My unique relationship to the Followers began in grade school, at Mt Pleasant. They were some of my classmates, including one, Gina Crone, my first crush. I think it was second or third grade when I first met Gina. She had long, straight, brown hair and wore nothing but homemade dresses. She was a whirling dervish at recess and very, very outspoken, almost brash.
We instantly clashed. We were always getting into tussles at recess and always played four square or tether ball together. We touched and pushed each other a lot and hurled insults back and forth. She particularly gave it to me hard over my last name. If I had known the meaning of the word “crone” in those days, I would have given it to her as equally hard. We were in love and hate. Go back to your elementary days. There was always someone like that for everyone.
There was never a furtive kiss. There was, once, one furtive look between us. I think we both knew anything else was taboo.
After grade school, formal and public socialization between Follower and non-Follower children permanently ended. The lines of separation became clear in junior high. Boys could not approach Kisser girls. Girls could not approach Kisser boys. Many years later, a friend of mine who attended another junior high in Oregon City in the 70s told me she once flirted with a Kisser boy at school. It took all of one day for three Kisser girls to confront her after school and threaten to beat her up if she ever messed with the boy again. She didn’t.
There was no mixing and no little Romeo and Juliet scenarios ever unfolded that I knew about, but that didn’t mean I didn’t worship the Kisser girls from afar. I wasn’t the only one. They were otherworldly beautiful but totally unapproachable, let alone obtainable. What a strange feeling it was to walk among them in the hallways or sit next to them in classrooms and know any interaction with them was impossible, even academic interaction.
In junior high and high school, the girls prepped for being a wife and mother. They took as many home ec classes as were offered and took them over and over again. The boys prepped to be working class men. They took all the shop classes and took them over and over again. Neither the boys or girls went out for sports or rally or anything like that. They moved together as one throwback social unit that was practically invisible to outsiders except for matters pertaining to dress or speech.
Besides Gina, I have many vivid recollections of Kissers in my youth, but two stand out. They involve sports and muscle cars.
Kisser boys were the greatest natural athletes in Oregon City history. How do I know that? I watched them play. Had they gone out for football, basketball and track and field, Oregon City would have built the greatest high school sports dynasty in state history. It would still be going on!
But of course they didn’t go out for sports because they wouldn’t see a doctor to obtain the physical clearance the state required for participation.
None of them were ever coached. They never came to the high school games. Today, I wonder if they ever talked about how much better they were than the star players.
I saw them play basketball in junior and high school PE classes and during lunchtime ratball sessions. I will never forget Kisser boys dunking in ratball and knowing most members of the varsity team couldn’t even touch the rim. They weren’t all that accomplished as long-range shooters and rarely shot intermediate jumpers. They wanted to drive hard to the hoop and challenge. The only defense they played was in the air, at the rim.
They played football on Saturday afternoons at Rivercrest Park—rain on shine—almost year round. I was there watching many times. These were full on, full field, full speed, 11-on-11 (sometimes more) tackle affairs and displayed some of the most brutal headhunting I have ever seen in football, in person or in cinema, straight out of the Jack Tatum/Oakland Raiders playbook, circa 1977. They perfected the clothesline and didn’t help each other off the ground.
I never saw a single player injured, nor a fight break out.
The tackling was vicious, but in contrast, I also witnessed the most skillful and artful pickup football I have ever seen played: long bombs, double and triple reverses, laterals. I remember crazy leg kickoff returns, stiff arms made from steel, and athletes who could have played at the then Pac-8 level.
Kisser girls never played any sports that I ever observed. PE was segregated by gender in those days so I never saw them participate. I might have lost my mind had they been running around me playing floor hockey, badminton or dodge ball. And what about hackey sack? Oh to have seen that!
The girls liked to watch the boys play football. They would sit inside or on the hoods of their boyfriends’ muscle cars, smoking, listening to rock and roll on the radio, and raise a cheer or two. They were sort of early period Bruce Springsteen characters in that way. They were, however, not born to run. They never left Clackamas County.
It was immediately after those Saturday gridiron sessions, when the muscle cars were leaving the park, that my friends and I would scream “Kissers!” as loud as we could and then run. The cars would rip, roar and burn out toward our general direction and the chase was on.
They never caught us. I don’t think they ever tried.
I never saw a Kisser girl drive a muscle car. Oh to have seen that!
A long while back, after hearing that Gina had passed away, I went to the Carus Cemetery in hope of revisiting her, and perhaps myself when I was a kid. I really had no idea if she was interred there, but most of the Followers are, including all the babies with no first names who were buried in secrecy until one day it wasn’t a secret anymore.
I found her. She had died in her late 40s, prematurely, no doubt from some disease caused by genetic abnormalities associated with interbreeding. A half century of interbreeding in Oregon City led to this. It’s still going on. The Kissers are going extinct and writing their story as a biological and religious extinction sounds almost like writing a science fiction novel. In a way, the Kissers were science fiction, but not in the future, the past.
We were born in 1964. I sat down next to Gina’s grave and tried to remember her face, voice and movements from 45 years ago.
It was easy.
I’ll never forget the last time I talked to Gina. After grade school, she went to a different junior high and I didn’t see her again until high school, my sophomore year, a three-year absence. I was sitting outside, on a bench, eating my lunch alone as usual. She suddenly appeared and sat down next to me. She greeted me and smiled. I think we even shook hands.
She looked almost exactly the same as that final day of sixth grade.
We talked but I don’t recall what about. We didn’t have a class together so there was nothing to compare. We obviously never ran in the same circles. We didn’t have any mutual interests—except liking and disliking each other intensely in grade school—and that was a million years ago.
Still, the bond was there. I can still feel it.
The bell rang and she stood up to leave.
Then she said the only thing I remember from our conversation.
“You turned out different.”
“I guess I did,” I said, not really understanding how I was different.
If I don’t write the Story, I would dishonor that unique moment in my life, her keen intuition about me, and Gina would just be buried in a disheveled rural cemetery and just another Follower, Kisser, an obscure (somewhat) unwitting victim of modern religious superstition, unknown to a wider world that should have got to know her feisty spirit. She was different, too, but never had a chance to be different.
Gina said goodbye and I never saw her again. I have no idea if she ever graduated. I guess I could dig out my yearbook from senior year, wherever that is. Part of me doesn’t want to know.
Speaking of graduation, I remember mine. I think I sat next to a Kisser boy. He had the short hair, lean, blue collar, classic look of them. He had rough hands. We were a class of 400 or so and I had never seen him before. He had never seen me before. We laughed about that It was the only time I ever remember seeing a Kisser laugh.