American astronauts landed on the moon the day I almost lost my
virginity. It was July 20, 1969, a Sunday afternoon just a little more
than a year after my Daddy died.
The world was focused on America and the first-ever mission that might
really bring astronauts to the moon, beating the Russian cosmonauts to
the feat. My sisters and I had been cutting newspaper articles from the
Atlanta Constitution for weeks to put together a scrapbook Mother said
we would want to show our children some day. Everyone I knew had plans
to watch the televised moon landing later that afternoon.
But it was the middle of summer and my new best friend LaDarla and I had
been invited to Lake Allatoona with the Carr family. We spent Saturday
night at Karen Carr’s house and on Sunday we drove to her family’s
lake house with plans for an entire day of boating and skiing.
The three of us had been spending a lot of time together that year.
Karen was the last of the three of us to turn 16. I’d been 16 for two
and a half months.
Karen’s mother fried chicken and made a big Tupperware-full of
macaroni salad Saturday night while Karen and LaDarla and I listened to
my “Tommy” album by The Who and made up dance routines to “Pinball
“Is everyone excited about the lake?” asked Mrs. Carr as she held
out a plate of brownies. All three of us extended an arm, each wrapped
in identical macramé bracelets, toward the plate at the same time.
“Don’t stay up too late tonight girls. We’ll leave early in the
Mrs. Carr looked more like a typical mother than my mother did. She wore
a pinafore-style apron over her shirtwaist dress, and her hair was cut
short and curled around her face.
“We’re really glad you can join us, girls,” she added smiling, but
she was looking directly at me.
That feeling again.
It had been 15 months since my father’s death, but I still felt people
lingering when they looked at me like they had more to say, but
couldn’t bring themselves to do it.
“Thanks for the brownies, Mom. We’ll go to sleep soon,” Karen
shouted as she turned up the volume of the record player.
I sensed that Mrs. Carr might still be looking at me, but I pretended to
look for something in my overnight bag and didn’t look up. I saw
LaDarla dancing in front of the mirror as I pulled out my shorty pajamas
from the bag and Mrs. Carr shut the door with a melodic, “Well, good
The next morning we packed the car with the picnic lunch, beach towels,
a change of clothes, extra life jackets and a cooler of Cokes and
Sprites. The three of us rode in the backseat of the Carrs’ mint green
station wagon to the lake house.
Karen’s brother Steve had just finished his freshman year at North
Georgia College and was taking summer classes to get ahead. I had met
him many times at the high school football games before he graduated
from Northbridge and he’d never given us much attention, but I knew he
had good manners. He’d won the citizenship award at our school’s
He and four friends from college arrived in a yellow Volkswagen soon
after we arrived at the lake house, and they all jumped out of the tiny
car like clowns at the circus — if clowns were shirtless, tanned and
good looking and had much nicer bodies than high school boys.
We packed the pontoon boat with the picnic supplies, extra gasoline and
coolers while Steve and his friends loaded the skis and ski ropes into
the Carrs’ ski boat, which was already hitched to an old truck they
kept parked on a gravel driveway next to their lake house. The plan was
to drive both boats to the marina where we would put the boats in the
water and then anchor the pontoon out in the water while the ski boat
carried up to six skiers and spotters at a time. Those on the pontoon
boat could swim aside the boat or sun on the deck.
LaDarla, Karen and I had all tried on our bathing suits the night before
and fussed over how we were going to look in them in front of college
boys. Karen ended up letting me borrow one of hers because she and
LaDarla thought it was a lot cuter than mine.
“It makes you look rounder at the top, Josie,” Karen said. “And
that’s a good thing.”
But the boys were much better looking than we had anticipated, and I was
really grateful for the cutoffs and t-shirt I’d worn over my suit as I
tried out excuses in my mind of why I might not take them off all day.
“Mine’s the one with the blond hair!” LaDarla teased when we were
alone in the kitchen.
“They’re all dolls!” said Karen in a half-squeal, half-whisper.
“This might be weird because my brother thinks I’m a big dork. No
telling what he’s told these guys.”
We were just preparing to leave when Mrs. Carr crawled over the trailer
hitch between the station wagon and the pontoon and sliced her leg all
the way from ankle to mid calf on a sharp piece of rusty metal on the
side of the hitch.
“Jim! Oh my gosh! Jim!” she screamed. We all came running.
The bright red blood was running down her leg, becoming dark, grainy and
coagulated as it mixed with the dusty gravel of the driveway below her.
