A couple of weeks ago, I happened across a YouTube channel for the Pan Am Museum Foundation. Pan Am, for those who were born after the early 1990s, was a much celebrated American airline. I remember flying Pan Am a couple of times in the 1970s, when my family of origin lived in England. Everyone used to rave about the high service standards. In 1988, Pan Am’s reputation took a hit, when one of its fleet, Flight 103, was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland. 243 passengers and 16 crew members perished. I was sixteen years old at the time. Just a few years after the bombing, the legendary airline went bust, but people still remembered it fondly.
I remember in 2011, there was a television show called Pan Am that was a dramatized series about the early years of the airline. It was kind of a cool show. I was sorry when it was canceled after one season. I also read an interesting self-published book called Pan Am Unbuckled, written by a woman who was a flight attendant for Pan Am. I’m not sure if the author knew about the TV show when she published her book, but I’m sure the show helped her pick up some sales.
I love to watch cheesy employee training videos, especially the ones that were made in the 70s and 80s. The Pan Am Museum Foundation has a whole bunch of these videos on YouTube, which are great for killing a few minutes and getting some laughs. Most of the videos are rather poorly acted. I can think of a couple that would be considered offensive, or politically incorrect, today. Check out this 50s era video about serving food. At one point, the golden voice narrator adopts a generic Asian accent as he describes serving Asian food.
The videos also remind us of what flying was like in the past. Years ago, it was possible to smoke on a flight, and one of the videos even addresses how to deal with people who light up in the no smoking section! In another, a smoker is yelled at by a flight attendant for sitting in her jump seat, while she smokes a cigarette. And this is deemed perfectly okay!
And here is a video about an uppity woman who thinks she should get a free upgrade to first class. It’s really too funny! It’s hard to believe that people want to work on airplanes, especially since most of them don’t get paid until the plane starts taxiing. Yes, when they are greeting you as you board the flight, they are working for free! I did read that that policy is probably going to change, thanks to the hell flight attendants have had to deal with during the pandemic.
The below video was less interesting to me… But it does remind one of how service used to be much more important than it is now. He shows how to serve champagne and carve roast beef, which they used to do right at the person’s seat. Nowadays, even in first class, flying feels like a lowbrow affair.
And here’s a video depicting a rather unpleasant flight attendant confronting other flight attendants. She’s quite testy. I can’t blame her.
It really is fun to watch some of these videos, although they are a painful reminder of how old I am. I wish I’d had the opportunity to fly Pan Am more when it was still in service. I very vaguely remember flying them to Tunisia. I think we also flew Pan Am when we moved back to the States from England. I remember their mascot was a panda bear named Pierre, and they gave all the kids cool schwag to keep them busy. In those days, there weren’t a lot of entertainment options.
Wouldn’t it be funny if someone turned these videos into a live acted comedy show? I’ve seen other people write about them, so I’m definitely not the only one who finds them fun to watch. They are also a reminder of a bygone era, never to return. And that IS kind of sad. At least we still have the videos!
Throughout the 1980s, I was a big fan of the cheesy TV show, Fame. I’m not sure why I liked it so much. Even in the 80s, I knew it was a really cheesy show. I wasn’t involved in the performing arts at that time in my life, although my parents were. I just liked watching the reruns every night, which came on an independent, local television station in my area, WTVZ, channel 33. The independent version of WTVZ that I knew during my childhood went defunct years ago. It was bought out by a much bigger, national network. But, back in the day, I used to love watching prime time hits in syndication or reruns on channel 33. Now, I can do that on YouTube.
When I was in 7th or 8th grade, WTVZ ran episodes of Fame every evening at 7:00pm. I used to watch that show religiously. I still remember a lot of the musical numbers from the show. One such song was sung by the character, Coco (Erica Gimpel). It was called “Be Your Own Hero.” Actually, the song’s lyrics, themselves, aren’t that wise. They’re kind of corny and trite. But, the title is catchy, and the melody is upbeat and positive. And even if all you do is just look at the song’s title, you can take something away from it.
