The Blue Letter "R"
How I Lived a Freshman Girl's Fantasy

"I'll think of you everytime I pass Rockhurst." Mary Jo Gorman, one of my best friends in high school, had written these enigmatic words in my freshman yearbook. Whatever did she mean, I wondered years later. Then I remembered. In my freshman year at Hogan, I had been obsessed with Rockhurst High School, an all-boy Jesuit school in Kansas City. My obsession crystalized around the royal blue letter "R" outlined in white and sewn on the royal blue sweaters of the athletes.That blue was the most glorious color in the world, much brighter than the dark maroon and white that were Hogan's colors, toward which I had no loyalty.

I was more loyal to Rockhurst, the halls of which I had never even entered, than I was to Hogan, where I attended school everyday. Hogan was mundane--a place of smells and boredom. The athletes were sweaty and gawky. I was in class with them and knew they were just average; they didn't even do algebra or geometry as well as I did. I could not romanticize or idealize them, so I turned my idealism to Rockhurst, the unknown.

Some girls in my class, girls who day-in and day-out wore the same shapeless navy blue skirts and white blouses and maroon cartigans as I, seemed magical creatures to me, for they were in touch with the unknown and mysterious Rockhurst. They went home to sit down at the dinner table with brothers who attended Rockhurst, who brushed shoulders with the blue-sweatered athletes of my dreams. They learned the secrets of the universe while I was limited to learning Caesar and algebra. A few junior and senior girls who walked in the halls of Hogan were so fortunate as to wear the blue letter sweater of a boyfriend from Rockhurst, though never at school, as only maroon and white were allowed. But at the games we saw them clad in the royal blue of favorites. There were a number of '"L's" (Lillis) and "S's" (Southwest), but only a chosen few wore the almighty "R's." These girls seemed as remote to me as Lana Turner or Hedy Lamarr. I became an observer, a listener, a vicarious liver of life at a distance; I lived in my imagination. I became those girls, whose names I cannot remember. No detail about them was insignificant to me. I studied their hair color and style, the fit of their skirts, the look of their bobby-sox and shoes, their make-up, their personalities. I studied them as diligently as I studied Latin. I held my breath when I saw them, even as I had when I pored over the body of St. Beatrice. They were my saints. They had attained beatitude.

I began begging my mother to let me go to Friday nite football games at Rockhurst, rather than to the Hogan games, which I had no interest in. I talked Mary Jo, who was eager for my friendship, as I seemed to her to be sophisticated, into going to Friday nite games with me. She was an only child and had more freedom than most. As the oldest, I could claim a certain freedom and maturity, even if I was only thirteen. Mary Jo and I talked on the phone every evening. We developed a secret way of talking, so that our parents couldn't understand us. We had secret names for the players or used their initials to refer to them.

Mother wouldn't let me go to any Rockhurst football games my freshman year, but she did get me a royal blue sweater for Christmas, which I began to wear with all the devotion of a novice taking the veil. I began to have a fantasy that I did indeed go with someone at Rockhurst, someone who had given me his sweater. I told no one about my beloved but Mary Jo. I told her that I had met him at a sock-hop, that he had called me, told me to come to the next baseball game, that he had looked for me in vain at the game and when I didn't show up, had come over. I wore his sweater whenever I went out, as if we were going steady. I was faithful to him and despised all the callow students at Hogan. He was my true love. I kept my heart pure, above the crowd, unsullied, for him. In my dreams, my blue sweater replaced the habit of the nun consecrated to God; now I was consecrated to him. When I received my blue letter from him would be my profession day. I was getting deeper and deeper into my illusion. Mary Jo insisted on knowing who my secret admirer was. I used some initials--LF-- and made her guess. She loved mysteries and guessing. There was something amazing in her swallowing whatever fantasy I told her. When she guessed Lefty Fuller, a baseball player, I denied it, but she thought I was covering up a rare treasure, to protect it from publicity. She took my denial as affirmation and swore she would tell no one. Her propensity for mystery was even greater than mine.As the baseball season advanced and I turned fourteen, Mary Jo encouraged me to beg my mother to let me go to a baseball game and insisted on accompanying me. "Your beloved will be playing." I begged with half a heart.
ce the game is on a Saturday afternoon and Aunt Meal and Uncle Fred will be there and Mary Jo will be your companion, you may go, as a birthday treat," Mother said to me. I tried to look happy, but inside I was in knots. Of course the dream of my life was to go to a Rockhurst game, but with Mary Jo how could I carry on my fantasy? I wanted to sit in the stands wearing my royal blue sweater, cheering on my heroes, worshiping from afar. Now I had to commit to one person, to pretend to look only for him, to wave at him. I would be limited from any possible opportunities to meet any real Rockhurst players. Mary Jo would expect me to be faithful to "LF." She was caught up in the drama, wanted to see how we carried on our secret love affair. She was half in love with him herself.

