The Wonder Years. Sometimes dramatic… sometimes hilarious… always able to strike just the right emotional chord. Growing up, I loved The Wonder Years. I still do in fact; it’s my favorite TV show of all time. Launched in January of 1988, the show took its audience on a magical tour of suburban life in America in the late 1960s, viewed through the lens of teenager Kevin Arnold (played by Fred Savage). The first person narrative (voiced by Daniel Stern) enabled us to see the world through the eyes of young Kevin Arnold, who was coming of age in an age of turbulence and perpetual change. Like so many who watched the show, I was able to easily identify with Kevin — he was the prototypical everyday teenager. On a personal side note, the best compliment I’ve ever received in regards to my writing is that it evokes nostalgic memories of the infamous voice-over but I digress.
Last month saw the 25th anniversary of the final Wonder Years episode, Independence Day, which aired on May 12, 1993. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since The Wonder Years went off the air, so continuing in the tradition of A Very Cutlip Christmas, I figure now is the perfect time to share yet another one of my favorite episodes from this seminal series.
This is a story of roots.
A story of relationships.
And a story of knowing yourself.
It’s a story…
OF MASTODONS AND MEN
In a lot of ways, high school boys are a lot like primitive man.
In fact, about the only difference between my clan and neanderthal man was…
“Hey, you guys wanna shoot some hoops after school?”
“Oh yeah, count me in.”
“Hey Kev, you playing?”
The tribe. That year we were inseparable. We faced all the challenges.
Julie Aidem. We been going out for 2 weeks. And to put it mildly…
She appreciated the little things about me.
“You know, you have a really cute laugh.”
She liked my laugh.
“I thought about you today, Kevin.”
“Yeah, I was thinking about you too.”
She thought about me… lots.
“Yeah, but with the collar up. You know, it really suits you.”
That was Julie. She watched over me. Took care of me. Civilized me.
And if that wasn’t enough.
“Hey Julie! Hey Kevin!”
She had a great dad, too.
“How many times do I have to tell you to call me Ben?”
“Well, finally got that problem solved. Now she’s ready for a little spin.”
I admired the guy. He had hobbies, he was funny. A real man’s man.
“Honey, did I hear you say you’re going to take the sports car out for a drive?”
“Thought so, yeah.”
“You remember our agreement: You ONLY drive the sports car on the weekends.”
“Heh, I don’t know what got into me!”
“He’d be off driving it DAY and NIGHT if I let him, wouldn’t you, Ben?”
Not that Julie’s mom wasn’t every bit as fun loving as her dad.
“Hey Kevin, why don’t you stay for dinner?”
“I’d love to, June!”
All in all, it was quite a household. Filled with doilies and laced curtains. And of course, Pupu.
“Quiet, Pupu! Quiet!”
“I don’t get it, Daddy. You’re the only one that Pupu barks at.”
“That’s because Pupu loves Daddy!”
The Aidem family was a model of decorum. There may have been a reason for that.
“So Kev, who do you like for the World Series?”
“I don’t know. I think I like the Tigers, or maybe the Cubs.”
“Oakland’s gonna knock everyone else on their butts.”
“Oh, sorry. NOT at the dinner table!”
A home where people actually said please, and used butter knives. As oppose to say…
Yeah, this was the life. Catered to. Coddled. Taken care of.
Still, at two and a half weeks into the relationship, it was beginning to occur to me that civilization was not without its discontents.
“Well that’s great, daddy….”
“… OH yeah, lemme get something outta my tool box and I’ll get out of your way.”
“Daddy! Look what you’re doing to Pupu! You’re hurting her feelings!”
“Oh, I don’t know what got into me!”
“I’ll go get her a biscuit.”
And suddenly, the thought struck me this guy might appreciate a little male bonding.
And there ya had it.
“Did you miss me?”
So much for guy talk.
“Yeah, of course I missed you.”
The next day the guys were giving me a hard time about Julie.
“Look, I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to ask anyone! I’m playing football today after school, and that’s that!”
