Thursday, July 26, 2007

Growing Up in America

My best friend in high school was Barb Jent. She was a tall, beautiful, African American girl with a gorgeous alto voice. Barb was popular. I was much too shy to be popular.

I enjoyed High School. I liked singing in choir, my Russian class and my advanced classes. I liked my friends.

In eleventh and twelfth grades, Miss Keeler, our choir teacher, formed the Quaker Singers. This was a group of the best singers in choir and she picked both Barb and me to be in the group. This was a good change for me. I learned to start singing out and the kids in our group became close. We all went to special engagements and outings together so we became good friends.

Barb and I became very close those years. We were in the same Choir class, Quaker Singer and Gym class. We ate lunch together. We went to Quaker Singer engagements together after school. We talked and shared our dreams for the future with each other. I shared my dream of becoming “That Girl.” She didn’t laugh at me. She felt the same way I did.

Neither of our families had money. Her family was even poorer than mine, if that was possible. Barb was cool though and she knew how to dress, even with her limited funds.

Barb said Martin Luther King helped make things better for blacks. People could no longer publicly discriminate, although there was lots of this in private. I knew what she meant.

We often talked about the Civil Rights Movement and how important it was for people to support it. Life wasn’t always fair to minorities. Martin Luther King was her hero and soon, he became mine.

I started watching the news with Dad, especially when Walter Cronkite talked about Martin Luther King or Civil Rights. Dad said Negroes were treated more unfairly than Mexicans. We talked about slavery and all the mistreatment they received.

Dad said God knows we are all equal and we should all treat each other with respect. I was glad Dad felt the same way I did.

Dad´s best friend at work was Will Porter. He was black. He worked in the paint shop in the factory, just like Dad. Will was one of the few friends from work Dad brought home with him.

When he visited, sometimes they sat and talked about work, other times they talked about life. My best memories of Will was when he talked to Dad about cooking.

Dad rarely cooked, but when he did, he made it an event. Sometimes he took every left-over in the refrigerator and put it in a pot. He called it “Mingongay”. It was horrible. We didn´t ask for Dad´s cooking very often.

Will, however, was an excellent cook. Sometimes he brought over his home cooking.

My favorite dishes were his cornbread dressing and his peach dumplings. We were glad he gave Mom the recipes. We didn´t want to know what they would taste like if Dad cooked them. Mom used these two recipes every Thanksgiving for the rest of her life.

Back at school, Miss Oliver, my Russian teacher, took us on a number of field trips. We even went horse-back riding together. What a blast. I still remember the songs we learned in Russian, but not much more.

Late in the eleventh grade, the Quaker Singers had an engagement at a Country Club. Miss Keeler asked us to dress in spring colored evening gowns.

I, of course, had nothing to wear. I went to Mom and explained what I needed.

The funniest thing happened. I think Mom was proud of me for being a member of the Quaker Singers. When I went to her with my request for a dress, she was surprised, but pleased. She promised to talk to Dad. She said not to worry. She helped me get the gown.

I wore the beautiful yellow dress to the singing engagement and I decided my dress looked just as good as the other girls’ dresses.

In addition to High School, I taught Catechism at our church on Saturdays. They needed someone to teach the 2nd and 3rd grade children religion classes. I volunteered and was selected to teach. I was provided the curriculum and some brief training, then started teaching.

While I enjoyed teaching and the students were receptive to my teaching style, I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher the rest of my life.

My dream job was to become a career woman, just like Marlo Thomas on “That Girl.”

During senior year, we constantly prepared for SATs. We took sample tests every month. I always did well on them.

The year I graduated, nineteen sixty eight, was quite an eventful year. Everyone was talking about the Vietnam War. Students were protesting.

My older brother Steven was in Vietnam. My parents were worried. When Steven wrote home, he said most of the soldiers were upset with President Johnson and they were against the War.

We listened to Walter Cronkite. The reports about the War were disastrous. How did our country get in such a mess? Peace must be the answer. I found myself siding with the Peace activists.

