Questions That Prompt Stories

While playing on Facebook, I keep finding questions that prompt stories. Here are my responses to several that seemed worth responding to:

Who was your first prom date? I barely remember going to proms at all, even though I really loved to dance; however, for my senior prom, I had been dating (probably too strong a term) Stephen Dale Humphrey (a sophomore who was adorable). Steve hadn’t asked me to the prom and when friends would ask, “Who are you going to prom with,” I had to respond, “I had assumed I’d go with Steve, but he hasn’t asked me yet.” Finally, a few days before prom, rather than to be direct and ask Steve out myself or ask why he hadn’t asked, I asked (with an “I’ll get even with you” attitude) a friend of a friend if he would go to the prom with me.

Steve from my 1958 year book.

Steve from my 1958 year book (year book scans aren’t great)

This is a bit of a story in itself: my best friend Jeannie was dating Harold who was struggling with his sexual orientation [long before that was more commonly known and discussed] and the friend of a friend was one of Harold’s already-out-of-high school, openly homosexual friends. He happily agreed to be my ‘date.’ So, Jeannie and Harold and what’s his name and I were going to double date for the prom. Now the story really gets dicey. Steve had apparently been assuming we’d go to the prom [so strong an assumption that he didn’t think he even needed to mention that detail to me]; he finally said something like, “What time are you picking me up for prom?” – he was too young to drive. And I, with some sense of triumph (remember the “I’ll get even with you” attitude?), said, “Oh, Steve, I’m so sorry; when you didn’t ask me to the prom, I assumed you didn’t want to go, so I asked someone else.” Steve was crushed in two ways: 1) he didn’t have a date and 2) he had no way to get to the prom. The solution: Harold, Jeannie, what’s his name and I drove over to Steve’s, picked him up and took him to the prom as the figurative fifth wheel.

In spite of the senior prom fiasco, Steve and I continued to occasionally see one another for a good part of the remainder of my senior year. Because we were in Civil Air Patrol together, we didn’t have any kind of ‘break up’ but simply moved effortlessly into a broader friendship. We remained friends over the next 25 years until divorce created a divide between four couples; even to this day I remember all eight of us with enormous fondness and regret for the loss of our deep bond of friendship.

It was this Steve who gave my daughter the blue, very long-legged and long-armed-holding-a-carrot bunny that she loved so much during her early years – it was perfect for a toddler to drag along behind as she developed her walking skills.

Do you still talk to your first love? The easy answer is ‘No.’ The more complete answer is that I’m not at all sure who that might have been. In hindsight, I’m not at all sure I’ve ever been ‘in love.’ I have had several male friends for whom I have had a deep and abiding affection, including Wayne to whom I was married for almost 25 years and with whom I shared common backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, values, goals, dreams, friendship and children; that may actually be love, though it’s not exactly how Hollywood has portrayed it.

The first young ‘man’ I remember daydreaming of going out with was Pat Sherburne when I was in the sixth grade. He was really cute with slightly reddish blond hair. There was a girl in my class whose body had already started to mature and Pat was definitely drawn to her. I think her name was Carol and we were friendly enough that I spent time with her in her home – her parents owned a small café on S Agnew and lived nearby. Pat wanted to be with her and managed to set up a very innocent foursome in the school auditorium that included Paul Burleson and me. I met in the auditorium but was hurt that Pat preferred Carol to me and almost embarrassed to be even slightly paired with Paul, who was short and freckle-faced.

Pat is next to the teacher; Paul is same row opposite side. I'm 2nd from right on 1st row.

1951 Columbus School – Pat is next to the teacher; Paul is same row opposite end.  Carol is 2nd girl right of Paul. I’m 2nd from right on 1st row.

Life is interesting. I chose to go to a more distant junior high that was reachable by bus, while Pat and Paul went to the feeder junior high. Eventually Pat ended up at the new high school (U.S. Grant) while Paul and I were at Capitol Hill together. Paul sang in the choir with me and became our student body president. I doubt he has any recollection at all of that day in the auditorium and, if he does, it is also likely with a similar embarrassment that he was even slightly paired with me and hurt that shapely Carol apparently preferred Pat to him.