“Yeah sure Kev, whatever you say.”
“I’ll be there!”
But there was one little problem. Leaving the bathroom, I heard it…
Maybe that’s when I began to realize… the undeniable truth.
“So Paul, you wanna play some football this afternoon?”
“You got it, Chuck.”
By the next day, one thing was clear.
“Hey guys, what time you playing?”
Still, I had one skill primitive man did not: I could whine.
“C’mon guys! I wanna play!”
“Look Kev, you bailed on us yesterday, and you didn’t even tell us.”
“I got tied up! It was an emergency!”
“It was JULIE, wasn’t it?”
“It was ONE time. I promise, it’ll never happen again. Please?”
A few hours with the guys and I remembered who I was.
Yep, by the time I came home I was a new man.
“Kevin, you have a visitor.”
“… H-Hi. I wasn’t expecting you. So Julie, what’s going on?”
“Oh nothing. I thought you were coming over today.”
OK, it was clear we reached a critical juncture. It was time to set ground rules, here and now.
“Every once in a while, guys gotta, you know, hang out with other guys.”
And there it was. Gentle but somehow, firm.
“I guess you forgot what today is!”
“It’s our 3 week anniversary!”
“I got you a gift!”
Made you wonder if they knew how to gift wrap crow.
“Do you like it?”
“Yeah! I- I love it, it’s great, it’s it’s…”
“You know Kevin, if you wanna be with the guys sometimes, I understand.”
“No, no, that’s not it. It’s just –“
And right about then, something went wrong.
“So maybe it’s time we made more of a commitment.”
“Oh Kevin! This is so exciting! I can’t wait to tell everyone we’re going steady! But first we have to tell mommy and daddy at dinner.”
Not that I’d actually agreed to anything, you understand. Not technically, anyway.
Still, that night outside Julie’s house, I knew I didn’t have the courage to turn back.
Great, the whole family knew. And not only that, now we were gonna have the talk.
The father-of-the-bride speech.
About the birds.
About the bees.
“Duke was a black lab. Eighty pounds. He was so full of fun, and so full of spirit. He was a real man’s best friend kind of dog, you know. And Duke wasn’t afraid of anything.”
“What happened to him?”
“Ran away the day I proposed to June. I still think about him you know. Every now and then, at night…
“Uhh… terrific mash potatoes, Mrs. Aidem.”
“Thank you, Kevin.”
But then, I suppose they don’t call it the inevitable for nothing.
“Kevin, don’t you have an announcement to make?”
At least not around the Aidem household.
“Uhhhh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. I do…”
“Kevin, I think you should stand up.”
And that’s when it happened.
It was horrible. It was amazing. Almost as if Pupu knew I was about to join the ranks of Aidem men.
“Julie, I can’t do this. I just CAN’T! I like my collar down! And I HATE wearing striped shirts! And I don’t like cookies! And another thing, I don’t want to spend every minute with you. I like hanging out with the guys! I’m a HUNTER! And a WARRIOR!!”
OK, maybe I got a little carried away about the mastodon thing, but I wasn’t just speaking for myself. I was speaking for all mankind. For Ben.
“I can’t do it, Julie. We can’t go steady.”
*Aidem girls run off crying*
Over the next few weeks I rejoined my tribe. And in a lot of ways, I was back where I belonged.
I guess I knew there was still some unfinished business.
Between Ben and me at least.
“Hey Kevin. I thought that was you. You look pretty good out there.”
“Thanks. So… how’s Julie?”
“Oh she found a new guy. They’re going steady.”
“Huh, no kidding!”
“Yeah, he looks great in stripes.”
“I bet… hey! You got the car out on a Thursday huh!”
And in a way, I couldn’t help thinking I had something to do with it.
But me, I was just a sixteen-year-old guy, and the way I saw it, there were still a lot of mastodons yet to be slayed.
JULIE AIDEM, MEET SARAH FRANKLIN
Some say high school are some of the most critical years of your life. You made friends, enemies and memories. Sometimes you even broke hearts.