Barb and I sometimes joined other students in protesting the war. I didn´t think of myself as one of the activists. It was more about Barb and I agreeing with our teachers and other kids our age and carrying signs asking for Peace.

In the spring, Martin Luther King was murdered. This was a shock to all students. Barb was particularly upset.

We sat together after school talking about what happened. Barb was crying. I put my arm around her shoulder and tried to console her. We were both worried. Who was going to lead the charge for Civil Rights now? Our champion was dead.

Bobby Kennedy came to town the next month. I asked my sister Gloria to go to the airport with me. We stood with the rest of the crowd for hours waiting for him.

When he finally arrived, the crowd pushed and shoved us like sardines.

I lost sight of Gloria. The crowd started moving me forward, shoving me towards Bobby.

All of a sudden, Bobby´s back was directly in front of me. We were still packed like sardines and the crowd was moving us towards the terminal. Bobby and I were moving with the crowd´s momentum and he was just inches from me. He was so close, I could touch him, so I did. I reached out and touched his shoulder, just to see if he was real.

Bobby looked back at me, startled. I pulled my hand back quickly and just looked at him as the massive crowd moved us along. I couldn’t believe I was actually within inches of him. Suddenly he disappeared into the terminal. It was so odd that we moved along with the crowd. Then I was mashed by the crowd against the glass doors.

I became a little nervous and said out loud, “Stop! You are squashing me.” My face was mashed against the glass doors.

It might have been dangerous had the security not pushed everyone back. I was relieved, but I was still in awe over what just happened.

When I found Gloria later, we both were amazed that I was so close and that he wasn´t better protected from the crowd.

A month or so later, I was in the high school auditorium when they announced Bobby was shot. Students were shouting “No!” Everyone was crying. They let us out of school early.

Mom was watching TV when I arrived home.

Our family stayed glued to the set and watched the reports of the shooting. Walter Cronkite gave us all the latest reports.

Bobby died.

Sirhan Sirhan shot him.

My senior year, two heroes died. Their deaths changed us. The war changed us. The Civil Rights movement changed us. After graduation, as I entered the world as a young adult, I thought I was ready for anything.


Anonymous said...

It's funny you were in the school auditorium when it was announced that Bobby was shot. I remember waking up early in the morning, say
6:00 central time and Bobby had been shot very very early in the morning in California--pacific time. Maybe 1:00, 2:00. You need to get your facts straight or your book is little more fiction than you realize. You did this once before when speaking of John F. Kennedy. In addition, you like to speak of all your experiences growing up in America, meeting your husband who is not hispanic, yet you come across as the most unloyal American I have ever encountered. If your loyalty to American is in question, we have doubts about the 12 million plus who already do not show a desire to assimilate.

Dee said...

Obviously you are not reading my blogs. I was in Michigan growing up. Lansing Michigan. Eastern High School. Class of 1968. As I recall, we heard the news sometime in the mid-day. They called us into the auditorium. They made an announcement. We all cried.

The funny thing about truth is, you rely on your memory and the facts. You don´t check a clock. You just remember what you happened.

Tweety, we know your agenda.

Dee said...

I think I will introduce you to my husband someday.

Maybe you will listen to a big, Irish guy who is bald, handsome and very nice.

Dee said...

But you know what T, I let everyone post their comments as is and don´t edit them.

Just to let everyone know, yes. I have written a book and some of my blogs are excerpts from my book.

Tweety has prompted me to remember the time JFK visited Lansing. I will this memory on my blog next.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, you mentioned seeing JFK in Texas. What are the odds that you would see both of the Kennedys in person?
Please label your book mostly fiction written by a Mexican who could not totally come to love and care about the USA. By the way, did your sons marry anglo or hispanic women? You should include that in your book.

Dee said...

Anonymous, why not have the courage to leave your name? You don´t have to post your pix.

Anyone who has read anything about me knows I grew up in Michigan.

Apparently you have reading comprehension issues.

Dee said...

What are the odds the Kennedy brothers would run for President and visit Lansing, MI during their campaigns? (the odds = 100%)

If you doubt this, you could always look it up. Try google.

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