Childhood = 100 Years Ago

The Girl With The Bowl Cut Hair


The place: Mrs. Dell’s 6th grade classroom, Idlewild Elementary, Tacoma, WA.


As Valentine’s Day crept up on us like a pink disease, Mrs. Dell read aloud stories of love. Every one of the girls in class were attentive as Mrs. Dell read about love won, love lost, mythical love (both Greek and Roman). We boys, on the other hand, safeguarded our discomfort behind disgusted remarks and inappropriate kissy noises. When I wasn’t busy doing my part to mock the ridiculous concept of love, I kept a clandestine gaze on the chubby-cheeked smile of Kara Pennyday.

Since Day 1 of the fourth grade, I had carried a torch for Kara like an Olympic ceremonial participant on a hamster wheel. She may not have had the girliness of Molly Johnson or the burgeoning A-cup figure of Dotty Curtner, but I found Kara to be the most captivating girl in Idlewild. I was entranced by her bowl cut hair and her uncanny ability to be as well-versed in Star Wars characters as she was in members of boy bands. She was friendly and open-minded. Heck, she was even friendly with Sue Munsen.

It’s debatable whether or not a sixth grader is capable of experiencing actual love–it may be better classified as puppy love or as innocent infatuation. Whatever the correct term was, I was head over heels in it. And maybe the stories that Mrs. Dell read began to sink in because, despite everything my chicken hearted logic told me, I decided that I would try to let Kara know how I felt. The only problem was how to do it.

“La-la-la! I can’t hear thoughts of kissing! La-la-la! Girls are dumb!”

First, I enlisted the aid of Tim who, because of the close proximity of their homes, had developed a friendship with Kara outside class.

One Saturday, Tim invited me to join him spending the afternoon playing on the swings at Kara’s house. At one point, my opportunity for romantic confessions came when Kara led me to the kitchen where the two of us shared a glass of tap water. As her flushed cheeks glowed not three feet from my own, I wanted to say something to her, but I had no idea what. I drank four glasses of water in order to buy more time with her, until finally I blurted out, “Your tap water’s better than mine.”

She smiled. “Thanks. We like it.”

Moments later, we were back in the yard with Tim and my moment was lost.

“Your stale bread and rancid coffee taste way better than our stale bread and rancid coffee. It doesn’t make me wanna vomit or nothin’.”

After that, I devised a plan that involved Tim putting together a list of Kara’s favorite things, which I would then immediately adopt as my own. My Little Pony? Yeah, I totally own, like, five of those. Kara’s favorite boy band? Wow, I love that one song of theirs! My idea was to make myself so utterly irresistible that she fell in love with me, thereby relieving myself of the burden of making the first move.

Tim described the plan as “totally lame.” He said, “Just tell her, man. Don’t act like my sister.”

Of course, much like the time he told me there were secret coins to be found in Mario games, I knew Tim was right. Cowardice took priority, though, and I decided to postpone my admission to Kara the only way I could: by getting a second opinion. And who better to consult than the sixth grader who wouldn’t think twice before plunging a sharpened number 2 pencil into his own chest for love’s sake: Clint Christensen.

“Just tell her,” Clint said, as he sat in front of the television in his family room, eating a meatloaf sandwich and waiting for a rerun of his favorite syndicated show, Little House on the Prairie. “S’all you can do.”

Once Little House began, Clint would transform into an Ingalls by proxy and would be impossible to talk to. I had to get everything I could from him in the few minutes that remained. My time for information gathering was limited to the current commercials and station identification, then that would be it for another hour. “But how?” I asked with toned down anxiety. “I mean, do I stand up in the middle of class an’ start singin’ to her?”

“Only if you can do it like an opera singer. Girls like that stuff.”

“Seriously, Clint. Do I just walk up an’ say, ‘Kara, how are you and, by the way, I’m in love with you’?”

“Well, wait for the right time, but yeah.”

I was getting flustered. “But, every time I see the right time, I get too scared an’ can’t say nothin’.”

“I don’t know what else you want me to say,” Clint shrugged. He watched the day’s teaser with a quiet absorption that I knew better than to interrupt. His multi-directional teeth dug into the sandwich as the opening credits and theme song filled the screen. As he chewed, he added, “That’s the best advice I got.”

“What about instead of telling her how I feel, I just throw this projectile at her head?”

Was I satisfied with this? Of course not. The cowardly part of me (which comprises 70-74% of my DNA) wanted Clint to propose something more roundabout. What I had really wanted was for him to tell me that he would tell Molly how I felt and that she would pass it along to Kara. That way, it would be out of my occasionally washed hands and leaving me to passively await a response.