Fame was about talented kids in high school who hoped to make it big in show business someday. They knew they faced long odds of finding success, even though they were obviously gifted people. Being talented isn’t always enough, though. Luck plays a part, as does working hard, and believing in yourself. A big part of success, in any aspect of life, is not letting “the bastards” get you down. Because, as unfortunate as it is, there are always people out there who just like to watch the world burn. They like to see people fail. And some of these folks don’t even have the courtesy to be “real” about who they are. They put on a convincing act, and don’t reveal their true colors until after some time has passed. So, as the song goes, you gotta “be your own hero”, if you want to make it. You have to advocate for yourself and take opportunities as they arise, as you avoid falling into traps and pitfalls. Only you know what your reality is. No one else knows you, like you know yourself.
I am thinking about this song today, having had a discussion with Bill this morning about three situations in which we’ve managed not to be suckers. I’ve talked and written about these situations a lot over the years, but today was the first time I saw a pattern. It was a pattern of success– of us “being our own heroes” by knowing the differences between legitimate opportunities, and traps. This morning, we talked about three different scenarios that came up over the past twenty years, or so. These were circumstances in which other people were trying to take advantage of us. They were using the classic manipulative tactics to get what they wanted, when they weren’t entitled.
I’ll start with an old chestnut that I’ve trotted out umpteen times over the years– Christmas 2004. Detailed versions of the story of that holiday season are easily found in this blog, so I won’t rehash the tale. Basically, Ex was holding Bill’s daughters hostage– or bait, if you will. They were like carrots on the proverbial stick, as she used the prospect of Bill being allowed to see his own kids as reward for letting Ex come in to Bill’s father’s home and control everyone for the holidays. I was supposed to go to that gathering, but I saw it for the trap it was, and wisely stayed out of it. Yes, there was backlash, and plenty of people think I was wrong not to cooperate with Ex. However, I could plainly see what she was doing. I knew that no one– not even Ex– would benefit if I did what she wanted me to do. So I disobeyed her command to spend Christmas with her, and stayed home.
Now, Ex did retaliate, by stepping up her parental alienation campaign and being more toxic. In the years following that incident, there was a price to be paid for not acquiescing to her demands. However, if I had obeyed her, the price would have been much higher. In the long run, her actions have made her look like an asshole, and at least one (and probably more) of her kids know she’s an asshole. And I don’t have the memories of having to spend time in her presence. I was my own hero in that instance, because I realized that my own mental health matters. I don’t have to give in to emotional blackmail. If I had gone along with her plan, there was no guarantee that there would have been a reward of any kind. In fact, if I had given her the chance to know me in person, it might have made things a lot worse. The end result is that I haven’t had to deal with 20 years of her interfering with my marriage or trying to manipulate my husband, or me. Yes, she still manipulates other people, but we can’t control that. They have to be their own heroes and realize what she is, and what she does. Younger daughter has managed to do just that. I have high hopes that she will break the cycle of narcissistic abuse, at least in her own family.
The second scenario happened in 2009, when we busted then 21 year old former stepson secretly changing his last name as he continued to take child support from Bill (who isn’t his legal father). Ex had gotten the lad’s name changed to Bill’s when he was a toddler. When he was 21, he decided to change it back to his original surname (probably at Ex’s behest). But he still wanted Bill’s financial support, so he took these steps in secret. I later found out about it, quite by accident. I told Bill, and he decided to see if he could prompt the young man into coming clean. He never did.
For some reason, Ex had not filed for child support arranged by the state. My guess is that she knew that if she had the state handling child support, she wouldn’t get as much money. Bill was giving her $850 per child, which was a lot of money. When former stepson turned 18, Bill started paying him directly, which was what was required by their divorce agreement. Ex had a change of heart about that. She tried to get Bill to stop giving former stepson money directly. I guess she realized that the money gave her son power, and the ability to get away from her influence. But she did manage to get him to change his name, which was fine. He just should have had the common courtesy and respect to tell Bill what he was doing. Former stepson had neglected to do that, so it was left to Bill to practice some tough love.
