I had two sisters – one two and a half years older and one eight years younger. The nearest big city was St. Louis, Missouri and in the summers we used to go there to the zoo or to see plays at the Municipal Theater in Forest Park. In the winter we went there to the big department stores to see all the decorations and sit on Santa’s lap and have our pictures taken. It was 100 miles northwest, so we often took the train. I loved trains.
At age seven or eight my Aunt Alice took me to Chicago on the train. It was a long trip because we stopped at every tiny little town along the 375-mile route. When we got there, we had to take the commuter train out to her friend’s house. I really wanted to hold on to the strap like all the other commuters so she let me stand on her suitcase in order to reach it and I felt so grown up. I ended up swinging from the strap a couple of times when the train made sudden moves that swept me off the suitcase. It sent me flying through the air holding on to that strap for dear life while my aunt and the other passengers laughed and put me back into a more stable position.
We also took the train down to Florida a couple of times to visit our relatives That was incredibly exciting because it was an overnight trip and by the time we got back from dinner in the dining car, our car had been transformed into a sleeping car with upper and lower berths. I got to sleep in the upper berth and vividly remember hearing the commotion as the train switched tracks in Birmingham to head east to Florida. I didn’t care about visiting the relatives. I just wanted to ride the train.
Going to the movies was a real adventure – in the summer at the local drive-in and the rest of the year at the theater in town. My favorites were romantic comedies, musicals, science fiction and Westerns. And of course, I loved the cartoons. It wasn’t all good though. “Bambi” totally traumatized me and I was so terrified by “Psycho” and “Murders at the Rue Morgue” I haven’t been able to go to a horror movie since. The few times friends tried to drag me to them, I spent the entire movie with my shirt over my head and my fingers in my ears, and once even managed to stay in the bathroom for all but the first 5 minutes. I’ve found this usually prevents them from asking me to go again.
I was a cheerleader in junior high, probably because we lived next door to the cheerleader coach and she took pity on me because of my shyness. I was pretty athletic, so the adults in my life figured this would be a good way to get me some exposure and build my confidence. I was also in the band - the bell lyre and my older sister played the drums because Dad didn’t think it was ladylike to march down the street with your cheeks puffed out and he would not allow his girls to do that.
My Dad got his pilots license and purchased a Cessna 182. Sometimes in the summer he would fly us to North Carolina to see Mom’s relatives or take us on various day trips. Occasionally I sat in the co-pilots seat and he would let me take over the controls – with his complete assistance of course. It was quite an adventure and I loved to fly and wanted to be a pilot when I grew up – among other things.
I learned how to drive in the fall when I turned eleven. It wasn’t an official lesson but it made a lasting impression. My Aunt Alice, who also had a vivid imagination (she was a high school speech and drama teacher in her small town) and had lead what seemed to me to be an exciting life, took me out into the local fields and back roads in her big old Pontiac. She put me in the driver’s seat and sat as close to me as possible – just in case – and away we went speeding through those back roads and fields, laughing all the way. We floored the gas pedal throwing dirt and gravel everywhere, then stomped on the brake leaving tire tracks and divots everywhere.
I was a tall and lanky girl and could just reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel. Fortunately there were no cows in the fields that day. She made me promise never to tell anyone and I kept that promise for over 40 years. Keeping secrets became a specialty of mine.
Then one day I came home to find my mom chasing my dad through the house with a tennis racquet, yelling and screaming at him. My idyllic youth ended in an explosion of emotion, the residue of which covered me with anger, distrust and sadness for years.