I completely lost touch with anything to do with Pat until about 2002 or 2003 when one of the Realtors in my office sold a house to Pat and his current wife. He had apparently not been particularly successful while Paul became a Baptist minister and sometime evangelist and husband to one wife who, to all appearances, seems to be very happy with her choice to be Paul’s wife.

What was your first job? I imagine my first job was babysitting, though I don’t recall any specifics. The first job I remember would have been working at John A. Brown’s. I don’t remember what I did there; because I can remember being on mezzanine, I may have done something in the book department. Mother worked in the cosmetics department and apparently helped me get the job. My strongest memories of this would have been the summer after I graduated from high school. I was working there during the sit-ins in downtown Oklahoma City during August 1958.

Sometimes in the afternoon, mother and/or I would go downstairs to the lunch counter for apple pie ala mode. I went down for that afternoon treat on the day of the John a. Brown’s sit in. Even though I had been to Katz Drugstore during the sit-ins there, I was still a little bit oblivious to the importance and impact of what was happening. When I walked up to the counter, all the seats were filled with what were then known as ‘colored people.’ I was prepared to wait until I could be served when the woman at the counter said to me, “May I take your order?” I looked toward the people sitting on the stools and said, “These people are ahead of me,” to which she replied, “I can take your order because I cannot serve them here.” I asked her, not facetiously but genuinely asking for information, why not and how they, as employees of either John A. Brown’s or other downtown businesses, could be provided meals. Her reply was that Negros had to go into the alley and knock on the door, request their food and wait for it to be handed out to them in the alley.

John A. Brown's Sit-in - August 1958 - From http://dougdawg.blogspot.com/2008/10/john-browns.html

John A. Brown’s Sit-in – August 1958 – From http://dougdawg.blogspot.com/2008/10/john-browns.html

That was the first moment I really understood the painful and, in fact, stupid reality of segregation. Though I had seen the signs on buses that said, ‘Coloreds to the rear,’ I generally sat back there myself, believing those were the best seats on the bus. And as far as school segregation was concerned, Douglas High School was the newest and presumably best high school in the city. In my mind, I assumed they all lived willingly in the vicinity of that high school because I was oblivious to the rule that they could not purchase homes in white neighborhoods.

But once confronted with reality I made a stand. I told the counter help, if they could not be seated and served, I would refuse to accept seating and service until the time this ridiculous situation was changed. I didn’t join in the sit-in, but instead left and went back to work.

What was your first car? For my first car, see my post of January 31, 2009. I will, however, continue with other stories of the car. In September, when school started, I began what would continue through the majority of the rest of my high school years – I drove from my house at 320 SW 23, west of Western, to about 2200 S Pennsylvania to pick up JoDean and Susan Reynolds, to the 800 block on SW 56th to pick up Wanda Hazlewood and then on to CHHS at SW 36th and Walker. They each paid me something like $1.00 a week to make this run. [Kay, please note the similarity of names to your cat, Susan JoDean.]

One winter, the small ensemble that sang songs from Oklahoma had a performance at the country club at Grand Blvd. and N Pennsylvania and by the end of the performance, we were in full ice storm. I took someone home who lived a couple of miles further south than I lived. When I turned east onto her street, I discovered I couldn’t get up the slightly sloping hill. I struggled for a bit trying to accomplish this task until I finally discovered I could turn the car around and was able to back up the street to get her home. Then I set out on my way back home on incredibly icy streets. I encountered no other serious difficulties, though in hindsight, I would guess it would have been impossible to get up my driveway and even climbing the steps (see below) to get into the house must have been a struggle, if that icy slope was any indication.

