Big Red

(A Guest Post from DDDT Friend and Sleazy Salesman Troy): I went to Knowlton Elementary School in Farmington, Utah in the 1980’s. My hobbies and interests as a 6th Grader at Knowlton included collecting baseball and basketball cards, playing little league football, and girls. I’m sure it wasn’t a practice exclusive to our school, or even our decade, but at Knowlton it was a big deal back then to go with a girl. Asking a girl, “Will you go with me?” was to really put yourself out there, on the line, and the answer to this question had enormous social repercussions.

Going with a girl was so awesome. It consisted of . . . well, um, actually, I don’t know. No, there weren’t any dates – duh, we were 11. Kissing was completely out of the question. Only the Skaters and Rockers dared kiss girls. Hand-holding was fairly scandalous, so it too was usually avoided. Some of the more daring kids masterminded trysts at the movie theater or mall, but I never pulled that off until Jr. High. Virtually all of the action when you were going together in elementary came in the form of notes.

Since you didn’t really ever talk to the girl you were going with, you’d get the itch once or twice a week to do a little relationship inventory. You know, see if you were still going together or if you had been dumped. To keep things simple, we employed the questionnaire with a couple of checkbox answers model. No room for miscommunication that way, although somewhere along the way some clever girl invented the dreaded third box, for “maybe”. I always hated that. In an arrangement like going together, the only upside was the simple validation that came from a girl thinking you were cute enough – or in my case funny enough – to go with. “Maybe” completely undermined that validation, and the euphoria that accompanied it, even though that euphoria was inevitably followed by a panicked confusion as to how to proceed.

Except for notes, there was really no set protocol for going together. Once you got the “yes,” you were in uncharted waters. Maybe you’d sit by each other. Let her doodle on your Trapper Keeper. Play a few games of MASH.


I’m going to marry Jamie from “Charles in Charge,” we’ll live in a shack, and I’ll drive a Ferrari to the sewer plant. That makes perfect sense.

My biggest crush in the 6th grade was Erin S. (Erin is an occasional DDDT reader, and yes, that makes telling this story slightly embarrassing.) With Valentine’s Day approaching, I desperately wanted to go with Erin. I still remember walking through the aisles of Bowman’s trying to decide what to get her for Valentine’s. SweetTarts and a perforated wallet-sized Garfield greeting card weren’t going to cut it. But swinging too far the other way by buying her an entire bag of mini Baby Ruth’s would just make a spectacle. The perfect solution came in the form of a Big Red Value Pack, the kind that comes with 10 or so packs of 5. Now, some of you that may be thinking that giving a girl several packs of cinnamon gum lacks romance. But let’s examine how Big Red was positioned in the late 1980’s marketplace:

Whoa. Now you see where I was going with this. This was a pretty big deal. Of course, being 11 and at a grocery store, I was obviously with my mom, and she was buying. I still remember being embarrassed as I explained I wanted to give multiple huge packs of Big Red not to the whole class, but actually, to just one girl. My mom got a twinkle in her eye that suddenly turned into an almost a forlorn look, and I still remember what she said, “My sweet little boy about to get his heart broken.”

Valentine’s Day arrived, and I’m sure I made a friend deliver it, not only because it was very common to use a 3rd party in situations like that, but because I have no recollection of how the delivery went down.

I figured that the proper groundwork had been laid, and I decided to ask Erin to go with me. I prepared the obligatory paperwork and gave it to my friend Davey Bell for delivery (he went by ‘Davey’ until he went through puberty…just before we left on our missions). Davey was always more savvy than me – than any of us, really – and when I approached him with the plan, he scrapped it altogether and proposed a better strategy: He would simply negotiate, in person, on my behalf. No note required.

I sat awkwardly on one side of the classroom while Davey ventured over to Erin and her friend Mara P. I probably pretended to look busy but I must have stolen some glances because I can still picture the scene. The three of them huddled and whispering and occasionally looking over. Davey working his diplomatic magic. After an agonizing few minutes The Negotiator returned to present the results: I was in. Seriously? I couldn’t believe I was officially going with Erin S! Pure elation swept over me, followed by fear as I realized I had no idea what came next.

I can only imagine the self-conscious eye-contact we must have exchanged at that point. Well, what happened next came quickly because 24 hours later, Mara and Erin came skipping by at recess chanting “You’re dumped, you’re dumped!” What?!? I didn’t even get to write a note. I confronted the Negotiator, demanding answers. However, being the gentleman that he was he refused to disclose the terms of the deal, simply consoling me with the thought that, “Hey, not many guys can say they went with Erin S.” He was right. He only got me one lousy day, but he was absolutely right.

