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.
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.
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.