View of the driveway from Google Maps 2-2009

View of the driveway from Google Maps 2-2009

In the photo of our house, notice the driveway. It was fairly steep and fairly narrow and each yard/fence had an approximately 6-inch thick concrete supporting wall. As I mentioned, when Daddy gave me the ’53 Plymouth, he purchased a Hudson, which is a much larger and heavier car. One day I was backing Daddy’s Hudson out of the driveway. Most probably due to the fact I was unused to driving Daddy’s bigger vehicle, I kept backing crooked and would go back up a bit and try again. Somehow I managed to get Daddy’s car in what I thought was a completely wedged in angle. I have no recollection of how we exchanged places, but Daddy managed to get in the car and get it straightened out and backed out of the driveway. Bless his heart, he did not say any derogatory comment, but just assured me anyone could have gotten into that kind of a difficult spot. I can’t imagine how I avoided scraping Daddy’s car on that concrete, but even if I did, he responded totally loving and supportive of me.

1953 Hudson Hornet - Daddy's may have been a 1951, but this is similar.

1953 Hudson Hornet – Daddy’s may have been a 1951, but this is similar.

When I went to OSU, there was no question but that I could take the car. At that time, getting to Stillwater involved driving up through Guthrie and then west a 19-mile straight stretch of road into Stillwater. What I learned from driving that stretch is that a little light-weight vehicle like the Plymouth could almost get airborne driving 60+ mph when the Oklahoma winds ‘come sweeping down the plains.’

Once I married Wayne, the car remained with Mother and Daddy and at some point, Daddy sold the Hudson and bought a green and white Chrysler, which he had when he died, approximately two years after my wedding. Wayne and I brought that car from Mother to be able to provide some money to meet financial needs thrust upon her as a widow. Mother and Mickey returned to driving the Plymouth for another couple of years.

Who was your first grade teacher? Because I moved so often, I really don’t remember a specific teacher by name or face until I was in the fourth grade at Heronville. My teacher was Mrs. Walker and she told us she was an Indian princess. A few years back I was in a group talking about schools and teachers and I mentioned my teacher who was an Indian princess and there was someone in the group who had also had her, remembered the same thing about her and was excited to find someone else who shared that experience.

The next teacher I remember was in the sixth grade (she’s the one in the school picture above and was pregnant – due in the summer. She lived in some very small apartments close to the park where I played ping pong and ran track and I stopped by several times and visited with her during that summer when she had her baby.

Where did you go on your first plane ride? My first plane ride would have been from the Downtown Airpark in Oklahoma City and would have been a small Cessna plane flown by one of the CPA senior members. I went up several times from the airport or from search and rescue missions we attended in small communities. I remember one of those when the pilot turned off the engine and glided for a bit – terrifying me.

Who was your first best friend and do you still talk? Jean Blake is the first person I really remember being a best friend. I met her when I lived on Binkley and went to Heronville School in the fourth grade. The day I met her I asked her name and she said, “Tootie.” I said, “No, what’s your real name,” to which she replied once again, “Tootie.” It was a long, long time before I ever got her to tell me what he name was: Carolyn Jean.

As was typical, we didn’t live on that street for very long. Soon, we had moved to the north side of town into an apartment run by my Aunt Eula. I really hated the apartment and have always remembered my time on the north side as gray. Mother did take me back to Jeannie’s a time or two for a visit, but eventually I lost contact with her until we moved into a neighborhood similar and close to the one on Binkley and I rode the same bus home that Jean rode. We visited some in the drug store while we waited for the bus and some during the ride, but it wasn’t the same as it had been when we were best friends in the fourth grade.

Then in 1955 when I went to my first Civil Air Patrol meeting. Jeannie was there and we began to reconnect at the best friend level again.

After her marriage to Harold, he joined the Air Force and they moved to North Dakota and then to Amarillo. Wayne and Kay and I visited them in Amarillo once. Then we were all living back in Oklahoma City and once again, Jeannie and I struck up our strong friendship again. Jeannie and Harold got a divorce and Wayne and I started moving around the country and, though we tried writing to each other, we were moderately inconsistent and once again lost contact.

