The Impoverished Gentlewoman

A '60s woman lost in the woods.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Where is Rita Tushingham?

I don't mean the present day actor. I saw her playing a demented granny in a movie a few weeks ago. No, I mean what her early roles meant to a whole generation of young women.
When I was at the University of Florida in Gainesville, there was a theater that showed foreign films. I loved to go on sundays. Hopefully it would be raining. There I would indulge myself with Bergman & Fellini. One day I saw "A taste of Honey" and it affected me...well, forever. The US was falling in love with everything British, from the Beatles to "Alfie" but this film was very personal for me. A few years later, it was "The girl with green eyes" and my enthrallment was complete.
So does this generation of young women have their own Rita? Perhaps they don't need one. I don't know. It could be that because there were so many monumental changes for women then, it helped to be inspired by a film or a book or even to feel validated. I know it helped me.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Summer of '63 but no dirty dancing

In my senior year of high school, I was supposed to attend Rosarian Academy in West Palm Beach. I had recently converted to Catholicism and this made sense. My mother and I had toured the beautiful campus with the flowing fountains and majestic statues and I felt like Audrey Hepburn in "The Nun's Story"(before she went to the congo of course). We had even ordered my uniforms, in pale blues ,pinks and yellows with matching cardigans. My roommate at Marymount College (sophomore year)Carol told me later,"We were waiting for you! Your name was on the door!". But alas, it was not to be. I was missing credits in American History. So back to my little Episcopal school with wild-eyed Father Zimmerman who thought I was wonderful for some reason. I was going to Marymount College in Boca Raton. Yay! Only 7 miles away but I was going to live there. Double yay! But again, no credits in American History. So it was summer school for me. But not the local High School, thank you very much. Seacrest High was "Rebel without a cause" before James Dean came to town. So it was decided that I would go to Princeton High School in Princeton, West Virginia, my mother's old stomping grounds and my childhood summer visiting place.
I can't remember how that came about. But my mother & I traveled there by train. Amazingly my mother was fairly well behaved that summer. Around 6 weeks in all. My parents had literally dumped me in Princeton the summer I was 14 but my mother took pains taking me to see where she grew up, relatives I had never met,etc. My father had taken me to Virginia the summer I was 13 to visit family I had never met and then disappeared from my life. I suppose I was lucky I wasn't tossed from the train in a burlap bag like an unwanted kitten . But I was eighteen and soon to be a college student. I didn't feel that helpless.
My mother and Harold(my aunt Polly's husband) never got along. My cousin Bobby was named after an old boyfriend of my mother's. It was Harold's idea. I thought that was weird. And when Harold was on his deathbed years later, he asked for my mother. Polly was furious but my mother thought it was amusing.
We stayed at the Virginian hotel in town, a short walk from the high school. It was an old building, built before the Civil War (or War between the States). The elevator was operated by the bellboy,a black kid who was going to nearby Concord College in the Fall. I would sometimes sit and talk with him on his breaks. Surprisingly, my mother only looked on this with disapproval. She never said anything. Our room had a little eat in kitchen and I would pick up groceries on the way home from class.
Its never really hot in Princeton in the summer but this summer it was downright cold. I loved it. I enjoyed the class and the teacher, although he embarrassed me the very first day,"Are you from California?" he asked. Everytime I spoke in class, everyone would look at me as though my head would fly off at any moment. I made friends with one girl, movies and a few lunches. It was nice to talk to someone I had something in common with. She was going to college in Ohio in the Fall.
Of course we spent time at Harold & Polly's. Christie Starr was now an irritable 15 year old. My beloved cousin Bobby was 19 and married two years to Janice, a pretty but emptyheaded 17 year old. I had reacted badly when they first married. You don't drop out of high school! Shes only 15? what?!!! They had recently moved to an apartment in town and I spent alot of time with Janice in the afternoons while Bobby was at work.
There was alot of bias against Janice because she was from Stumpy Hollow. Okay, people called in Stumpy Holler but that was too much for me. It was obviously the wrong side of the tracks. One Saturday we went to her old house to take her little sister to a movie. I couldn't believe the poverty. We saw Hayley Mills in "Summer Magic". I felt sorry for everyone that day. It would be only a matter of months before I would discover the existance of the migrant farms in my own hometown(the nuns at Marymount did charity work there).
One night mother,Janice and I went to (where was Bobby? I don't know)The Hales Gap Tavern which was owned by my Uncle Ellis, my grandmother's younger brother who was a very handsome man(tall,how did he get to be tall?coal black hair, those black eyes my grandmother had). He and his wife Dolly had alot of kids and lived upstairs. Everything was free of course, food,beer,pop. A cute cousin asked me to go for a drive. He was blond like his mother. Ellis told him to leave me alone. We still had a good time.
We all went to drive in movies or creature features at the theater across from the Voncourt apartments where my grandmother lived for years. I was taken out to the beautiful land where my mother grew up. We went out to dinner with Andy Anderson whom I remember from my childhood. He was principal of the high school for many years and a good friend of my mother's. Everyone thought he was gay but everyone liked him so much it didn't really matter. "sweet" was the perfect adjective. He was the one who encouraged Uncle Jack to finish high school and go to college. He sat and listened to me and my hopes for college and the future and told me I was a winner. I was always told the opposite and that touched me deeply.
Six weeks went by quickly and I would have liked to stay longer but my mother wanted to go."Back to my little house" she would always say.
I never did go back to Princeton! Its as though that was truly in the past. Polly,Harold,Bobby,Christie and Janice made trips down to Florida in the coming years. Bobby eventually went into the Marines. Janice moved in with Harold & Polly but started cheating on Bobby and he divorced her. Ah, young love.
On the train going back, we spent the whole time in the bar with a sailor from New Jersey. We corresponded for awhile. Oh, my American History course? I got an A of course. In a few weeks, I would be away from home for the first time.....turning the next page.


In Memoriam

Beatrice Lorene Christie Vest

Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: It gives back life to those who no longer exist.
-Guy de Maupassant

My mother died recently and although it would be more honest to describe her as my worst enemy rather than a loving,nuturing mentor, acknowledgment is due. My brief flashes of grief surprise me as does guilt. But our parents create us and we in turn help create our own children. What a strange journey it is . I was an unloved child but there must have been something there to make me go on (screwed up and damaged as I am-oh,yes). A brief smile, a touch. Something. I do love so it has to come from somewhere. So no regret, no anger. But acceptance. We have to have that.