May 24, 2021 at 6:27 p.m.
It’s strange that after more than four decades, hearing the opening bars of “Only Yesterday” by The Carpenters would still have such a profound effect on me. It shouldn’t, but it does.
I was motoring mindlessly down a gravel road in my pickup, thinking of nothing in particular, when Karen Carpenter’s sweet, mellifluous voice welled up from the pickup’s quadrophonic speakers. The forward progress of time came to a halt and I was instantly swept back into the past.
I’m 17 once again. The time in a guy’s life when his future stretches out before him like a golden new dawn. An age when the ambrosial spring breeze whispers sweet nothings about life’s unlimited potential.
It was into this universe of infinite possibilities that she came.
I was at a friend’s high school graduation party when I first saw her. She was chatting with an acquaintance, this girl whom I did not know, and I was intrigued by her carefree laugh, her easy smile. In a bold move, I strode up to her and asked for a dance even though there wasn’t any music. She grinned mirthfully and, in the spirit of the moment, stepped into my arms.
We both felt the electricity the instant we touched. We danced and talked and laughed and danced some more. We spent the rest of the evening together, talking about everything and nothing.
By the time we went on our second date, we were deeply in love. At the end of each date, I would park my car on her parents’ driveway and we would sit and simply gaze into each other’s face, both of us reluctant to bid adieu. I adored her half-crooked smile, became lost in her heavy-lidded eyes.
It was during one of these extended goodbyes when The Carpenters song “Only Yesterday” wafted from my car’s radio. As we listened, I told her that the lyrics held a special meaning for me, that they rang true because it seemed like it was only yesterday when I was so sad and lonely. She whispered that she felt the same way. We fell into each other’s arms and vowed to never let go.
Our affair, this love to end all loves, lasted about a month. One evening as we sat in my car, I sensed something was amiss. She seemed distant, so I asked what the matter was. She stared out the car’s window for a long moment. The leaden silence stretched on for an eternity.
Still looking out the window, she said she had been thinking a lot about us and what the future might hold. She told me my dream of becoming a farmer was a noble and worthy ambition. It simply wasn’t the type of dream she wanted.
Our destinies, she said, lay on different paths. It would be for the best if we made a clean break now. Tonight.
She turned and kissed me one final time, gently, on the cheek. In the pale glow of the streetlamp, I saw a single tear slip from her eye. She got out of the car, and I watched as she slowly walked toward her house.
Maybe I could have talked to her. Maybe I could have convinced her we would find a way to make it work.
But, I didn’t. You might say we both made a choice.
As I drove home that night, a sudden June thunderstorm exploded in the sultry night air. Lightning ignited the sky, shredding the liquid blackness, raking the heavens until they wept. Egg-sized raindrops thudded against the windshield even as small, salty ones landed silently on my lap.
I could see that the tempest would soon be over. I reflected on how some storms seem to appear out of nowhere only to swiftly expend themselves in a spectacular fireworks display. Even at that tender age, the analogy was not lost on me.
When the song ended, I realized my pickup wasn’t moving and my foot was resting on the brake. I eased off the pedal and continued on with my humdrum day.
I thought about all the choices I’ve made and all the changes that the passage of time has wrought. I thought about the yoke of worry that I now wear and smiled at how ignorant and carefree I once was.
And, I mused about how exceedingly well everything has worked out. I guess even 17-year-olds can sometimes make the right choice.
Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: [email protected].
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