She looked like she was going faint. Steve rushed to pull her arm around
his shoulder as Mr. Carr took a closer look.
“Okay, this is going to require stitches and fast,” said Jim Carr,
an accountant who clearly knew how to stay calm in a crisis.
“Karen, get some towels and some rope or tape. Steve, there is duct
tape in the ski boat console. Get that,” he ordered. “Karen, get
your mother a big cup of water, and the rest of you boys unhook the boat
so we can get the station wagon clear. I’ll get your mother to the
car. We’ll go to the emergency room in Cartersville.”
Mr. Carr took over as the shoulder to lean on and led his wife to the
back seat of the station wagon as his children darted into action.
“Josie, get a blanket off of one of the beds and bring it to her,”
he yelled as he helped her settle her into the car.
Mr. Carr wrapped her leg in a towel and taped it with the duct tape. He
covered her with the blanket and handed her the water, checked the
then-unhooked hitch and was ready to leave in just minutes.
“Should we go with you, Dad?” Karen asked.
“You all stay here,” he said wiping sweat from under his chin with
the back of his arm. “Steve, take the extra gas cans to the station on
Highway 41. I forgot to stop on the way in. That way we won’t have to
pay the marina prices.”
He pulled a twenty from his wallet and handed it to Steve.
“Hopefully, we will be back quickly and your mother will still be up
for some boating this afternoon.”
Karen peeked into the back seat of the car where her mother was looking
pale. LaDarla and I stepped up behind her.
“Karen, go ahead and bring the food into the house because y’all
will be getting hungry,” she said. “We’ll be back as soon as we
Dust kicked up from around the station wagon as they took off down the
driveway and up the gravel road toward the main highway.
“I guess that means we can’t take out the speed boat until they get
back?” asked one of Steve’s friends.
“No. I don’t think so,” Steve responded. “I think my dad would
have said so if he thought that was okay.”
“I’ve driven lots of boats,” he tried again. “You don’t have
to worry about that.”
“I’m sorry, Cary. I think we are stuck here at the house until they
The one named Cary rolled his eyes and looked at the other guys.
“Well, at least we can go get the gas your dad wanted you to take care
of,” offered the tallest boy, Nate. “I’ll ride with you. Anyone
else want to go?”
“We’ll stay here,” said Karen looking at me for assurance.
“I’ll stay too,” said Cary looking at the remaining two guys and
nodding. “The rest of us will stay here and hang out until you get
“All right,” Steve shrugged as he threw two empty gas cans into the
back seat of the VW and grabbed a shirt from the back seat and pulled it
over his head. “We’ll be back soon.”
The rest of us entered the house and the girls went to the back porch
while the guys went to the living room. The awkwardness was debilitating
as LaDarla, Karen and I tried to find something to do that didn’t
involve peeking or obvious eavesdropping on these three college guys we
found ourselves alone with. Starting a game didn’t seem right. There
wasn’t a television there. It was too early to get out the lunch. And
when we tried talking, we found ourselves whispering so the guys
wouldn’t hear us, and that felt weird too.
Finally, LaDarla picked up a Tiger Beat magazine she’d found in a rack
by the sofa and headed out to the outdoor swing. Karen found a book on
the shelf and curled up on the sofa. I walked out to the screened porch
where I could sit and look at the tops of the trees that blocked the
view of the lake beyond. Dark clouds were rolling in.
I could see LaDarla’s back as she moved back and forth on the squeaky
swing. It wasn’t long before I saw the blonde boy, Jake, talking with
her and then joining her on the swing. I looked again and he’d moved
his arm around her shoulders.
I’d kissed my first boyfriend Tommy Wilson a lot of times. I’d tried
kissing my neighbor Donnie Baker twice but both times were fails. Other
than a spin-the-bottle game I played at a church youth group night and
got stuck with two different guys I didn’t know— one who pecked me
on the lips, the other who just offered an awkward hug— my experience
I was just wondering what my mother and Annie Jo would think about how
this day was turning out when Cary walked onto the screened porch and
plopped himself down beside me.
“Josie, right?” he said.
“Yeah,” I managed. “Cary?”
“Yep. Steve was on my hall at school last year. He and Nate were
roommates. My roommate was a dud so I hung out with Steve and Nate most
of the time.”
“At North Georgia College?”
“Yep. Dahlonega. Have you ever been there?” and before I could
answer, “How old are you anyway?”
