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BEING A FRESHMAN Kate’s Journal


Episode 9

Torrance, 1940

Arthur Murray taught us dancing in a hurry when we sent for his printed paper diagrams and invited him into my bedroom to follow the colored footsteps. Not that the two-step benefited me in any since I wasn’t allowed to go to school dances yet anyway. Jitterbugging was learned by grasping a doorknob in one hand and shimmying forward a few times.

arthur murray Arthur Murray

When we returned to California I was skipped ahead another half grade making me a year younger than my classmates. Being younger is a definite social disadvantage at the age of thirteen.

I fell in love with my Biology teacher Mr. Katz while dissecting a frog, but I don’t think it was reciprocated. For some reason I developed a strong desire to become a psychiatrist and asked him for books I could read. To give him credit, he honestly tried to discourage me, though I may have been a good one.

The sports teams were the Tartars, and I was unexpectedly elected Junior Tartar Queen. The acquisition of a crown gave me confidence to actually run for office. It was always clear to me that the reason no one voted for me was that I was wearing my grandmother’s light blue lace evening gown and a pair of her strappy dancing shoes.

While living in Connecticut I had for the first time had a room of my own except for the times I lived with Auntie. In this new home I again shared a room with my mother, but as Grandma obtained new roomers, this room kept changing. When leaving for school in the morning we might have one room, but upon coming home, I would find myself in another. One roomer who became a boarder, was a girl my own age who had recently lost her mother. Her name was Dorothy Graham, and much to my shame, I was not kind to her. Dorothy kept most of her possessions under the bed, including old comic books, candy bars and empty soda cans. She had a sullen personality and though my Grandmother nagged me to take her into my group of friends, I never did. Poor Dorothy did not live with us long. I understand now that she needed much more than I could have given her anyway, but I still feel the guilt.

Sometime during the Fall semester, I discovered boys. One of our football players, a senior boy called “Shifty Hips” Parton, lived across the street, so I was always ready to mow the lawn when he was home. I wore glasses, and one day he insulted me by saying I “looked intelligent”. From then on I tried never to wear my glasses.

I never knew what to say to boys. They were a whole different breed except for one boy who rode his bike down our alley on his way home from school. I was frequently up in the fig tree when he came along and we developed an easy comradeship. We would talk, he would scuff his toe in the dirt and I would occasionally give him a fig. It was not a hot romance. One day a boy actually came to the front door and my mother let him in. What do you do now, I thought. At my mother’s suggestion we made fudge and sat silently eating it in the living room while my three year old cousin kept turning summersaults on the living room floor.

Judy and Me 1941 Redondo Cousin Judy and Me at Redondo Beach

Somehow I developed a singing voice which caught the attention of my choral teacher and an acquaintance of my Grandmother who was the vocal teacher of Deanna Durbin, a young movie star. I have to attribute my singing voice to the outhouse in Connecticut. Singing allows you to breathe through your mouth. I had sung my way across country in the backseat of our car.

The family, convinced that i would one day make us all famous, pooled resources and gave me voice lessons. I loved singing so much that I searched all over for a church which would allow me to join their choir, since the Christian Science church where my female family member attended did not have one.

I spent Sundays going to most of the churches in town and finally found that the Episcopal church choir could use another voice. And thus began a secret life, ostensibly in the name of religion. Upon being issued a choir robe and marching out for my first practice, whom should I see but my Grandmother’s gentleman friend sitting in the bass section. I lived in fear that my family would learn I was not attending the Christian Science church, but the dear man never told them. On my mother’s death bed I asked her if she ever knew and she shook her head.

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12 comments on “BEING A FRESHMAN Kate’s Journal

  1. What a great story, Kayti. I had forgotten the verb ‘shimmy’. You would have experienced different people when still young with all the room letting.

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  2. “Shifty Hips”–Hmm, I’m not so sure I would trust a boy with that name. πŸ˜‰

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  3. This post has so many humorous details! How you remember them all astounds me. Giving that kid a fig and making fudge with another…good God, your culinary skills were already developing. I never made fudge in my life or had even tasted a fig.

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  4. I had an interest in becoming a psychiatrist, too. It was back in my senior year of high school. However, in my case, it wasn’t my teacher who discouraged me from pursuing that career, it was my mother. And, confession time… being a teenager at the time, with high spirits and a quick tongue, I offered my mother free therapy if she let me continue in my career choice. Need I mention that I was never allowed to take another psychology class? I have since learned not to say everything I’m thinking…

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  5. That was clever of you to bargain with your mother. I wasn’t smart enough to do that and she might have taken me up on it. It’s always best to keep your own counsel.

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  6. Apparently thousands of people took his course, both in person and on paper. Our Job’s Daughters dances were pretty tame too. I thought the best part was dressing up. I don’t remember live bands. The Palladium was a large dance place in Los Angeles in those day, with famous bands, but I was not allowed to go because of my age. Though I took dance lessons for a great deal of my life, I was not a good swing dancer.

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  7. Priceless, Kayti! “Shifty Hips” and “Singing allows you to breathe through your mouth”. So funny.

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