I watched the commercials as though they were the final granules of sand in an hourglass. I had to get Clint to approve an alternative plan of action before Little House started, but what else was there? And then, in an edge-of-my-seat level of excitement, I blurted out, “What about a letter?”

Clint’s eyes veered from the television momentarily. “A letter?”

“Yeah, I could write her a letter.” I really wanted to sell Clint on this idea, so built it up the best I could. “I could put it on her desk or in her backpack or… or put it on her front door. I’ve been to her house.”

As Little House began, Clint shrugged, “I guess.” Through my filter, Clint’s “I guess” translated into “That’s a great idea, Mike! Go for it!”

That night, equipped with my mom’s manual typewriter (the one with the broken E key), I spent nearly an hour spilling my feelings onto a sheet of lined paper:

DEar kara,

This is MikE.    Your rEally fun to hang

around with. Your funny. Your good at   history to. I

likEd your housE that timE and you   gavE mE watEr. Thank you.

I want to tEll   you I rEally think your cutE. Do you likE mE to? 

I hopE so. You could    lEavE mE a notE that said yEs or no on it.



    ps. I likE music and pizza.

Fannie Braun never received a letter that equaled the poetic nature of my heartfelt prose. Sorry, Keats!

Squawk! Tell her you like pizza, tell her you like pizza. Squawk!
” ‘I also like pizza’. Wow, that’s beautiful.”

Then, as though that wouldn’t be enough to make even the coldest of hearts fall madly in love with me, I included a few tokens of my affection.

The first memento was a bobby pin. I found it imbedded in our living room rug and thought to myself, “Girls like this kinda stuff.” The second item was a single hawk feather. When my dad would go off hunting or camping with his friends, he would sometimes bring back feathers for my mom, who would then place them into the soil of her house plants in a decor statement that screamed, ‘What the hell am I supposed to do with a feather? There, that’s good enough’. At the time, the feather had struck me as ingenius because, well, maybe Kara had a plant. From then on, every time she’d look at the plant, she’d be reminded of me.

Satisfied that the letter was like a first class ticket to Kara’s love, I sealed the white, business-sized envelope and, using different colored markers for each letter (nice!), wrote Kara’s name on the front. Then, basking in the afterglow that comes from overwhelming success, I practiced meeting Kara’s parents. I set aside several school yard anecdotes and witticisms that would so charm her parents, that they would welcome me into the Pennyday family with open arms.

“Howdy, pops. The kids call me Wheels and I’m here to take your daughter out to a picture. Where do I park my ride?”

The next morning, I arrived early to school. I wanted to scout out the best place to leave the note. I considered waiting until class began, then simply dropping the letter into her backpack, but I figured humiliation might be hard enough to deal with without it involving thirty-odd classmates. Sure, I could have simply handed the note to her, but that would require more directness than I was willing to shell out. The way I saw it, the only way for this to be carried out successfully would be during the midday break. When the bell rang and everyone hurried outside, I would find a reason to stay behind. Then, with no one around, I’d drop it into her bag and wait for her to discover it.

Mrs. Dell noticed my reverie and asked, “Would I be right in guessing you’re looking for something, Mike?”

“I dunno,” I answered. “Kinda.”

“Did you forget to take something home with you, yesterday?”


“Does this have to do with someone in class?”

“Sorta, I guess. I dunno.”

Smiling, she leaned forward in her seat. “Mike, I must admit, I’m intrigued.” Mrs. Dell’s smile reminded that I could trust her, confide my secret to her without concern of embarrassment, but the coward inside of me felt compelled to keep mum. Why? Well, because she was a woman. In mere moments, I had developed a theory that all girls–be they teachers or students or parents–were involved in a secret society: Girls Association To Know How Stupid Boys Really Are (GATKHSBRA). This intricate network of string and tin cans shotgunned information of boys’ romantic feeling to every girl living within a five-mile radius.

At GATKHSBRA headquarters, switchboards erupt with activity after a teacher overhears an 11-year old Jimmy Anderson admit to wanting to kiss Becky Florence.

“You know, it might be easier if you just told this person what it is you want them to know. But, I guess that seems awfully scary to you, doesn’t it?”

“A little.” I tried, but couldn’t look Mrs. Dell in the face. I felt almost ashamed, but about what I wasn’t sure. As much as I had wanted to keep her in the dark, a part of me was relieved that Mrs. Dell knew what I was up to. It was a sort of validation, her remaining interested, her not trying to dissuade me in any way.

