With the coming of spring, young people everywhere will turn to thoughts of romance.
This is as much a part of the season as the birds singing in the trees and the landscape being transformed from dirty brown to vibrant hues of green.
Here is a friendly piece of advice from the old curmudgeon: when you meet that special someone, it is always better to be yourself right from the start.
This advice applies especially to the young men in the audience. I am sure young women never pretend to be something they are not.
A guy, on the other hand, will try any fool thing that comes into his head if he thinks it will get the object of his affection to notice him.
When it comes to romance, no good can come of pretending to be something we are not.
There are a thousand examples of this, but let us consider the story of my young friend, Reginald (Ratty) Ratcliffe.
Ratty and I had been at school together, and even though he was a couple years behind me, we became friends..
One spring day, Ratty appeared on my doorstep in a state of great agitation, as if something had shaken him to his very foundation. His responses to my polite inquiries soon revealed that it was as I had suspected. There was a woman in it.
Her name was Victoria Hampton, and she was new to the area. Within an hour of making her acquaintance, Ratty had decided that his life would not be complete unless she consented to marry him.
This came as a bit of a shock to me, since in all the years I had know him, Ratty had never demonstrated a disposition toward marriage or any other rash act. There was no doubt about it, though. As I listened to him extol her virtues, one thing was clear. Ratty had it bad.
At that point, he had not yet found an opportunity to speak to his intended bride. His experience had been limited to studying her from afar.
The trouble began when he spoke to her for the first time. He had decided that when the opportunity to speak to this goddess presented itself, he was going to have to outdo himself.
He felt that he would only get one chance to make an impression, and the lines that he had used on the local girls would not pass muster.
By one of those strange twists of fate, the girl set him up on their first encounter. They attended the same church, and one Sunday when they chanced to meet outside the chapel on the hill, she commented on the woods that spread out below, and the way the trees had seemed to fill with leaves almost overnight.
This gave Ratty, who was not normally a quick thinker, the opportunity to recite what was undoubtedly the only piece of poetry he had ever learned (with the possible exception of some rather off-color limericks he had heard from the boys down at the pool hall).
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” Ratty recited,
“but I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep,
and miles to go before I sleep.”
“Oh, Mr. Ratcliffe!” the girl exclaimed. I didn’t know you enjoyed poetry! Don’t you just love Robert Frost?”
“Absolutely!” Ratty replied, deducing that this Frost cove must have been responsible for the verse he just recited. “He’s the best!”
Truth be told, young Ratty didn’t know Robert Frost from Adam, but he was sharp enough to know when he was onto something good.
The fact of the matter was that the verse in question was printed below a picture of some winter woods on a calendar that hung on the wall in the shed at his grandparents’ house. He had had plenty of time to study it on occasions when he sneaked out there to enjoy a cigarette when he was a lad, and it had stuck with him.
Ratty continued to work the poetry angle, and made the ultimate sacrifice of joining the amateur poetry group to which the girl belonged. This allowed him to be near his dream girl, but at what a cost!
Prior to her arriving in town, I had never seen Ratty read anything other than the sports pages in the newspaper.
After he had established himself as a poetry lover to impress the Hampton girl, he had to work like a dog to keep up the charade.
He frequently appeared on my doorstep asking to borrow volumes of poetry.
During this period, although he saw her often, he did not seem to be making much progress with the Hampton bird, who seemed always to be surrounded by a flock of adoring young men.
Still, Ratty pressed on. He redoubled his efforts and seemed to spend nearly all of his time studying poetry so that the girl would not discover that he was a fraud. He began to look wan, and it was clear that the effort to impress the girl was taking a terrible toll on him.
And then, one day, it was over. An announcement in the local paper revealed that the woman of Ratty’s dreams had become engaged to another young man who didn’t know the first thing about poetry, but who possessed a motorcycle.
Ratty stopped at my house that evening. He sat down in a chair on the patio next to where I was reading the paper.
“For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘it might have been,’” Ratty recited gravely. Then, his mouth began to twitch around the corners, and he threw back his head, and began to laugh heartily.
The old Ratty was back.
Relieved, I handed him the sports section, and we drank a toast to being oneself.