I can feel my heart jump and sink when I look back on this day July 21, 1951, when I was 14 years old.
Her name was Francine, and she was the most beautiful girl I ever laid my eyes on. We met at Timber Lake Camp in upstate NY. She was a late arrival to our campground. She wore a stunning light green sundress that made her striking blue eyes shine like diamonds.
I knew the moment I saw her glide across the grass at the camp I was smitten. But I wasn’t the only one who took notice as Jimmy Lorenzo stopped in his tracks to gawk at her.
As quick as she came into our line of sight she was gone just as fast. I had to find out more about her, so I ran up to the head camp counselor and asked who my future wife was. He told me her name was Francine McDougal and this was her first camp experience. She was staying in cabin 14.
I knew I had competition as Jimmy overheard the conversation and bolted over to her cabin in search of her. Jimmy thought of himself as a ladies’ man around the campsite and would pursue her just as did other girls over the years.
I arrived at her cabin door just behind Jimmy and heard the conversation between them. “Hey there gorgeous, my name’s Jimmy and I am kinda the man around here. I know all the good hotspots and what and who to avoid in camp. What’s your name?” Jimmy said
She started to rub her neck and avoided looking right at him. She stuttered out, “Hhhhhiiii Jimmy, mmmyyy naaaammmee is Francine.”
Jimmy at 6’3 was a towering figure even more so to Francine who couldn’t have been more than 5’4. Jimmy continued the conversation while Francine looked at the floor the entire time.
I stood outside the doorway while Jimmy rolled right by me without saying a word. I was frozen, petrified and didn’t know what to do. I took one last whiff of her scent, a mixture of strawberries and lavender, before she shut the door without seeing me.
I walked back to my two buddies and told them I fell in love with the new girl, Francine. They took the news just like any other fourteen-year-old boys would. ‘Francine and Billy sitting in a tree K I S S I N G first comes love then comes marriage then comes a baby carriage.’
I didn’t care what those guys said, I knew what I felt even at that young age. I was gonna marry this girl one day and I didn’t care how.
Lunch time arrived as I sat at one of the long tables with my two friends while Jimmy worked the room with a couple of girls he was always flirting with but they kept rejecting his offers.
I scanned the room looking for Francine amid the chaos of teenage boys and girls running amok. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her. She was sitting at a table by herself, and nobody seemed to notice or care. This was my perfect opportunity to introduce myself.
I walked toward the table she was eating at but when I got there I chickened out and made a right turn. I slinked back to the table where my two buddies teased the hell out of me.
Wallowing in self-doubt I blew my chance to meet the girl of my dreams again. As I sat there pitying myself, I saw Jimmy sitting at her table. My teeth clenched, my stomach turned as I got angrier and angrier at myself.
I couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but he has an uncanny knack of sweeping numerous girls off their feet over the years at camp. Jimmy is always persistent and never gave up until he got the girl.
Looking over five minutes later Jimmy was gone but Francine remained eating her chicken salad sandwich. Fate gave me a second opportunity and I wasn’t about to blow it. I gave a quick pep talk to myself and marched over.
Francine looked up from whatever she was reading to a trembling 90-pound kid ogling her.
“Hello, can I help you?” she said
I froze for a split second before I uttered “Hi I’m Billy.” Well, I think that is what I said.
“Hello Billy, my name is Francine,” she answered.
She extended her beautiful, well-manicured hand waiting for me to place my hand in hers. I paused and lifted my arm shaking all the way.
“It’s ok I don’t bite. Would you like to join me?” she said
My heart felt like it was riding one of the horses in the Kentucky Derby and sweat dripped into my right eye.
“Yes, I would,” I said trying to sound cool and calm.
We sat and talked for the whole entire lunch hour until it was time to resume our camp activities. I stood up, walked over to where she was sitting and pulled the chair out for her.
“Wow what a gentleman,” she said
She leaned over me to grab her jacket off the back of the chair. “Bye Billy see you tonight down at the lake at 8 o’clock,” she said
I smiled and nodded my head as she breezed by me while Jimmy and his friends watched her in horror.
Jimmy’s head flew around, and his eyes glared right at me. I smiled which seemed to enrage him even more. He always got the girl and wasn’t going to go quietly.
I sauntered back to the table like I just won the Super Bowl and saw the look of astonishment in my buddies’ eyes. My smile stretched as wide as a six-lane highway.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Francine and our date on the lake for the rest of the day. Time was moving so slow, and I thought the day would never end.
I went through the motions during the activities that were planned in the afternoon and a few of the kids knew it. During a game of capture the flag I wasn’t paying attention and got knocked on my ass by one of my teammates. I don’t know if he did it on purpose because I was daydreaming.
Dinner time came at 6:30 and I inhaled my burger and fries as fast as I could so I could go back to my camper to get ready for the date. I knew I had plenty of time and didn’t have to rush.
I jumped in the shower and washed my hair body three or four times. I didn’t want to miss a spot and be embarrassed if she noticed or smelled something foul. I wasn’t taking any chances.
It was a quarter to eight and I walked out the front door of my cabin. The moon shone off the dark lake water and provided a light so I could see if she arrived yet. She was there but wasn’t alone.
I could hear them talking aloud and stopped dead in my tracks when I heard his voice.
I picked up my pace and could hear her say, “Leave me alone Jimmy. I’m not interested in you.”
“Oh, that’s right you’re interested in that nancyboy Billy. What’s he got that I don’t?”
“Well for starters he’s not an asshole like you.”
Jimmy kept tugging at her sweater asking her for a kiss as she was able to push him away. But he persisted until he saw me coming.
I froze like a deer in headlights as he had the most menacing look I ever saw on a human being. He turned towards her, waved his hand like he was swatting a fly and said, “You ain’t gonna do anything anyway.”
He marched over to Francine, pulled her in tight and tried to lay a big smooch on her again. She turned her face away but couldn’t get him off, he was too strong.
She stomped on his foot with her right shoe which made him jump off her. She tried to run, and he tried to grab her by the arm. She was able to pry him off, but she slipped and lost her balance falling over the side of the dock into the water.
I ran over to where she fell in but didn’t see her. I ran over to the other side of the dock hoping for a glimpse but nothing. Panic set in as I yelled at Jimmy to help me look for her. Jimmy just stood there expressionless and didn’t offer to help.
I dove headfirst into where she fell and swam as far as I could to towards the bottom. It felt like I was underwater for days, but I wasn’t gonna stop until I found her. When I came up for air, I saw Jimmy was gone.
Time was quickly running out and my desperation kicked in. I swam around the dock grabbing and reaching for any piece of her but came up empty. I heard voices when I came up for air and saw many faces looking down on me.
“Billy the cops and ambulance are on their way,” one of the camp counselors said
“I have to keep looking,” I said just about to go back under. I glanced at one of my buddies who pointed to the side of the dock.
I looked over and saw the sweater hanging from the spot he pointed to with her lifeless body dangling.
I pulled myself up from the water right next to where she hung. I don’t remember exactly what happened right after that. All I did know is the love of my life was gone. My parents came to get me the next morning.
The incident was ruled an accidental death and there was nothing I could have done to save her.
Every year on this day I relive that horrible nightmare again and again.