The May afternoon was cool enough to need my royal blue sweater. I wore my hair up on the sides to make myself look older, the way the seniors who had letters from boys wore theirs; I wore bobby-sox and saddle shoes and a grey wool skirt. Mary Jo and I had to take the bus as we couldn't get a ride. I explained to her that I had to look for my aunt and uncle first. I was torn between hiding out beside them and actually putting myself out on the board as a player, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to meet the man of my dreams.

I took her along the sidelines, covering up my backwardness by looking intently for my aunt and uncle, while Mary Jo dawdled along, ready to start up a conversation with anyone who was interested. "Just because you already have someone doesn't mean you have to ignore all these others," she complained. "Don't forget that I'm still looking for my dream man." Mary Jo was good at starting up conversations cold. She had more nerve than I, which was another reason I liked to be with her. She also had the daring to smoke. At Hogan we were known quantities --shy freshmen. Here we could pretend to be popular, fast, easy. She was ready to play.

"Darn; I promised my mother I would look for Aunt Meal," I appealed, pretending to be annoyed at my mother's strictness. "You stay here and wait for me." I would let her be as free and easy as she wanted while I buried my head in the sands and waited for it all to be over.

I wandered off, continuing to scour the stands for my aunt and uncle. Under the cover of my search, this long walk gave me a good excuse to look over the stands and see what boys I would like to meet, if ever they would notice me. At least I could satisfy my longing to observe the Rockhurst boys in large numbers, to perform my worship in silence, with only the crowds and the band like a chant in the background.
Near the end of the stands, I finally found my uncle and aunt and went up to join them and pay my respects. I really did not care about them and my whole attention to them was a masquerade to cover my embarrassment at not having a specific boy there to meet. I was running out of small talk to make with them, so I used the excuse that I had to meet my girlfriend and left them. Now I had another goal, to find Mary Jo, so I could again stare up at the faces of all the young men, seeking out my friend.
I was happily floating along, when I heard my name being called: "Rose! Rose!" I looked in the direction and saw Mary Jo up in the stands with two boys. I smiled and waved. She had worked fast! I joined them.

"This is Eddie and this is Tom," she introduced. "They're juniors. " "And guess what! They're friends of 'LF'!" she added in a whisper. I looked horrified. "I didn't say anything," she reassured me; "I just asked them if they knew him."

Fortunately, the game was ready to start and the players were warming up on the field, including "LF." Eddie was sitting to my left. He wasn't as tall as "LF" but he looked intelligent and had dark curly hair; moreover, he was a Rockhurst junior! He didn't have a letter, but he had on a blue sweater like mine and grey flannel slacks. We could have been on a date and worn matching outfits! I tried to act like I was very interested in baseball, asking Eddie questions about the game. Mary Jo was sitting to my right. Her love of secrets was making her nudge and look knowingly at me every time "LF" was at bat or caught a hit. She was hinting very strongly to the boys that she and I knew something that we weren't telling them, that there was more to us than met the eye. I tried to discourage her and concentrated on Eddie. I wanted to ask about him, but I was shy around boys. "I told them we're sophomores," she whispered warning me. That deception made me even more afraid to say anything, for fear of showing Eddie how stupid and inexperienced I was.
Mary Jo took off with the conversation. "Do you have a girlfriend?" she boldly asked Tom. He was caught off guard and said, "No." She looked smugly at me, as if to say, "Now I've got one too." "Do you have a boyfriend?" he asked her. "Of course, not! I came here to find one." Mary Jo would say anything. I withdrew further into my shell of shyness. "Don't ask Rose that question," she said knowingly to Eddie. "Why?" he asked. He was sincere; I liked him and wished I had never made up my imaginary relationship with "LF." Mary Jo was dying to tell them, but I gave her a warning look that made her fall into a pregnant silence. "You'll find out," she couldn't resist telling them.

They weren't into playing guessing games, I could tell, so I ignored her and went back to paying utter attention to the field. Unfortunately, baseball is such a slow game that the crowds were milling around and not watching the game as attentively as I wanted to, so I had to talk to Eddie.
"What about you? Do you have a girlfriend?" I adopted Mary Jo's devil-may-care attitude. I was emboldened to enter the game, to ask my own questions, to steal the ball and run away from Mary Jo, making Eddie the new subject.
"No," he admitted.
"He did have, though," Tom picked up the thread. "He went with her all last year, but just broke up with her, or rather she broke up with him."
"Oh, that's too bad," I empathized, secretly delighted.
"She dumped him for a baseball player," Tom went on, "who's right out there on that field. See, there he is--Lefty Fuller. You asked if we knew him. We know him all right!"
My heart fell. Mary Jo snorted and snuffled, looking at me with raised eyebrows. Oh, please don't expose me, I prayed.
"Well, I guess Rose doesn't have to meet anyone later after all," she couldn't resist a final cryptic remark.

I never saw Eddie again, but I had to endure Mary Jo's snickers and insinuations from that day on.



The Idylls of the Queen