In loopy fat cursive across the top of her scribbler, Lara writes November 3, 1959. She is 10.5 years old. Double digits and a decimal point. Now her life can truly begin. She has a very optimistic feeling about life in general as she absent mindedly copies the assignment for today from the blackboard on to a blue lined page. Her mind is not at all focused on what she’s doing; it’s wandering, as usual, all over the place.
There are 27 kids in this one-room schoolhouse, from five and six year-olds all the way up to 13 and 14 year-old teenagers impatient to be finished with the place and off to high school and whatever else awaits them in the outside world. Lara is stuck somewhere in the middle, between her sister Ainslee sitting primly in the first row of students on her left, and her big brother, slouched in the last row on her right. The desks range from small to large, just like their various occupants. The teacher’s desk looms at the front of the room, the wood stove smokes and crackles behind them. There is the smell of drying mittens in the air.
At the desk in front of Lara sits the only classmate in the same grade, her best friend, Shirley. It will always be just the two of them, all the way to grade eight. They are allowed to work ahead on their own in their text books and scribblers. They are not allowed to pass their work back and forth to each other, but they often do it anyway. Along with many, many notes. And a lot of stifled giggling. Today Shirley is concentrating on catching up on her arithmetic, and Lara is bored.
When her own work is finished she is expected to sit quietly and read a library book, or go over and help a younger child with printing or reading aloud when the teacher is busy with another subject and a different level elsewhere in the room. Sometimes Lara listens in and learns something, other times she’s able to tune things out completely and concentrate on whatever she’s doing. The one-room school scenario is teaching her self motivation, independence, and the ability to amuse herself until the teacher has time to make her a top priority – something that happens maybe once or twice a day. Meanwhile, nobody is jumping through hoops to make sure she’s busy and entertained.
She opens up Anne of Green Gables to a random page but she’s read the book twice already and today it’s just a prop to allow her to daydream undetected. She thinks of all the time she’s spent in this school. From the day she started reading those stupid Dick and Jane type stories (although theirs were about Tom and Betty and Susan) when what she really wanted to do was read every comic book ever written from beginning to end. She thinks about all the tedious instructions she’s had to follow – colour the apple red (why? why not purple?); draw six circles in a row (why CAN’T I add eyes and ears and crooked teeth?); make your letters and numbers exactly like this (no hearts, no gigantic loops, no improvising, no fun.) She’s even learned to sing the proper words to songs without sharing her own made up (and much more interesting) lyrics. Behaving, conforming, fitting in. Is this truly what life is all about? There’s got to be more to it than that.
Out of the blue, Lara decides it’s time she had a boyfriend. Huh. Now wouldn’t that be something. It’s not just time, it’s HIGH time. And there’s no time like right this minute. Normally she would discuss this idea with Shirley first, but she’s preoccupied. And might tell her she’s nuts. That conversation can wait. Carefully Lara looks at all the likely prospects. The choices are limited, that’s for sure. By a process of elimination (too young, too old, too ugly, too mean, too stupid for words) she reaches the point where there is only one boy left. Harvey.
Stupid name, yes, but kind of cute, as far as boys go. Sitting right across from her, next grade up. Blonde curly hair, blue eyes, lots of freckles. The freckles are definitely something they have in common. He has never hit her, as far as she can remember. And just like that her mind is made up. Harvey is the one. There is just enough time before recess to scribble off a love letter to him.
The relationship gets off to a rocky start because when Harvey reads the letter he is mortified. Lara is curious to know if anyone else is able to blush right up into the roots of their hair. The subsequent notes she passes to him cause progressively less severe reactions. She is nothing if not persistent , and finally Harvey gives in and writes a note back. He says he loves her too. He doesn’t say why, but she suspects it’s because she’s finally worn him down to this point. Maybe he thinks it’s some kind of silly game, and he’s decided he might as well play along. They’re both new at this, and unfamiliar with the rules.
The note passing in class continues, but on the playground and everywhere else they barely speak, and mostly ignore each other. Lara offers to play goal for the boys in shinny hockey and gets hit by hockey pucks and freezes her feet off just to be near him. She doesn’t particularly like skating, but when she’s holding mittened hands with Harvey it’s a different thing altogether. She goes to his hockey games. (They happen to be her brothers games too.) Sometimes when he’s on the ice he looks for Lara in the crowd and he smiles up at her. She gazes down longingly into his eyes. From a safe distance of several yards.
As far as Lara cares, it could go on like this forever. But Harvey is getting tired of all the innuendo. Or maybe he’s just developed writers cramp from all those notes. For whatever reason, one night when they’re giving Harvey and his brothers a ride home from a game and he and Lara have ended up in the back seat next to each other and smooshed together, he takes off his jacket, pulls it up over both of their heads and kisses her on the cheek. It’s Lara’s turn to be mortified. She thinks of this moment for ever after as Harvey’s big move. He says he’s going to tell everybody she’s his girlfriend. He doesn’t care who knows. They can be together forever. And it’s okay if she wants to kiss him back.
Lara wonders why she didn’t see this coming, but now that it’s happened there’s only one direction she can go with it. First she has to come up for air. And then she has to dump him. She sadly admits to herself that she’s not ready for this, and that she loves the secrecy and the notes more than she loves Harvey. Plus there’s the other small problem involving her mother, who has found some of Harvey’s more amorous scribblings stuffed away in her sock drawer. She is threatening to confront Harveys mother with the evidence if this nonsense doesn’t stop. Lara is forced to admit that she was the one who started it all in the first place. For some reason or other her mother isn’t surprised by this revelation.
Shortly after their painful break up, Harvey moves away with the rest of his family (and a large percentage of the one room schools enrolment population) to a faraway town, nursing a bruised and broken heart. The broken heart part of the story is pure conjecture on Lara’s part.
For the rest of her life, whenever she sees that big orange sign on a Harvey’s franchise she thinks about him. Not that her Harvey has anything to do with selling hamburgers as far as she knows. She believes it’s more likely he got over his first disastrous love affair and eventually gave his heart to someone less insane. Or maybe he’s been pining away for her forever. (Huh. Now wouldn’t that be something.) He might even be one of those guys writing jokes about the strange things women do that you can never figure out but you can’t help loving them anyway.
Or maybe (just maybe) he doesn’t even remember her at all. Lara shakes that thought out of her head, because it’s a possibility simply too painful to contemplate.