After that I went on the rebound and had a good stretch with Jenny V. We sat by each other at lunch, hung out at recess, and even talked on the phone a couple of times. I’ll tell you, that Jenny knew what she was doing. I think she must have been 12. After 2 or 3 wonderful weeks, she went on to wow some other lucky kid.

That year I also went with Angie B. Her brother Wade was in scouts with me and when he found out I was going with his sister he made fun of me mercilessly. So that didn’t last very long. Turns out the validation that comes from one girl is far outweighed by the scorn of several older Boy Scouts.

Fast forward twenty some-odd years, and contrary to countless 6th grade MASH predictions, I’m now living in a house, with 3 kids, and married to Melissa W. I still have a huge crush on her after 11 years. Maybe I should write her a secret note with checkboxes and give her a whole box of Big Red. I bet she’d like that. Davey, are you busy?

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20 Responses to Big Red

  1. Gs? says:

    Troy, you’re awesome. I think you should just plan on taking Tuesdays here. You nail it about “going together”. Who made up the rules and who kept track of the rules for going together? It’s a great view back into those innocent times.

  2. Eliza says:

    Wow such a funny cute post. You totally captured the magic and anxiety of “going out” in elementary school. Such a funny funny dynamic. I don’t know about you but I actually “followed the prophet” and turned a boy down in sixth grade, because going steady was bad. ; ) In fact I was so faithful I didn’t date til college. great post

  3. Andrea W. says:

    I was laughing so hard reading this, Troy. You just completely summed up my 6th grade year. 6th grade was an uncharacteristically popular year for me and I “went” with a boy. From the minute our relationship was official, I don’t think I ever spoke to hiim again. In fact, I very quickly found myself crushing on his best friend who was our negotiator because he’s the one I was always talking to. Those were the days. Great stuff! Thanks for a very entertaining walk down memory lane. Also the memories of 6th grade Davey brought it all back, I can still picture him in his cool clothes he had to beg, borrow and steal to get and the wave in his hair he spent untold amounts of time on perfecting.

  4. Ryan A. says:

    Troy, you nailed it! That was a great little story and well written.

  5. Ryan says:

    Great story, Troy. What a strange set of transactions that all was. My experiences of first going with girls are fixed in my mind as perfectly as I remember yesterday’s lunch. I bet everyone is the same. Amazing how formative something like that can be, huh?

  6. Wade says:

    Awesome stuff, Troy.

    Except the part about you going with my sister. Not cool.

  7. Rebecca Bell says:

    i remember my very first boyfriend, travis c.. i think he plays basketball for kansas state now. anyway, when we were in 6th grade, he brought me flowers at my house for valentines day. i was super nervous when he showed up at my door. i thought it was going to get in major trouble for going with a guy in 6th grade. turns out my parents thought it was pretty cute. our romance ended when my family moved later that year, but on my last day of school there, our friends had arranged for us to meet by the trophy case for our first (and last) kiss. i didn’t show- can’t remember if it was my nerves or just that i didn’t know where the trophy case was. either way it was good times.

  8. Rebecca Bell says:

    oh and that big red commercial is a classic. i remember those well.

  9. Ben Pratt says:

    Ugh. Not only do I have uncomfortable memories of the disastrous results of my 6th-grade self’s apparent social autism, but as a teacher at a prestigious liberal arts academy I find myself in the position of trying to help some of my young scholars look waaaaay beyond the vapid games of elementary school.

    But you know what was awesome? When I figured out that one girl was leaving notes for her friend behind the box of tissues when she used it every day. I felt like I’d bested the KGB when I burned that dropbox.

  10. Christian says:

    Such a great post Troy. Forget taking tuesdays. You should take Mondays and Wednesdays from now on.

    Didn’t Davis end up going with Erin S. too? I think you were double crossed, my friend.

    Reba, nice name dropping. I’ll google your college basketball playing Travis right after I check the latest news about my ex who became a JAZZ DANCER!!!

  11. Braden says:

    Troy, that was brilliant! Pitch-perfect. You totally caught the whole scene at Knowlton in the 80s. Wow.

    As a 6th grade teacher, I have to tell you that kids still do this. It’s still every bit as awkward, although now they say “Will you go out with me” which they generally don’t do, but at least it makes more sense then “Will you go with me.”

  12. Becca says:

    Haaaaaaaaaaaaa I totally forgot about MASH. Thanks for the reminder and the flashback to middle school. Great post!

  13. Erin says:

    Funny post Troy, this is Erin M. by the way. I remember these times well. In Jr High, I went with Joe W. We had been going together for a few weeks, I think, and hung out at a party one night. I wouldn’t hold his hand, which was practically kissing, as you said, Troy. The next day he called me, only to tell me we needed to start “seeing other people.” I though that was such a funny thing for an eigth grader to say. And I never liked holding hands until I met my husband, maybe there is something to that?

