That summer Arnold, laying awake in his cot in the little bungalow, listening to the country sounds outside, so different from the city noises, thought about Joannie Silvestri every night before drifting off to sleep. Since Arnold was 12 years old and these were the 1940’s, his thoughts were innocent of sex. Instead, he pictured romantic scenes in which he came to her aid in times of distress. She needed help with a test or she’d fallen and he bound up her ankle. Sometimes he pictured her tending to him after he’d been hurt playing softball.
“Come on, Arnie, hit the ball,” called Joannie. Arnold swung the bat back and forth, facing the pitcher, another 12-year old boy, his jaw set with determination. He and Joannie were two of about 20 kids ranging from toddlers to teenagers who were at the bungalow colony that summer. The country was in a depression and Arnold’s father, a plumber, was working on the WPA, but somehow he’d scraped up enough money for the family to go the “mountains,” to escape the heat in New York City.
There weren’t many amenities in the bungalow colony so the kids created their own activities. They picked berries, swam in a nearby creek and at night had marshmellow roasts. And almost every day they played softball in an adjacent field. Arnold swung and hit the ball squarely, but Billy Newman, who always played shortstop, ran over to his right and caught it. Billy was 13 and the leader of the kids. He was tall and athletic and organized all of the games. “Too bad,” said Joannie when Arnold came back to pick up his glove. “Next time you’ll get a hit.”
Joannie was almost as tall as Arnold. She was thin, with an oval face, an olive complexion, black hair, and lustrous dark eyes that Arnold thought were deep and mysterious. She was a pretty good athlete but no tomboy. Sometimes she was quiet and Arnold wondered what she was thinking. At other times she could be boistrous as when she splashed him in the creek. Arnold of course was too shy to ever tell Joannie how he felt about her. Besides, he knew that Billy also liked her. At their campfires, Billy, as if by right. always sat next to her.
During their last week, Arnold found himself picking berries next to Joannie. Billie never picked berries. “I guess summer’s nearly over,” Arnold said.
“Yes, it went fast. I had a good time here.”
“Me, too.” Arnold took a deep breath and said, “I’m glad you were here.”
“I’m glad you were here, too. You’re the nicest boy around.”
“I thought you liked Billy.”
Joannie’s lip curled. “Billy? No, he thinks too much of himself.”
“Uh, would you like to go into town and see a movie with me tomorrow?”
“Yes, that would be fun.”
Arnold and Joannie’s plan to go into town caused a lot of discussion with their mothers. “There are cars on that road.” “Sometimes they go fast.” “Don’t let anybody pick you up.” “Be careful.”
“We’ve walked there before,” said Arnold. “It’s only a mile. Maybe less.”
Finally, they were given permission to go, if they stayed well on the side of the road and came back right after the movie.
Sitting in the old theater, watching the large figures moving about on the screen above them, Arnold tentatively reached out his hand for Joannie’s. She took it and gave it a little squeeze. After the movie, Arnold took her to the Woolworth’s next door for an ice cream soda he’d carefully saved up for. “We promised we’d go back right after the movie,” said Joannie.
“It’s early, We’ll be back in plenty of time.”
When they returned safely, Arnold walked Joannie to her bungalow. “Thanks, Arnie,” she said. “I had a good time.”
“Are you going to be back here next summer?” he asked.
“I hope so."
"I’m going to make my mother come back.”
Joannie came close to Arnold. Her face was serious. Her dark eyes were fixed on him. The air almost hummed with electricity, it had become so still. He found it hard to breathe. Suddenly she leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. Then she ran inside. Arnold stood in a daze. He could still feel the touch of Joannie’s lips on his, light as a feather. Then the outside world came to life again. He could hear the crickets. A baby was crying somewhere. He returned to his bungalow. “Did you have a good time?” asked his mother. A good time? How could any words describe how Joannie Silvestri made him feel.
Arnold had told Joannie he’d make his mother come back. But the next summer his father’s WPA job ended and they couldn’t afford to go to the mountains, even to that little bungalow colony. Perhaps it was just as well. Because Arnold went to junior high school and from the older kids he learned all about girls, things that both fascinated and repelled him. Since this was still the 1940’s and New York City and it was hard to find a place to actually be alone with a girl, Arnold remained a virgin until one drunken weekend after he’d been drafted into the army. But that summer with Joannie Silvestri remained untouched by his other experiences, pure, like a magical flower that never withered. And he never forgot that first kiss.