Then in 1987ish, I got a telephone call one evening when I was living in Norman. The voice asked, “Is this Donna Brown?” “Yes.” “The Donna Brown who’s married to Wayne?” I began to be a little curious/suspicious and asked, “Who is this?” She replied “Jean Blake Riggs.” And just that quickly we made arrangements to get together and, once again, our friendship was reinstituted.

Jean’s husband, Jess, was working in the oilfields in Iraq or Iran and Jeannie had tired of the attitude toward women and had decided to return to Oklahoma City. She told Jess she’d be here when he finally decided to join her. She bought a house and was living there by herself so we spent a good bit of time together. After a year or so, Jess came home and I stopped hearing from her so regularly. When I started checking around, by way of her daughter, Cyndi, I discovered they’d sold her house and moved to El Paso.

I’ve spoken to her off and on. I ran into in the grocery store a year or so ago and found she’s bought another house here in the City so she and Jess could retire here. Her father had died and her mother was having signs of senility and was living with Jeannie. She said she was returning to be with Jess for awhile and her brother, Jimmy, was coming to stay in her house with their mother until she and Jess returned. Though we exchanged contact information, she’s never called me again, nor have I tried to find her.

First foreign country you have been to? When we lived in California, Wayne and Kay and I decided to go to Mexico after we had been to San Diego. We crossed the border and Wayne started feeling very nervous with the people approaching cars to sell things, so he did a u-turn and went back across to the United States. Several years later, when we were living in El Paso, we did the exact same thing (except David was with us then) – another u-turn and back to the States.

The first trip I actually made out of the country was in 1985 when the singles group from First Baptist in Norman took the church mini-bus and drove to Toronto, Canada. We were only there two days but it was over their national holiday, Canada Day, July 3rd. They celebrate in a similar fashion to our 4th of July celebrations.

The following year, the same group (plus a few more, including Kay) went west and went to Victoria Island and into Vancouver where we attended the World’s Fair.

This summer (May-June 2008), the senior adult choir went to Banff National Park, Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and were gone ten days.

I’ve not been privileged to travel to any other foreign countries, nor to Hawaii or Alaska. I would love to travel more widely.

First movie you remember seeing? My mother loved movies and did take me to several. I have memories of several movies but since they were actually released prior to the time I would have been able to recall them, I’m assuming I saw them upon a re-release; those would include Snow White (1937), Pinocchio (1940), and Bambi, (1942). Song of the South was released in 1946 when we were living in Gainesville, so again, I’m not sure when I might have seen it.

I definitely recall the emotion of the death of Bambi’s mother and know I was fairly young when I saw it. Mother bought me the soundtrack to Snow White and I listened to that album much of my childhood. One of my favorite movies would have been Song of the South; it was great and I am likely even today to burst out singing “Zip-a-dee-do-dah.”

As to one of the earliest movies I remember going to when I was a little older, that would probably be Samson and Delilah, which came out in1949. I thought Hedy Lamarr was beautiful as Delilah, but I also thought Angela Lansbury was beautiful.

From the time I was 9, children were permitted to go to the Saturday afternoon double feature movies by themselves, so I saw the Bowery Boys movies, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Tim Holt, Tarzan. There were also shorts by the Three Stooges and Our Gang as well as cartoons. My favorite actress of that period was Yvonne DeCarlo who, again, I thought was beautiful.

Every Saturday was a great day. The theaters were filled with kids and we were there from about noon to 5:00. I would have enough money to buy a drink and a candy bar (probably a quarter) and, due to the length of time I was in the theater, it needed to be something that would last, so my favorites were Milk Duds, Bit-O-Honey and Tootsie Rolls. My other favorite, Milky Way, didn’t last long enough so was rarely my Saturday afternoon choice.

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One Response

  1. Beautifully told recollections – thanks for sharing!
    And thank you for selecting these questions – I plan to use them in my video biography work!

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