  14. Troy says:

    Hey everyone thanks for all the comments. It’s not easy coming in off the bench while the starters take a break, so it’s nice to feel the love from the crowd. That’s a sports analogy for Eliza. I also posted a link on my Facebook and got some comments there. Someone was helpful enough to remind me that I had a wicked sweet mullet in 6th grade and that was perhaps the reason I got dumped. So, I appreciated that constructive criticism. If anyone else has any advice for me that would have been useful over 20 years ago, it will be duly noted.

    Andrea- In hindsight, the Negotiator really was the best role. Pretty much all my healthy interaction early on with girls was when all the pressure was off. Savvy, I tell you, savvy, that Davey Bell.

    Kook- As far as being double crossed, I wanted to leave it open to doubt for the readers. Makes for better literature. Plus Davis was my editor.

    Reba- An arranged kiss meeting? And you left him hanging?!? Wow, who knows what could have been? (Mental note, Kook…put a lockdown on internet parental controls for the following search words: “Big XII”, “Kansas St”, “Travis C”, and “Hugging protocol married woman”).

    Ben- Just let your students be vapid. Gosh.

    Braden – Does it, though? Does it really make more sense? Until they actually interact with one another, I submit that neither term makes much sense. Glad to hear it is still in play, though.

    Becca- I know, right? I literally hadn’t thought of MASH for years until it randomly popped into my head the other day. It was the inspiration for this entire post. My wife and I were talking about MASH and she said at her school it was “MASHO”. It was a slightly more sophisticated version which stacked the odds against Mansion, Apartment and House with…”Outhouse”. Which is freaky because 1 in 5 kids that went to her elementary really do live in an outhouse.

    Erin M- If you never held hands until you met your husband, can I have you come talk to my daughter when she turns, like, 10? That’s a hilarious story.

  15. Davis says:

    I racked my brain to see if I remembered any of this, and I came up short. However, you succeeded very well at evoking that particular place, time, and practice. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced as much agonized anticipation as I did waiting for a “Will you go with me” note to come back. Pure hell, followed by matchless elation (or devastation).

    I do know that I went with Mara P. in 5th or 6th grade, and I continue to consider it one of the highlights of my life, a social summit followed by a precipitous slide in 7th grade.

    Is it possible I double-crossed you in the negotiations? Yes, absolutely.

  16. Lindsay says:

    This is hilarious! I didn’t even go to Knowlton but hey we had Dixon, Tom, Robb (Robbie) at Sam Morgan Elementary! All of which I “went with” wow what a lucky girl i was!

    Davis you were to thank for my ninth grade romances! Ha good times:)

  17. This post was awesome. Love the Big Red commercial – especially the elevator scene where the guy unnaturally blows in the girl’s face. I also love how cinnamon-spicy all ya’ll’s “love” lives were in elementary school. I’m going to go ahead and blame the fact that no boys ever asked me to go with them on the fact that I changed schools so much. Ok, fine, it was that I was a late bloomer and sooorta had an almost unibrow before I was introduced to the wonder that is a tweezer. I do remember having a friend drop a pretty forward valentine card in the desktop box of my 4th grade crush for me. No use. And then there was Jimmy in 3rd grade, who I used to sashay across the playground field for, hoping to catch his attention, to no avail. Sheesh, I guess I started too early and then dropped out of the game by 5th and 6th grade.

    Loving the comments too, by the way. Dying at the Kansas St./Jazz battle going on. Zack’s bff in Philly had an ex that won $1 million on Deal or No Deal – c’mon, that’s a hard one to pass up in the name dropping game.

  18. Erin Ashby says:

    Alrighty Troy- I laughed all the way through this one! I clearly deserved to be so brutally villainized!!! I don’t recall specifically what was going through my 6th grade brain when I apparently committed to a full 24 hours, but I’m thinking it was probably ALL THAT GUM! I just want to know one thing… Skipping? Really? Why were we skipping… in 6th grade…? Thanks for the laugh- I guess we’re even now, right?

  19. Troy says:

    Erin, I’m sorry you saw yourself as the villain in this story. It wasn’t written that way, so I’m sure it’s just the workings of guilt, regret and the time-clarifying reality that you tragically cut yourself short and missed out on so many…notes. No, you weren’t the villain at all. In my eyes, you deserved every last stick of that cinnamon gum, and you made the day of one 11 year old.

    And yes, you were skipping. But in the end, it was the cutest breakup I ever had. If only all my breakups from that point on in my life included skipping.

  20. Mara says:

    oh. my.

    I’m pretty sure this story could only be topped by one in which a girl (me) asks a boy (Davey) out using a homemade rap tape delivered by Erin and myself to his house (long bike ride, it involved hills, it was love). *cough*

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