Looking back at my high school yearbook I see a lot of faces that pass through the years. Some I wonder how they’re doing and what they’re up to. Others, I wonder if they ever wonder about me. And then… there’s Sarah Franklin.
I was a junior in high school. Coincidentally, much like Kevin Arnold, my tale happened when I too was 16.
It was a language arts class, and we were watching a great film called Smoke Signals.
It seemed like an ordinary day, a day just like any other. Little did I know, it was anything but.
So I’m sitting there enjoying the movie when I started to notice Sarah giving me funny looks. I didn’t know why exactly, but I knew something was brewing.
And surprise surprise, something was.
On my way out of class that day I felt a tap. When I turned around, Sarah Franklin shoved an envelope in my hands and dashed off. It happened so fast I almost couldn’t believe it. Not wanting to involve the guys with the matter, I kept silent about it throughout lunch. When I got home I ripped the envelope open.
Whatever was inside… I knew one thing… it was more than just a party invitation.
I found a 2-page letter, printed on yellow and green paper. Here’s the gist of what it said:
- Hi Steven!
I know we only see each other in English and Study Hall, but what I’m about to tell and ask you is HUGE. You see, my sister met a wonderful guy 10 months ago. They shared such a wonderful relationship and I’d never seen her any happier before than in those 10 months. Regrettably, good things never last, and his family ended up moving 10 months later. They knew a long distance relationship would never work, so they reluctantly broke up. My sister, ever since, has not been the same and as her big sis I’m looking for a great guy who is looking for a meaningful and loyal relationship. As I said, we don’t really know each other, but from what I know of you, you seem like a really great guy! It’s hard to find a good guy in this day and age who doesn’t use foul language or the like.
So… what I’m getting at is… would you like to meet my sister over lunch? If you’re looking for a great girl who will love and be loyal to you, my sister is the one. Please call me later today between 4 and 9 PM. My number is 867-5309.
PS- If I seem weird tomorrow in English class it will be because you know why!
Wow. It’s not everyday you get a letter like that! But at the time I just wasn’t looking for a relationship. So much like Kevin Arnold did, I knew what I had to do.
To this day I can still vividly remember the enthusiasm and giddiness in her voice as she picked up the phone… but I’ll also never forget how I took the wind right out of her sail in the next few seconds. It was hard. I felt bad. But I knew I had to be honest.
“WHAT ABOUT THE MASTODONS?!?!”
I didn’t quite go berserk like how Kevin Arnold did. There was no talk about being a hunter, a warrior or slaying mastodons. Instead I opted for the classic American way: a quick courteous note followed by friendly rejection.
Like Kevin, I wasn’t ready. I too was sixteen-years-old, and the way I saw it, there too were mastodons yet to be slayed.
Looking back, am I sorry about what I did? In a way, a little bit. Maybe the least I could have done was have lunch with the poor girl. But you know, when you’re 16 you do “dumb” things. Sarah Franklin figured I was different from the other guys. After what happened, she probably hated my guts.
Senior Grad Night. All the seniors were living it up at Disneyland. On one ride, my eyes met Sarah Franklin’s. We exchanged a nod — an unspoken pact of forgiveness. A moment that signified her younger sister was doing dandy in the game of life and that bygones would be bygones.
At least, that’s what I’d like to tell you.
But no such Wonder Years ending.
I really don’t remember what happened to Sarah Franklin. In fact, I hardly recall seeing her around my senior year. We haven’t spoken to each other since that one fateful phone call. Then again, not like we ever did before, you understand.
We’ve all broken someone’s heart. We didn’t mean to… it just happens. Lord knows we’ve been on the other end as well.
Yup, in high school we made friends, enemies and memories. Good and bad. And every now and then there are people you wonder about, and people you wonder if they ever wonder about you. And then there are the Sarah Franklin’s of the world. You don’t really want to remember the memories of the Sarah Franklin’s…
But you do.
Sarah, wherever you are, I hope you and your sister are doing well. I hope both of you have found the right guy (or girl) to share life’s ups and downs with. Cheers.