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Remember when you were ‘16 going on 17?’

Remember when you were ‘16 going on 17?’

When I was 16 years old — going on 17 — I had a poster of Stevie Nicks, the mystical, utterly bewitching lead singer of Fleetwood Mac, on my bedroom wall. I sometimes tell people that she was my first schoolboy crush, but that is not entirely true.

Now that I have reached an age where I no longer worry all that much about whether my friends and rivals perceive me to be cool — they don’t and I’m not — I am free to admit the embarrassing truth that my first real crush was on Liesl Von Trapp, the oldest daughter of Captain Von Trapp and the most beautiful girl in all of Austria — the most beautiful girl anywhere — right around the time of the second World War.

Like so many of the world’s great love stories, this one started out innocently enough. The first time that my mother forced us to watch “The Sound of Music,” I was probably not yet 10, and I was no more impressed with the lithe and lucious Liesl then I was with the ridiculously attired Von Trapp boys, who, through no fault of their own, were forced to wear the most degrading outfits I had ever seen young men wear. Their outfits had been made out of curtains! Just one day in our school in those clothes, and they would have gone running home to the Baroness with bloody noses and a chorus of vile epithets ringing in their pointy ears.

In truth, I was put off by the entire movie. Every time it seemed like it was about to get interesting, they would break into song and I would flop off of the sofa and writhe on the floor in disgust. The captain seemed like a pretty able man. Why not turn him loose on Hitler and get this show on the road with some explosions or airfights or something? Who wants to marry a wayward nun anyway? Who wants to marry, period?

Since “The Sound of Music” was my mother’s favorite movie and since in those days we got three channels and the only movies I can remember airing on a regular basis were “The Sound of Music” and “The Wizard of Oz,” we were forced to watch it about three times each year. I learned the words to most of the songs in spite of myself and would sometimes catch myself in the tub singing, “Doe, a deer, a female deer,” before submerging my head underwater until the impulse passed.

This went on for a few years until I turned 12, when something strange and inexplicable happened. I was sitting there on that same brown tweed sofa playing with my GI Joe with the Kung Fu grip, barely aware of the movie playing in the background until Liesl’s big scene with Rolfe in the gazebo. You know the one, where she sings about being 16 going on 17, and they sort of chase each other around a tree, and then a terrible storm materializes out of nowhere, so, of course, they dash into the gazebo and start dancing.

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But before that, when Liesl looks up at Rolfe with those eyes — those stormy blue eyes — I must have dropped my GI Joe, leaving him marooned on the carpet and at the mercy of our opportunistic cockapoodle, because every particle of my attention was now focused on Liesl — Liesl, Liesl, Liesl — and I dropped down on both knees and watched her twirl and sing in that gazebo, my eyes about three feet away from the television.

 “What are you doing?” my mother said. “You are blocking the TV.”

I could hear, but not process, her words. I found that I was skewered and held there like a shish kabob, run completely through with a longing I had never known and a jealousy I could not have fathomed just one day before. Why, this sudden intense hatred of Rolfe, the singing Nazi? Was it his betrayal of Liesl and the entire Von Trapp family, which I knew was to come? Was it his allegiance to Hitler? No, no it was not. It was because Liesl seemed to adore him, and not me.

I already knew that life was unfair. I did not know that it was also cruel. I could not have known that this entire sad tableau would play out again and again in high school, when all of the beautiful girls on whom I developed debilitating crushes would invariably prefer the company of the Nazis who roamed the halls of our high school like the Gestapo in their jackboots and varsity football jerseys.

I never again complained about watching “The Sound of Music,” especially the parts featuring the luminous Liesl. When I heard that the actress Charmian Carr, who played Liesl, had passed away over the weekend, I could, once again, hear the sound of the music, and I could feel that old longing of a tender heart and remember that there is still a place somewhere in us all where we will always be 16 going on 17.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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