Before I explain about Dennis Jones, let me back up for a moment. The sewing machine from my grandmother was not the only present I got on my 16th birthday. From Mom and Dad, I got something I’d been begging them for since I was about ten: a horse.
In those days, you could buy a horse for a few hundred dollars. But it was boarding the horse at a stable that constituted the real expense. Our family was not wealthy. I’d been riding for several years in Burke, Virginia, which at that time was completely rural. We had an arrangement with a family called the Dickersons that for a flat fee of what I recall as $25 a month, I could ride their horses as often as I wanted. My friend Susie Fuller boarded a horse with the Dickersons, and we rode together nearly every weekend.
After years of my pestering them, Mom and Dad decided that they were willing to make the financial sacrifice for something I wanted so passionately. And they felt I was responsible enough to own a horse. Unfortunately, I was soon to prove myself drastically lacking in responsibility.
In the picture above, notice that I am not only riding bareback but I am also riding without a bridle, just a halter and lead rope. I was so comfortable on horseback in those days that I could go galloping along the dirt roads confident of controlling my horse with a bit of knee pressure and a tug on the lead rope. I truly loved horses. But life was getting more complicated.
My birthday was in August. Soon I picked out a lovely little buckskin gelding–not yet broken to ride, and therefore less expensive. I started getting him accustomed to the saddle and bridle and working him on a lead in the Dickersons’ ring.
School started in September. My friend Susie was an extroverted type, always getting to know new people, and she had a guy named Dennis in one of her classes. Dennis was a quiet, sensitive type. So was I. Susie decided that Dennis and I might make a nice couple. She introduced us. And the relationship “took”—boy, did it ever.
Dennis was the only child of a marriage that ended in divorce when he was very small. His mother tended toward wild mood swings. At times she was cranky and demanding. Other times, she could be quite funny. One of my most vivid memories of her was the time she danced around the living room to the blaring of the Jimi Hendrix tune “Foxy Lady.” It was clear that she visualized herself as Mrs. Foxy Lady in the flesh. She was a small woman who wore her dark hair in a beehive hairdo, though the fashion had passed years before.
Dennis worshiped Hendrix himself and practiced those wild guitar solos endlessly. He had a real talent for it. Another interest for him was Greek mythology—at least, I remember him making references to the Odyssey.
We both lived in south Arlington and attended Wakefield High School, but our homes were at opposite ends of the school district. Nevertheless, we found ways to see each other frequently. Sometimes that involved skipping school.
Needless to say, between the horse and the boyfriend, the sewing machine wasn’t seeing much use.
(To be continued)