Mary Anderson moved onto my street during my sophomore year. Her long, dark, curly hair, sleepy coffee-bean eyes and light olive skin appeared exotic, a sharp contrast to the rest of us. Mary's father was in the Air Force, and with a flourish of her arms she informed me that she had lived, "everywhere — and nowhere."
I embraced Mary's suggestion to race grocery buggies across Kroger's parking lot after the hop at the rec center. One person squeezed inside and another pushed. Three teams in all. We shrieked and doubled over, breathless in the cool fall air.
The carts, headed down an incline, ended up beside the Appliance Center billboard. Mary extended her hand and helped me join her on the wooden walkway underneath. We pretended to be models, like TV's Betty Furness, and pointed to the giant stove and refrigerator, interspersed with manic laughter and tears.
Just before the city police cruiser circled around, we scrambled down.
Back on Earth, I hoped no one I knew, or worse, my parents knew, recognized me.
Both in and out of school, Mary laughed nonstop. If she spoke, her voice was soft, a siren's whisper. Worldly, years ahead of 1959, she overflowed with zany ideas.
Most of the girls in our group adored American Bandstand, and each rushed home every afternoon at 4 to note the wardrobes, hear the hits and imitate dance steps — the Stroll, the Hand Jive, the Calypso.
But I'm the only one who agreed to go.
I don't remember how we knew Dick Clark was in town. Nor how we found out he reserved a room at the new Hilton downtown. Maybe Porky Chedwick, the hip DJ at WAMO, announced it.
That Friday afternoon, Mary waited at the Potomac/Broadway Avenues stop until I beckoned from the streetcar's right-front window. After she climbed aboard, we moved to a double seat in the rear and shoved our starched, crinoline-lined skirts underneath us.
"We're going to sit in the lobby the rest of the afternoon," she said in that low, seductive voice. "He's bound to come by."
"Will they let us?" I asked, never having been in a hotel.
"You're allowed to be there. Besides, they have detectives to watch it's safe."
The reception area was fancy: window walls; burnt-orange, olive greens; chrome Sputnik chandeliers; Danish-modern boomerang tables. Mary positioned us on a sleek couch facing the registration desk and elevators.
"Just pretend we're staying here," she instructed. "Waiting for someone."
"We are," I said with a smirk.
I scanned the travelers for Dick Clark's face. Nobody seemed aware of us or minded that we were there. We left at 5:30 because I had to get home for dinner.
Early the next morning we were back, with brown bags filled with fruit and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, prepared to stay all day.
Mary wandered off and I glanced around to see if I could spot one of the detectives. A Brylcreemed businessman, seated on a chair in the alcove, lowered his newspaper and caught my eye.
I looked away, uneasy.
Mary hurried back. "He's on the 21st floor. We gotta go up there."
The lobby was one thing; upstairs, well, I didn't want anyone calling my parents.
She looped her arm in mine, marched me to the elevator, gushed loudly about her fabulous room on the 21st floor, and pushed the button.
We exited into a dim hallway that smelled of cigars.
A far-off string orchestra trilled The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane.
"Now what?" I asked.
"Shhh, wait, I know he's here."
Mary rattled her bag and offered me an apple.
Queasy, I declined.
She moved away and cupped her ear to one door and the next.
Then, farther down, two men in dark sport coats and earnest conversation rushed toward us.
"It's him," Mary squealed; her eyes bulged.
She fished a pen and autograph book from her purse.
I rooted in mine and located a wrinkled scrap of paper.
Dick Clark was surprised, gracious and short. Shorter than me.
He signed, twice, before the elevator whisked him away.
Back home, I waved my little sheet in the air. "Look, I got Dick Clark's autograph."
I bubbled about my adventure to Mother.
She stiffened. "Don't you dare go there again."
I stormed out of the room.
In less than five minutes, Dad, red-faced, loomed over me. "You're never, ever, to hang around hotels. It's dangerous for girls your age."
"They're public places," I argued.
He gave me a fierce look. "Period. And no more running with that Mary."
At that juncture, I did not comprehend the basis of my parents' alarm in the possible consequences of that encounter or that particular friendship. I was still obedient and thus disengaged, without protest, from free-spirited Mary, who fast disappeared from my life.
For years, that tiny script, inked "Best Regards, Dick Clark" resided in the right-hand drawer of my dressing table.
Unfolded, refolded, yellowing.
Then it, too, disappeared.
Lost, like so much from those innocent times.
Donna E. Glausser is a Tampa writer.