised when I signed up for advanced classes and discussions. He quietly murmured, as I filled in the attendance sheets, that I would possibly be bored and not understand the debates and dialogues. I ignored him. How could I be bored; I’d spend the hours gazing at the adored one’s face, or the back of his head. It didn’t matter which. A glimpse of his hand or hair was all I needed to fuel the passion.

With his long floppy blonde hair, penchant for double denim and a cute way of rolling his jacket sleeves to just above the wrist, Alex was unlike any of the boys from school or church. I was a passably attractive, unstylish early teen suffering from an overabundance of earnestness. I wanted to experience life with a capital L and mixing with visitors from other places fed my addiction.

Somehow I contrived to sit at Alex’s table every mealtime, opposite him so I could continue gazing. Mum was helping with the catering and she seemed confused about my choice of seating.

‘All your friends are over there,’ she whispered as she refilled serving dishes and tidied away empty plates. ‘Wouldn’t you rather sit with them?’

‘I’m meeting new people. It’s so interesting hearing about their lives and experiences.’ I knew Alex and his friends came from Brisbane so it was partly true. Their lives were so different; so exotic compared to my boring existence in a small country town.

My older sister Cath, who was supposed to be helping, overheard and sniggered noisily. I threw her a withering glance which she caught but ignored.

‘Janey’s infatuated with that blonde bloke. You won’t shift her with a bomb.’ Cath’s voice was loud and carrying and I hated her. Alex didn’t appear to hear; he was playing with his water glass – twirling it between his fingers. He had exquisite hands.

Please don’t let him have heard and move away. I raised a silent prayer and tried to start a conversation with my neighbour, an older girl who clearly didn’t think I was worth bothering with.

‘It’s lovely here on the mountain, isn’t it,’ I began. ‘Have you been to camp before?’

‘No, and I won’t be coming again. This place is the pits. Segregated dormitories! How perfectly archaic.’ She shook her glossy dark brown hair as if she were in a shampoo commercial and smiled artfully across the table.

Horrors. Alex was smiling back at her. He was probably just being polite. He couldn’t fancy her. Yes, she was pretty, but I’d never heard her make an intelligent comment. I was sure Alex was more interested in a meeting of minds.

After lunch I went to find Mum in the kitchen. I wanted to borrow her new red trench coat to wear to the afternoon meeting. It had a sash belt that could be knotted at the back – a look I’d seen in fashion magazines. She wasn’t there but Cath was, and she started on me at once.

‘You are so transparent. Alex Smythe doesn’t even know you exist; why would he bother with an infant like you?’ She was always rubbing in her slightly greater age and experience. I knew I wouldn’t win an argument so changed the subject.

‘Do you know where Mum is? I thought she’d be here.’

One of the other volunteers spoke up. ‘I think she’s gone to have a rest. It’s been so busy today and she’s coming back to help with the evening meal.’

I went to the couples’ quarters where Mum and Dad had a private room. Mum was there but not lying down. She was sitting on the bed putting on her walking shoes.

‘I thought you’d be resting. Mrs Miller said you were.’

Mum looked up from tying her shoelaces. ‘I had to get out of there. The noise level is deafening, so much chatter and clanging. I’m going for a walk in the bush – come with me?’

It was tempting as Mum was a great person to go walking with; she always knew the names of the plants and birds and saw things I missed. But I’d signed up for a talk on historical theology. I wasn’t interested and had only the vaguest idea of what it actually was. I knew Alex was studying theology so that decided it.

‘Love to, Mum, but I’m going to a theology lecture.’

She wasn’t encouraging. ‘I think you’re a bit young for that, it’s more for people who are studying to be a minister of religion.’ Mum tried and failed to change my mind. ‘And no, you can’t borrow my coat, I want to wear it. It’s cold outside.’

I headed off to the afternoon meeting to show Alex we were kindred spirits. Soon after the talk began, I knew it wasn’t a great idea to be there. The speaker went around the room asking names and reasons for attending. I lied and said I believed I had a vocation to serve in the church. This attracted more attention than I’d expected, as I was not only young but female. In the sixties it was still a rarity for women to take an active part in the church. Apart from cleaning, catering and child-minding duties. And Alex wasn’t even there to be impressed.

In my usual spot, perched on the hard bench across from him at the tea table, I summoned up courage to speak to him.

‘That was a really interesting talk this afternoon; shame you missed it, Alex.’ My voice quivered and I fought to keep it steady. ‘I thought history of theology was one of your favourite subjects.’

Alex actually smiled at me. ‘It is, but the man who took it is one of my lecturers at college and I’ve pretty much heard all he has to say on the subject.’

I nodded and tried to look intelligent. ‘Did you do anything interesting?’ I continued the interrogation.

‘Went for a walk. Saw your Mum and we had a chat. She’s an interesting lady.’

I died a bit inside. Surely Mum hadn’t repeated Cath’s remarks.

‘She knows a lot about nature and the bush. I learned loads about local wildlife this afternoon.’ Phew.

‘I love nature too,’ I went on, ‘but didn’t want to miss the talk.’

It was hard to get to sleep that night. ‘If only’ played over and over in my head.

At breakfast Alex brought out his personal wheatgerm supply and sprinkled it generously over his cereal. He sprinkled it over practically everything he ate. His assortment of vitamins and supplements was one of the things I found most fascinating. He’d explained the benefits to everyone at the table and I soaked up his words like a sponge. I was demonstrating a mature attitude to health that he would find attractive. I begged Mum to buy wheatgerm. I’d happily eat it and think of Alex. Next camp I could bring a matching stash.

Then it happened. The shampoo-commercial girl sashayed into the dining room and squeezed into the space next to Alex. He reached for her hand then leaned over and kissed her lightly. It was all I could do not to scream, the pain was unbearable. Of course Cath was watching. She moved into my line of sight and made eye-wiping gestures.

After forcing myself to swallow some toast I dashed off to find a private spot for a cry. Naturally Cath told Mum about what happened and Mum, always more aware than we gave her credit for, came to find me.

She didn’t say anything at first, just sat beside me and gave me a hug. I leaned my head on her shoulder.

‘I know, it hurts.’ Mum said, surprising me. I’d been prepared for the lecture about how ridiculous it was to chase someone so much older. ‘But better you found out early on that he wasn’t interested. And now I don’t have to buy wheatgerm and you don’t have to pretend to like it.’

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3 комментария

Prue Stewart
Prue Stewart
27 мая 2022 г.

Yes, I can relate to this story


Margaret van Blommestein
Margaret van Blommestein
26 мая 2022 г.

Thank you for this blog Julie. I enjoyed it. It brought back memories of the exquisite pain you can feel when you’re a teenager and you have a crush on someone.

27 мая 2022 г.
Ответ пользователю

Thank you, Margaret. And thank you for joining my page. I hope you enjoy more of my blogs. We miss you!

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