“Think about this,” Mrs. Dell said, “if this person came to you and said to you what you want to say to them, how would you feel?”

“Happy?” I answered, as if guessing.

“Happy. You would be happy to hear this thing. Well, more than likely, that’s how they will feel if you tell them.”


“And with Valentine’s Day coming up, its really good timing on your part.”

“Yeah?” It was strange, but Mrs. Dell had started making real sense.

“Yes.” Clasping her hands as they fell to her waist, she smiled at me with a dimple in her cheeks that I’d never noticed before. “And I’m sure Kara would love to be your Valentine.”

My face went a pale white, then immediately turned a Shirley Temple pink. How had she known it was Kara?! My god, was it that obvious?! If Mrs. Dell knew, Kara must have known, too! And if Kara did know, then why hadn’t she given me any indication, a wink or a coy smile?! Why?! What other reasons could there be, Mike? She didn’t like you and that’s all there was to it. Oh god, Kara hated me.

Old Bob never had the nerve to tell that girl in the sixth grade how he felt. Since then, he walks into Lonely’s Tavern each night and orders two beers. One for him, the other for the girl that got away. He has a bar tab of $15,000.

I took my seat as the first students made their way through the classroom door. When class started, I found it impossible to focus. All I could do was look at Kara and wonder why she hated me. Was I ugly? Was it because I had inherited my dad’s chin? Was it because video games and a lack of exercise had given me a kid gut? Or maybe she thought I was boring. If so, then why did she allow me over to her house? Oh wait, it was that stupid water comment. That must be it. She thinks I’m a moron. But, then why had she said hello to me just a few minutes ago? Why? Because she didn’t hate me, that was why. Then again, she acted the same way with me as she did toward Tim. Maybe she liked Tim, etc., etc., etc.

By 9:30am, I had given myself a stomach ache. While everyone else in class learned square roots, I mediated a debate in my head between two Me’s, one that argued why I shouldn’t tell Kara how I felt, the other why I should and both with debilitating IQ’s of 47. I knew that if I talked myself out of doing this, I would regret it. Still, the fear lingered. But, alongside the fear of rejection stood a second fear, a fear entirely new to the scene, the fear of allowing my window of opportunity to slam shut and be locked from the inside.

Fear I and Fear II go head to head.
Fear I vs Fear II, no holds barred.

Now, these two fears battled it out for supremacy like cheap monsters in a Japanese movie. Fear I, the fear of rejection, pounded away at Fear II, the fear of regret, with ferocious punches of limited movement. Fear II, beaten down onto all fours, is kicked down the side of a 4-foot tall Mount Fuji and rolls to a near-death stop at the base. Then, just as Fear I raised a boulder over its head to finish the job, Fear II rose up and leveled its opponent with the sparkler-like inferno of its heat breath. Fear I fought back with brute force, but found itself defenseless against the series of rockets shot from Fear II’s portal-like claws. Rocket after rocket exploded against the body of the once mighty Fear I, until it was no more than a lifeless pile of latex. As Fear II let out a triumphant roar, I decided to tell Kara how I felt.

I spent the next two hours of class in a refreshing state of self-assuredness. I was the first to raise my hand to answer Mrs. Dell’s questions, stretching my arm upward to get called on. Now, whether or not the answers I gave were correct made no difference. I was experiencing confidence without the fear of consequence. If confidence had been water, I would have looked like a lawn sprinkler going full blast.

The secret to Mr. Barton’s award-winning lawn is a daily dowsing of fertilizer and confidence.

The bell rang.

With the imperceptibility of a veteran wallet snatcher, I took the letter from my backpack and folded it into my back pocket. I timed my exit with that of Kara’s, making sure I was right behind her as she entered the hallway. “Hey, Kara,” I said, as we reached the playground lawn. “Can I talk to ya a sec?”

Smiling and without the slightest ounce of hesitation, she answered, “Sure.” Not a full second passed before Molly’s voice called out for Kara to hurry up. “I’m coming! Hold on!” she answered back. “So, what’s going on?” she asked me.

“Oh, uh…” I watched my confidence waver like a ship in a storm. “I just wanted to give you somethin’.”

She tilted her head slightly and her smile grew. “What is it?”

Now or never, I told myself. Do or die. “A message.”

“What, like mail?” she joked.

All of a sudden, the debate in my mind began its unexpected second round of argument. “I-I was… I was supposed to tell you that…” Do or die! “that…” Come on, come on! “that someone…” That’s it. Atta boy! “likes you.”