“No, I’ve never been there. And I’m 16.”
“High school,” he said. “I remember high school.”
“Aren’t you a freshman?” I knew my face was making the kind of
snarl that my sister, Ansley, said made me look like a constipated ape.
“Sophomore as soon as I finish this summer quarter. I’ll be doing
ROTC starting in September.”
We talked about the rain that was beginning to fall. He asked me about
several people he thought I’d know from Atlanta, but I didn’t. I
warmed up to him a bit after he talked about his younger brother who had
Downs Syndrome, and when he offered, “I’m just teasing you about
high school. You actually seem older than you are.”
Jake and LaDarla left the swing when the rain started and moved into the
house. When Cary suggested we move inside too, I expected to find them
in the living room but no one was there or in the kitchen.
“Come back here, I’ll show you a picture of Joby,” he said
pointing to one of the back bedrooms in the Carr’s lake house.
He picked up a duffel bag from the floor and pulled his wallet from the
“This is my brother Joby,” he said proudly. “He’s 7.”
The boy’s ear-to-ear smile was bent about three quarters of the way
through before it finished on the other side. His eyes were bright blue
and his hair stood up with a partial crew cut, but the sides were a
little longer, almost like Captain Kangaroo.
“He’s so cute. And I like his name.”
“It’s really John Benjamin Grant, but we shortened it to Joby when
he was a baby.”
“Even cuter,” I said. “Joby Grant. I’d like to meet him.”
Cary tossed the duffel bag back to the corner of the room and walked
toward the door and quietly closed it.
“Wait. So, you’re Cary Grant?”
My mind was catapulting between the peculiar coincidence of his name and
the fact that he’d just shut the bedroom door.
“Cary R. Grant. The ‘R’ is for Richard.”
He sounded as if he’d explained this before.
“Besides,” he added. “It’s my real name. The actor Cary Grant is
really named Archibald Leach or something stupid like that.”
“It’s true, but who cares?” He sat on the bed and patted the spot
beside him. “So Josie... I’ve only heard of one other Josie and she
was in a comic book.”
“It’s short for Josephine. I was named after my grandmother.”
“You have pretty eyes, Josephine-named-for-your-grandmother.”
I swallowed hard and wondered what LaDarla and Karen were doing.
“Really, sit down. You are cute, and there’s nothing to do until
Steve’s parents get back from the hospital anyway.”
I sat down but pointed my knees toward him to keep a little distance.
It didn’t work.
It wasn’t long before we were sitting side-by-side kissing, and not
long after that we were lying on the bed kissing and his hands were
inching toward my breasts in nonchalant ingress and egress.
Ingress and egress.
We’d learned the terms in social studies when talking about cities.
Reviewing the vocabulary words in my mind gave me something to think
about other than that the hand of a college boy I’d just met was
moving back and forth toward my right boob.
And then more ingress, and this time through the sleeve of my t-shirt
and with a slip of several fingers right underneath the elastic of my
bathing suit top.
“Um, maybe we’d better see what everyone else is doing.” I tried
sitting up but he put his face over mine and pushed forward with another
deep French kiss.
“They’re all doing the same thing we’re doing, Josephine.
I wondered if that were true.
“Well, just kissing, okay?” I said, noting the teasing inflection as
he said my formal name.
“Just kissing. I promise,” he smiled. “Sorry about that little
slip. It won’t happen again.”
He was cute. The dimple on his left cheek was as deep as Mother’s when
he smiled. His eyes were a greener-blue than his brother’s but still
had a lot of blue.
And he promised.
I relaxed while my mind whirled.
I’m kissing Cary Grant. I’m kissing a college guy. And he thinks I
have pretty eyes. Are my friends kissing their college guys too? LaDarla
and the blonde one? Karen and the one with the blue shirt?
I’d almost forgotten about Mrs. Carr’s leg and the picnic and the
lake plans as I got more and more comfortable making out with Cary R.
Grant on a bed in a lake house more than an hour’s drive from my
sisters and mother and grandmother and my school and our house and our
dog Cupie. It occurred to me that Cary didn’t know anything about what
happened to my father and to our family.
I don’t want him to know, I thought as Cary stood up, pulled off his
bathing suit and dropped it to the floor.
My heart was beating wildly as I pulled up to my elbows and leveled my
eyes to his faded Rolling Stones t-shirt with the gnarled face of a
cartoon Keith Richards before I got the courage to look further down.
Up to that point, I don’t think I’d ever even said the word penis.
