‘Puppy Love’ and its place in our lives

CNN posted an interesting piece yesterday titled “Why We Grieve Teen Idols.” As one person commenting said, “Sad feeling, when pieces of your childhood start falling away. There goes another piece of mine.”

Ah, Davy Jones. My first real crush. I was 6.

No, seriously, it was a big deal. I was allowed to stay up an extra half-hour on Monday nights so I could watch “The Monkees.” I carried a plastic Monkees lunchbox to school, hard-earned after my mother had purchased a “Hector Heathcote” lunchbox the previous year for me. And Davy was my man.

Until I turned 7 and grew taller than him.

Ok, maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. I might have been 8 when I passed him in height. And by then I’d already found Donny Osmond and his brothers on “The Andy Williams Show” every Saturday night and tossed Davy aside like an old shoe.

I was loyal to Donny for a good 10 years. (In some ways, I still am, I guess!) By the age of 10, I had a solid plan. I fully intended to marry him when I was old enough, move to Utah, become a Mormon, and raise horses on a mountain ranch with the toothy hunk. (This despite the fact that yes, I’d passed him up in height at about age 14!) When I finally saw him in concert in 1970, my dreams were slightly crushed. There were thousands of other screaming girls filling Madison Square Garden, all wearing something purple and all having the same plan as I did, or at least, a similar version.

But it was impossible to let him go all the same. I watched his show with his sister, Marie, even though no one cool would ever admit to that at the time. His posters, carefully unfolded from Tiger Beat and 16 magazines,  adorned my bedroom wall until I left for college. A form letter he’d scribbled a note on personally was tucked inside my pillow case for 6 or 7 years. But after I’d left the Bronx behind for the not-so-ivied covered walls of Boston U, my father mailed me UPI photos of Donny’s wedding. I felt a pang as I looked at the black and white images. Although I’d moved on to real boys and real relationship possibilities for the future, there was still a little corner of my heart that wept a bit.

The CNN story chalks these kinds of reality up to a loss of innocence, or in the case of Jones’ death, a reminder of our own mortality. For me it’s akin to losing a tiny, tiny bit of yourself, the person you’ve become as the years and experiences pile upon one another. Here’s the bit of me that adored Davy Jones (for all of one year). It’s fluttering away in the wind, now.

I don’t want to even think about how I would feel if I outlived Donny. It would be a far bigger part of me. Somehow that crush, those dreams, did indeed shape my perceptions of what I wanted in  my life, in relationships, in a boyfriend or husband.

About 19 years ago I had the opportunity to interview Donny in person for a story I was doing about “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I was going to see the show and meet cast members after to talk.

I dressed in a knockout sweater dress and high black heels. I left my hotel room in Minneapolis/St. Paul as excited as I’d ever been. (My husband still laughs about this story.) I sat, enthralled, throughout the show.

But as it neared the finale, I started to panic. What if Donny was a total ass? What if the difference in our height really bothered me in person? What if he was a dud, a disappointment, a horrible interview? Before the show even ended, I knew that if any of those things came true, I’d be crushed. Yes, I was a happily married woman. But Donny had been a big part of my childhood, a savior in my dreams.

My mother once told me that if it hadn’t been for Donny, she didn’t know if I would have made it through childhood and adolescence. When things at home were bad, I went into my room and put my records on, curled up and pretended it was 1980 and I was already Mrs. Osmond and living in a world without anger and alcohol and crying and fear.

So in my 30s, was I willing to risk that my hero was human, or worse, that he had feet of clay? My friend, Woodeene, once told me you should never interview your heroes or idols, whether they were celebrities, authors, artists — whatever. There was simply no way they could ever live up to your expectations, nor did they have to. But you would lose a little something of yourself when you realized they weren’t all that.

So I blew the cast interviews off. Only time in my life I’ve bailed on an interview. I told the publicist I was sick and went home. I can still hear Gary’s incredulousness on the phone when I told him I was flying home early.

Friends who’ve met Donny tell me he is, indeed, all that. He’s a nice guy. I’m glad. But I still don’t really need to meet him. He’s got this great little corner in my heart, filled with gratitude and warm memories. Grown-up me doesn’t need my teen idol any more, and I’m even more grateful for that.

RIP Davy and the other teen idols who have gone before you. You didn’t win a Nobel Prize or cure cancer, but who knows what dreams you inspired in little girls that made them happier, gave them comfort, or just expanded their imaginations? Without knowing it, I’m sure you gave some girl a reason to daydream and hope for a better future.

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