An unexpected kiss in high school still has a lot to teach me. 

I never thought of myself as a slow learner but I guess I am. It’s taken me 30+ years to learn what someone showed me when I was 18. The fact that she was 17 at the time seems to prove I’ve always lagged way behind the curve.

In my defense I have always been dense when it comes to affection whether it’s the expression or the receipt of it. Affection wasn’t something you saw a lot on our farm. Mom was German, dad wan Irish. We didn’t kiss, we didn’t hug and we were by God okay with that. To complicate matters I was shy, painfully self-conscious and had zero social skills. That’s why when Maryanne McDowell gave me a peck on the cheek to say I was shocked would be an understatement.

In my analytical mind it made absolutely no sense at all that she should kiss me. I was just the other passenger in the pickup for crying out loud. If you learned anything on the farm it was that you had to earn whatever you got. I didn’t even make conversation. All I did was open the passenger door to let her out. I hadn’t chivalrously offered to ride on the hump of the seat and contend with the on-the-floor stick shift. Nope, I clutched the door handle and leaned toward the window trying to make as little physical contact as possible. I didn’t want to seem to be a letch. As it was I’m sure I came off more like a germophobe than a cretin.

The look on my face, had she taken a second to look at me after pecking me on the cheek, probably resembled a Cro-Magnon though. I never saw the small kiss coming and didn’t know how to react. About all I could think of to say was “Gee, thanks”. She was long gone though, having already thanked both of us for the ride home. She was running into her house by the time I squeaked out that awkwardness. It was basketball season after all and pretty cold. Even with the cold, it just didn’t make any sense to me. A kiss for a lift home? She only lived about a half mile from school, something us farm boys wouldn’t have thought twice about walking in the dead of winter, probably while carrying a bale, buckets of feed or fencing supplies. To this day I still haven’t quite yet become comfortable showing gratitude and affection.

Over the years I’ve been on the receiving end of these gestures but it’s only in the past few years that I’ve come to realize what I experienced way back in high school. Maryanne showed me that affection wasn’t a big thing it was just a little thing that we did for each other, something we gave each other because we could, because we felt it and because it was a good thing to do. As a goofy, 18 year-old I thought that affection was something that you only put out there if you were really serious about it and knew what you were doing. Heck, kisses weren’t something that grew on trees, kisses meant something! If you kissed someone then you pretty much wanted to date them. In my affection-deprived state this was huge stuff. And yet, it really wasn’t.

She never ever asked for another ride, never acted any more friendly toward me or my buddy, never flirted, and heck; never even made any great attempts to talk to either one of us after that. Back then I knew better than to expect anything. I hadn’t done anything to impress her after all. It was complete serendipity. In the end I wrote it off as just dumb luck and told myself I should be thankful that I got a small kiss from a girl. It’s taken me all these years to figure out how badly I missed the boat.

Had I only grasped then the power of the small gesture (an extended hand, a pat on the back, a hug or maybe even (gasp) a small kiss on the cheek) I might have grown into a more affectionate person. If I could have learned that sometimes we just need to show people that they are cared for, appreciated and loved I may have saved myself and others I loved over the years immeasurable angst, frustration and heartache.

Today (not that I’ve made great strides) I have grown to be a person of some limited ability to show affection. I have learned to trust my expressions of caring will not be rebuffed. And I have become a warmer, less pensive and less passive individual. Still, I wish I could go back and talk to the “me” of that time; to shake me and say “Take a chance! You have so little to lose!” I want to drill into that young man’s head that if we never trust, if we never put ourselves at risk, make ourselves vulnerable, we will never reap the rewards of the affection others are so eager to give. We will never deepen our relationships. We will never be able to show how much we care, how much we support and how much we love those around us.

So, to Maryanne wherever she is, “Thanks.” I didn’t get it then but the peck on the cheek was sweet. I’m a slow learner but like the stone dropped into the pond; eventually the ripple reaches the shore. Although the memory is much dimmer now as I’ve gotten older the lesson shines brighter. I’m learning and even though I’m still a chicken I’m getting better. I even occasionally openly express affection. Shoot, I even take the initiative to reach out to someone else.


So, I’m obviously still learning this lesson. Any advice for a still-pretty-awkward farm kid from the 80’s?

Know anyone that could use a nudge toward showing affection? If this might help, please share it with them. We’ve provided social icons below to help with that (call us enablers). 

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