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August 08, 2019

Mary Jean












Mary Jean

by jim richmond


A  chilly, late October rain was beating down, by the time Richard Mittelstadt and I bought the four rolls of toilet paper at Stack’s Pharmacy, and set out in the darkness of a late Friday evening to Mary Jean Gossey’s house.  We had a surprise planned for her.

Mary Jean was a popular neighborhood girl, Italian with huge green eyes, full lips, an attitude and sense of humor that belied her small 5’ stature. 

We were high school juniors.

She had been my “girlfriend” for just two weeks, and every time I looked into those eyes, my heart raced and my hopes soared. 

We had kissed just once, but I spent every chance at the Gosseys’ playing cards with Mary Jean, brother Bobby, and three older sisters.

Looking back, why did I think the Friday caper Richard and I planned would impress Mary Jean or make her like me more? 

How could I guess what a mess it would make of my life for nearly a year?

Walking quickly up Penn Street for about six blocks, the cold Kansas City rain drenched our clothing and Richard’s enthusiasm.

“Come on, Richard.  It’ll just take a few minutes,” I said, unwrapping the toilet paper rolls and stuffing them inside my wet jacket.

“No, I ain't goin any further.  Wait for you across the street in the apartment building lobby,” Richard told me, chickening out as far as I was concerned.

Rushing across the street, I quickly and silently tossed the toilet paper rolls up into the two large oak trees gracing the Gossey’s front yard – the rolls unraveling and decorating branches like July 4th rockets on the way back down.

A classic tee-pee job! I thought.

I ran up the steps on the Gossey’s expansive, wooden front porch and punched the doorbell with the palm of my wet hand.  What’s the point in tee-peeing if people don’t see it?

Turning, afraid of getting caught, I sprinted back across the wet porch, slipped and slid its full length, and fell over the porch railing into the muddy front yard.

I heard a loud snap.  Something was wrong. 

I got up and started to run.  Part of my right leg went one way, the rest the opposite direction. I looked down to see bones sticking out of my pant leg.  I had broken the leg in six places, and compounded the injury by trying to run on it.

Somehow, Richard and I hobbled to “Doc” Stanley’s house in the rain, cold and darkness… a few blocks away. 

I would end up spending a week in St. Mary’s Hospital and 5 months in a cast from pelvis to toes, getting the leg healed.

I never got another kiss from Mary Jean, although I don’t think the tee-peeing had anything to do with it.  She was, I realized then, and now, a little above my pay grade in looks and popularity.

Getting out of the Navy in 1970, I was buying groceries in the “old neighborhood” Kroger Store one day, to see Mary Jean – now pregnant – and her husband at the checkout stand.

By the time I paid for my groceries, she was gone.

I never saw Mary Jean again.  Later, I heard she had died giving birth to that child.

Now, as I approach age 75, every day on my morning walk, that old right leg sends me tingling reminders of that Friday evening in Kansas City long ago.

And of Mary Jean Gossey’s big green eyes, full lips, and laughter.