Zero hour had arrived. The sound of liftoff rumbled and shook my entire body, sirens rang, lights flashed, champagne bottles waited to be popped in celebration, emergency crews sat in wait in case of a crash. “Yeah,  just someone. I’m not supposed to say who.”

Kara was understandably puzzled. “Okay. Well, thanks, Mike.”

“Oh, no prob.” As I turned to meet up with my friends, I added, “Well, see ya back in class.”

“Okay. Bye.” Kara walked to Molly and the others where I knew she would most likely relay what I had just told her.

"One-two-three-four, Mike is a dumb bore! Five-six-seven-eight, we see Mike and we hate!"
“One-two-three-four, Mike is a dumb old bore! Five-six-seven-eight, he’s the boy we all hate!”

Standing with my friends, I inconspicuously watched as the group of girls turned a simultaneous glance in my direction. This was the cue that the story had been relayed. Seeing this, I suddenly found myself less concerned with the outcome, believing that it was forever out of my hands. I no longer had control of the situation and that was a more comfortable role to take on. Whatever Kara would think about me, she would do so regardless of what I did or didn’t do from that point on.

As the weeks went by, Kara treated me no differently than she had before. Either she in no way suspected I was the mystery admirer or she was akin to the obvious, but wasn’t repulsed by it the way she had been at seeing Harper shove an entire liverwurst sandwich into his mouth. However the cards were laid out, I was too terrified to find out the truth.

Looking back, I think that I was more afraid of the result being a positive one than I was anything else. At least, if it were bad, I would, after the expected initial sorrow, move on. If it were good, if she did feel the same about me as I did about her, it would mean that I had only taken one step in what could have been a 40k marathon. When all was said and done, that scared the hell out of me most of all.

Who needs a dumb ol’ girl around, anyway?

218 thoughts on “The Girl With The Bowl Cut Hair”

  1. Girls. Has another of the Lord’s creations ever caused so much pain and sorrow? When you’re a kid, these things seem so magnified, so impossibly huge. I think it prepares us for love & heartbreak later in life.

    All through your story, I kept wondering: “Do I know any of these people?” I mean, I knew Harper.


          1. Seaweed. They had something of a following. A string of good albums throughout the 90s. A couple recent singles, but nothing I’m nutty about. I do think a couple of the band members might have been classmates of yours.


  2. I think you’re absolutely right about the society, as many of (almost all) the girls i’ve ever asked out made a noise similar to “gatkhsbra”.

    I once sent a letter to a girl asking her to a camp dance. 8 months in advance.
    I feel your pain.



    Clint is my hero.

    I loved this story.

    Also, in sixth grade my future husband told me he liked me, flat out. I politely rejected him. Roughly 16 years after the rejection I married him. He got the last laugh.


    1. I got the last laugh on this girl by, ya know, not actually dating until my 20’s. So yeah…

      As a girl, maybe you can answer my question. How much does it cost to join GATKHSBRA? Are there benefits or contests?


  4. I loved this so much. When I was a little, I thought that only little girls could have crushes on boys. Movies like “The Sandlot” tried to convince us otherwise, but I thought that their emotions were only manufactured for Hollywood. It still amazes me when I hear about the turmoil little boys go through in the romance department.


    1. Ha. Hollywood creates a lot of things, but emotions in little boys is not a common one. Hollywood has made many of us want to pilot a spaceship with a Wookie co-pilot, though, so they do have some power to influence.


  5. Sqwauk! I can’t believe how hot to trot you were at that age! Sqwauk! I still haven’t written a mash note to anyone. Sqwuak! Your mother’s typewriter is similar to the ones angels use at Christmas – no L! Sqwuak – ah shut up.


    1. I wish. Several of the childhood stories (the ones tagged ‘100 years ago= childhood’) that I’ve put up are from a book I couldn’t get anyone interested in, actually. Right now, I’m working on putting together several short stories for a collection.


        1. Thanks, man. I love Pleasantville.
          The collection I’m putting together are short stories inspired by screwball comedies of old. I like old things (my wife, for example, is 87 years old!)


  6. First of all, you totally captured the major discomfort of middle school. Perfectly. Second, I had no idea dudes watched Little House. I walked down memory lane and learned something at the same time.

    Loved it!


    1. Memory Lane is always well lit and safe. In fact, it is patrolled regularly just so that my readers will have a sense of calm and safety.

      Clint was the only boy I knew that watched Little House, actually. I think he and Michael Landon may have been the only ones.


  7. I remember Grade 6. There was one girl I really liked, but while we hung out a bit, I never said a word about my lust (love?) for her. I guess I didn’t know what it really was.anyway. And I didn’t start writing love letters until I was in my second childhood. Yours was great.


