Cowboy boots, thistles, love

She wore her pointy-toed cowboy boots to school, chased me down at recess and kicked me in the shins.

“Isn’t that sweet,” Mom said when I limped home from school. “Robin likes you.”

First grade and already I was being schooled in the art of romance. I learned that sometimes love hurts.

“What do I do?”

“Be nice. Tomorrow, pick her some daisies or dandelions or clover blossoms. I’ll bet she’ll stop kicking you if you give her flowers.”

I yanked up the finest, fattest, prickliest thistles I could find and tossed the whole bouquet at her.

Girls can run surprisingly fast in pointy-toed cowboy boots.

I’d learned my second lesson of love not even women know what women want, at least not that I could figure out.

“Of course we know. We’re just not as boring as guys are,” one of my female friends snipped when I asked about the puzzlement years later. “Guys only want one thing.”

Sure chocolate. Are we that transparent? Oh, and meatloaf, a remote control and power tools. And a nap. You know, we guys DO want more than one thing. But it’s all very easy and obvious to figure out. At least, I thought so.

It’s always been complicated, or just plain weird, deciphering if she or he is into you. Misread the signals, in either direction, and you’ll need a shin guard.

That’s why there are so many self-help guides on the store shelves. She needs something to throw when you’ve goofed again.

But if you actually read those guides on the psychology of love, you learn there are clues. If she crosses her arms while you’re talking, it’s bad; but if she crosses her legs, it’s good; unless her knees are pointed away from you, which is bad; except if she’s bouncing the top leg, which is good; but if she’s bouncing the bottom leg, it means she has to go to the ladies room and you’re holding her up with your incessant analyzing.

Basically, we’re still stymied.

In sixth grade, the system was simpler. You had a buddy drop a folded piece of paper on her desk with the crucial words: “Do you like me, check yes or no.”

She would confer with a gaggle of giggling advisers at lunch, after which, you found the folded paper back on your desk, with a third box added and checked: “Sometimes.” And beneath that: “Ask Joshua if he likes Amy.”

Usually, the guy is left to drown in a pool of confusion and questions over whether something significant took place.

Sometimes, friends take mercy and cue you in. After I went away to college, I received a message from the old stomping grounds: “A little birdie told me about you and Ruth. Well, I approve.”

I called home. “Mom, is there something I should know?”

“Well, dear, somebody said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if,’ someone else said, ‘It certainly would,’ word got around, and well, I don’t know how to break it to you, but you and Ruth are going steady. Congratulations, son.”

“Um, thanks. Does she know? Throw some thistles at her for me.”

It’s a constant befuddlement. I’d still be single myself except for a marvelous stroke of fortune. My wife told me we were getting married. But such thoughtfulness is rare.

Well, first she gave me chocolate. Then she rented a hall, hired a minister, ordered a cake, sent out invitations, hauled me to a tuxedo shop and said, “Guess what you’re doing Saturday?”

I’ve been delightfully married ever since. She doesn’t own cowboy boots.

—- Cole will be signing his books, “Bash and the Pirate Pig” and “Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper,” published by B&H Kids, in the lobby of Packard Music Hall, Warren, during the Spring Gospel Concert at 7 p.m. Monday.