My friends and I whispered about boys’ willies or things, but this was
no willie or thing. It was a fully engorged penis.
Engorged. I’d hated that word even when I saw it for the first time in
the “Wonderfully Made” book Mother had given me after I started my
My eyes shot back to his eyes and he was smiling at me. But this time he
didn’t look cute at all.
I jumped off the bed and reached for the doorknob.
“Um, sorry. No,” I stammered. “I’ve got to find Karen and
I was halfway down the hall before I finished my sentence, with my head
reeling with whether I should have expected that or not.
I found the other four bringing the picnic in from the boat and setting
up lunch on the kitchen counter.
“There you are. We’ve been wondering about you,” LaDarla sang with
a teasing smile.
“Where’s Cary?” the third guy asked.
Fortunately Steve and Nate walked through the door before I was forced
“We’ve got the gas. Have y’all heard from Mom and Dad?” He
looked at Karen.
“Well since we don’t have a phone here, no,” she said. “I guess
you could go check for smoke signals.”
I saw her glance at LaDarla to question the smart aleck tone, but
LaDarla dropped her face toward the ground, uncertain herself.
Steve ignored her. “Well I’m starved,” he said, grabbing a paper
plate and piling it with macaroni salad and three chicken drumsticks.
By the time we’d all made our plates and were heading for the porch
picnic table, Cary emerged. He was still wearing the Keith Richards
t-shirt but had changed from his bathing suit into a pair of blue jean
Steve brought a transistor radio from the car, and we all listened to
the broadcast from NASA, where the Apollo 11 was approaching the first
The rain had stopped, so Karen, LaDarla and I walked down to the lake
“Well, how did it go with Jake and Cary?” Karen asked. “Are they
nice? Do you like them?”
“Jake’s really cute,” said LaDarla.
“Did you kiss him?” Karen whispered urgently.
“No. We just talked.” She seemed surprised by the question, and my
heart fell. “But he asked me if I’d like to see a movie sometime,”
she added. “Why, did you kiss Rick?”
Rick. That’s the one with the blue shirt.
“Yes. Three times,” Karen boasted.
“What about you, Josie? Did you kiss Cary?”
“Once or twice,” I lied. “But it was nothing.”
“Well, it didn’t seem like nothing. You were gone almost 30
“No. Nothing,” I said and headed back up to the house. I couldn’t
think of anything except wishing I were at home, wishing my Daddy were
alive, wishing I could go back in time to before everything happened,
and knowing full well that the protrusion I saw poking from under the
Keith Richards cartoon was going to haunt me forever.
It was after 4 o’clock before the Carrs drove back down the gravel
driveway and hobbled through the door together. Mrs. Carr had a crutch
under one arm and the other around Mr. Carr. Her leg was bandaged and
splinted from her ankle to above her knee.
“Thirty stitches,” said Mr. Carr. “But we’ll fill you in on all
that in a few minutes. Apollo 11 is landing any minute.”
“We’ve got the radio on in here,” Steve yelled.
We all hurried to gather around the radio.
“Houston, Tranquility Base here,” said the static-filled voice
we’d come to recognize as Neil Armstrong’s. “The Eagle has
The lake echoed our cheers long after our group had quieted from the
clapping and hugging.
I stole a look toward Cary, but he was keeping his distance from the
group and fortunately, though I was afraid to look, I never felt his
eyes on me.
“…. about every variety of rock you could find,” Armstrong’s
voice continued. “The colors—Well, it varies pretty much depending
… it looks as though they’re going to have some interesting colors
to them. Over.”
In between checking in on the astronauts, Mrs. Carr described the
day’s ordeal at the emergency room, the stitches, the splint that
she’d have to wear to keep the stitches from opening, and the nice
woman they’d met in the waiting room who returned after her husband
had been treated and released for shortness of breath with bologna
sandwiches and a thermos of coffee for the Carrs’ lunch.
“I’m so sorry to ruin the day on the lake, everyone,” she said.
“I do hope we can try this all again. I just feel terrible.”
“It’s fine, Mrs. Carr,” offered LaDarla, as the boys’ voices
concurred. “We found plenty to do.”
“Roger. Tranquility,” came a voice from NASA’s headquarters “Be
advised there’s lots of smiling faces in this room and all over the
I wish mine was.
Excerpted from "Jaybird's Song" by Kathy Wilson Florence. Copyright © 2017 by Kathy Wilson Florence. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.