    1. Can a sixth grader experience lust? Racy! My love letter never made in into the form of a Hallmark card, unfortunately. For some reason, Hallmark decided to forego the whole illiterate romantic market.


  8. What a great story. You had me at, “I had carried a torch for Kara like an Olympic ceremonial participant on a hamster wheel.” Girls are hard to understand. So are secret societies, long acronyms, and how the Ingalls were always so happy.
    Keep it up.


    1. Girls are hard to understand, it’s so true. For example, I have no idea what your comment was about. To my boy eyes, it was just a series of marks, numbers and possibly hieroglyphics.


  9. Ahh, young love and multidirectional teeth. I thought for sure you were going to get your heart broken the way the story was building, nice last minute diversion, phew! Did Kara really have a bowl cut? I think there was a name for that hairstyle.


  10. Mike, this was such a captivating story about anxiety suffering, an anxiety that was very familiar to me. It took me two years to find the guts to finally speak to Julie Upcough (her family later changed that name; gee, I wonder why). Your writing flows as easily as those four glasses of tap water you quaffed just to stretch out that moment when you were alone with Kara.


  11. Aww…. I loved reading this. My elementary/middle school experience as the sole chubby girl in the same class of 24 kids was like one long unrequited Sadie Hawkins dance. I thought that learning all I could about sports, Stephen King, and In Living Color would somehow make my YEARS-long crush realize what a cool girl I was and I’d be in! Add to that the fact that I was raised my a feminist who would encourage me by saying things like “You want to go to a movie with Chris? Sure! I’ll drive you!”. In retrospect, I wish I had more of “The Rules” in my upbringing and less Gloria Steinem. Great story–I love the way you write 🙂


  12. You know, things could’ve really been worse… you could’ve written an anonymous note labeled “To John Hummel” containing the lyrics to Animotion’s totally killer 1985 hit song “Obsession” on a piece of notebook paper and slid it under the door during the middle of Mr. Galley’s English class… not that I know anyone who ever did that, I’m just sayin’…. (loved the story, by the way!)


      1. I have no idea what you’re talking about, I totally made that story up. Eh-hmm. 😉 I recall he seemed pretty traumatized for most of the school year after that so I’m gonna say yes. But maybe that was just because someone equated his sexiness with bad 80’s glam pop.


  13. I’m so glad Christopher reblogged this, because I LOVED it! So sweet and charming and funny. (I want a boy to give me a bobbie pin and a feather, *sigh*) Good to know that boys went through this too….not to mention asking the other boys for advice. We girls are led to believe that the boys NEVER talk about this sort of thing!
    Now maybe I’ll just ASK the cute boy in my writing class if he’s single and like’s women old enough to be his…Aunt! Yeah, that’s it, Aunt. Lol.


    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. That means a lot.
      You should totally talk to the cute boy in your writing class. “I’m the Queen Aunt. Wanna be my drone?”


    1. That’s a huge compliment, so thank you. Just know that when I do take someone back to jr. high, odds are good that I will be copying their test answers. Be warned.


    1. Thanks, Stephanie. Most of the mistakes I make in my adult life are often times grammatical or occasionally choosing the wrong flavor of dog food, which gets me disappointed looks from my dog.


  14. This was awesome. Was so hoping for a happy ending though. I took the plunge in HS, and found once you do it once, whatever may come, it’s easier after that. I just thought, “Hey, the worst that could happen is they could say ‘no'” Actually, the worst that could have happened I guess was merciless teasing, but by then I was on my way to popping people who pissed me off in the face. 😉


  15. You are a beautiful writer and I really enjoyed your story. You took us all to a time and place, back to your childhood or the story of a childhood and it felt so real. Thank you for sharing this with us!


  16. You capture the essence of sixth grade so perfectly! Thank you for pointing out that girls do not have an exclusive license on the lovey-dovey and that boys probably suffer more from the angst of amour than girls do!


  17. Bowl hair cut. Check. 6th grade crush. Check. Love letter. Check. Whoa, this lovely rendition of puppy love has hit me with a hard dose of nostalgia. Good flashbacks of awkward and fond memories wrapped in candy coated hearts waiting to be shared with my childhood crush. lol Whether, you’re 6 or 60, I think any warm feeling within is universal. This sweet story appeals to the masses, I read it as if I was eating a warm brownie savoring each line down to the last bite. LOVE this. :’)


    1. The question is did she already know? My family moved away soon after that, so this was my last and only attempt. By the way, we moved because of my dad’s job, not because of my bringing shame and scorn on the family. That wasn’t until the next move.


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