As we realized what former stepson was up to, Bill came up with an idea. He’d given former stepson a chance to tell Bill about the name change, but former stepson had kept mum. So Bill, who was handling the “child support” payments directly, abruptly cut off the boy’s money. After a couple of days passed, and the child support money didn’t land in his bank account, as expected, the lad surfaced, asking what was going on. That was when Bill confronted him, and told him he had just declared himself no longer in need of getting “child support”. Changing one’s surname is, after all, the action of an adult.
Naturally, former stepson was angry that the man he had disingenuously been calling “Dad” had found out that he was changing his last name. His initial response wasn’t shame, embarrassment, or contrition. It was outrage. But there was Bill, now in charge. He had “been his own hero”, and not let this kid use his generosity to control and manipulate him. Bill had realized that letting his former stepson get away with this deceptive and shady behavior wasn’t good in the long run. It would make their relationship transactional, encourage more shady behavior in the future, and frankly, make Bill his former stepson’s lackey. That would have done some serious damage to Bill’s self-respect, while it gave former stepson a victory that he shouldn’t have. It would have been bad parenting for Bill to let his former stepson get away with what he was doing.
Yes, there were repercussions. Former stepson was furious, and now he doesn’t talk to Bill anymore. But we’ve heard he also doesn’t talk much to Ex, either. He’s paying his own way now, and has a family of his own. Bill is sorry they don’t talk anymore, but he also knows he’s not in a relationship with someone who only values him for money. Maybe someday they can heal the rift; but if they don’t, it’s okay. Bill will survive. So will former stepson. Hopefully, neither of his children will ever pull the same shameful bullshit with him when they get older.
And finally, we were our own heroes a couple of years ago, when our former landlady tried to steal our security deposit after we left her hovel. In retrospect, we should not have stayed in that house for four years. We should not have allowed her to treat us the way she did. Being nice and acquiescing to her demands only emboldened her, and apparently made her think that she could egregiously break German law and ignore our rights. At the end of our time in her house, we were left having, once again, to be tough and confrontational.
I had determined the year before we moved that ex landlady was going to be a major pain in the ass about our deposit when we moved. Actually, my concern was that she might try to sue us, because the 17 year old awning on her house had collapsed on my watch (due to high winds, NOT my negligence– in fact, she was negligent in not having it repaired by an actual technician, instead of her husband). I talked Bill into getting legal insurance, thinking we might need it if she tried to take action against us, even though it would have been ludicrous and probably doomed to failure.
What ended up happening, though, is that she simply refused to give us our money, and became very rude and insulting. She said we were the “worst” tenants she’d ever had, not realizing that she was the least professional landlady/landlord we’ve ever had. She did a lot of things wrong. She hadn’t done a proper protocol when we moved in, and she never did a former reconciliation of our “other costs”, which is required by German law. She also made false accusations against us that we could prove were false, and there was strong evidence that she had broken and entered the house when we weren’t home. That’s a huge “no no” in Germany.
When Bill received a very insulting, berating, and downright mean shaming email from the former landlady, he resolved not to respond to her. Instead, he closed his computer and went to sleep. He knew exactly what he was going to do next, and it was going to come as a very unpleasant surprise to the old bitch. She was expecting him to roll over for him, as he had done when we still lived in her house. Instead, he called a lawyer and had her write a letter demanding over 9000 euros, to include our stolen deposit, and the “other costs” she had received from us, but never reconciled. Naturally, ex landlady went berserk, and threatened to countersue. However, she had zero case against us because she couldn’t prove her claims. What’s more, we had a whole stack of rude, unhinged, hostile emails she had sent to Bill, at the end of our tenancy. Bill, on the other hand, had stayed professional and polite.
