I loved Saddle River, New Jersey. I went to first and second grade there, and my memories are still strong even sixty years on.
In first grade, I had two best friends: Craig and Tommy. Craig was a great big kid, while Tommy was a little guy. Me? I was somewhere in between. After school and on weekends, I could be found at one of their houses indulging in our joint passion—Lincoln Logs.
Lincoln Logs are a set of wooden logs that you can join together to build houses, barns, and just about anything else you can think of. We built small towns and populated them with hundreds of plastic army men. Our towns were always under attack. Tommy had a great set of cowboys and Indians, so we could set up a “real” Western town and figure out how best to survive a surprise Indian attack. If I had known who Clint Eastwood was back then, I would for sure have recreated High Plains Drifter in Tommy's living room.
Behind Tommy’s house was a hill that gradually descended down to a small stream. Hours would be spent exploring all over the area. We gathered frog’s eggs and tried to grow them into real frogs but I’m pretty certain we never actually succeeded. Small fish, snakes, salamanders and other denizens of this magical area often made it into our aquariums where they would remain our guests until our parents made us put them back before we killed them.
Eventually, I had a serious bone to pick with Tommy. We both liked a girl in our class whose name was Rebecca. Neither of us ever said anything about it, and we certainly didn't let Rebecca know we were interested, but finally our unrequited love came to ignominious end.
One day while emptying my Cracker Jack box looking for the prize that they put inside, out popped a plastic diamond ring. Wow, I thought, I'll give this to Rebecca and ask her to marry me! I couldn’t wait to see Tommy and tell him of my plan.
That weekend, I spent the night at Tommy’s house and, after double pinky swearing him to secrecy, I showed him my Cracker Jack treasure. While carefully examining it, he asked what I was going to do with it. I’m going to give it to Rebecca and tell her we’re going to get married, I replied. He agreed that was a magnificent idea and we decided I should tell her on Monday. He would be there to make sure I didn’t chicken out.
On Monday, we approached Rebecca at recess. Tommy kept pushing me from behind so I had to to it. "Rebecca, will you marry me?" I said shyly, and gave her my plastic “diamond” ring. While she looked at me with that are you stupid look, Tommy came out from behind me and stunned me into silence: "Don't marry him, Rebecca, marry me!" he cried. With that, Tommy reached into his pocket and pulled out a real diamond ring he had stolen from his mother's jewelry box just that morning.
Betrayal, and by my best friend with whom I had confided my love for the raven haired Rebecca.
That morning I learned a very important lesson about women: A real diamond beats a plastic diamond every single time. Rebecca gave me back my ring and took the ring from Tommy and told Tommy that she would marry him. Devastation. My first rejection by a female. I didn’t know it was possible to feel that badly.
The only good news is that I didn't get to see Tommy for several weeks after his mother discovered what he had done. He was also forever shamed in Rebecca's eyes because his mom made him go to Rebecca and get her ring back. That romance ended, but you'll hear more about Rebecca when I get to second grade.
This was the second brick in my wall.