Ex landlady hadn’t had any respect for me, or what I do– writing blogs, taking photos, and the like. But the fact that I do these things– keep records, that is– was her downfall. And because I am a writer and researcher, we had that evidence to submit in our support of a lawsuit against her. If she had gone to court, it would have likely been a fucking massacre– especially since she falsely accused us of theft, and we could easily prove that her accusation was patently false. It was obvious that she wanted us to buy her a new, fancy awning. But she’s damned lucky that we let her file an insurance claim, under the circumstances. The awning wasn’t repaired properly. If it had fallen on me and caused injury, she would have been liable.
In the end, she settled with us, and was forced to not only give back most of the money she had illegally withheld, but she also had to pay for our lawyer, her lawyer, and court costs. And she’s now blacklisted from renting to anyone in the U.S. military community. I mean, I suppose she could rent to another contractor, like Bill. But most military contractors know that they can access the list of unapproved landlords. If they’re smart, they avoid renting from those folks. And government workers and military servicemembers won’t get government support/housing allowance if they rent from her. Her house is definitely nothing special, so I can’t see anyone paying out of pocket to live there.
That situation was very stressful for us. It gave us no joy or pleasure to sue our ex landlady. But as awful as that situation was, it was also exhilarating not to be someone’s chump. Bill actually described it that way to me. People underestimate him all the time. They take his kind, gentle nature as weakness. They are usually very surprised when he reminds them that he’s spent his whole adult life as a Soldier. Soldiers engage in war for a living. Soldiers are often career heroes. So she should not have been surprised. Bill was just doing what the Army trained him to do. Bill was “being his own hero.”
There have been other incidences of us “being our own heroes”, but this post is long enough already. I write these stories for those who find themselves in similar tough spots. I think our culture teaches us to “go along to get along”, or take the path of least resistance. That’s not always a bad thing to do. Sometimes, cooperating really is the best course of action. But, when you’re dealing with a bully who has no respect for you, it’s usually best not to negotiate. They will always try to make it so that you’re their chump. You can’t expect a fair shake from these people, and if you give them what they want, you will only embolden them to do worse things to you, or other innocent people. So be your own hero.
When you are confronted by high conflict bully types, try not to react emotionally. Stop for a moment. Don’t dash off a response, especially in writing. In fact, you might want to go radio silent and privately hatch some plans. As you can see from our stories, the element of surprise can be very effective in getting these people to fuck off. Above all, realize that you matter, and your mental health matters. Always advocate for yourself, and in a situation in which there isn’t a “win-win” option, do what suits you best. Most of the time, that will be the healthiest choice for everybody. Especially if you’re dealing with a high conflict person.
It’s spring, and when I was in high school, that meant taking field trips. When I was a senior in high school, my government teacher, Mr. Eccleston, took us on a trip to Richmond, Virginia. This was something he did every year, although I’m pretty sure our class was the last one to go to the Virginia State Penitentiary. That’s because they closed the “Pen” in 1991, and tore it down. Here’s a repost of my 2013 blog post about my experience visiting Virginia’s old state prison… Meanwhile, I’m still thinking about today’s fresh topic.
Most high school kids go off to some interesting or exotic place when they become seniors. I guess, in my case, the place my senior class went for the “senior trip” was exotic and interesting enough, though it wasn’t an overnight trip. My senior year of high school was actually full of interesting field trips, to include a trip to a local medical school, where my biology classmates and I saw cadavers. We also went caving, and visited the National Zoo in Washington, DC. I skipped at least three other field trips because I didn’t have the money to go. But probably the most interesting of all the trips we took was the one that took us to the State Penitentiary in Virginia.
The Virginia State Pen was a very old structure that had received its first prisoners in 1800. If you click the link, you can see some photos of the place, which was eventually demolished. It sat next to the James River in downtown Richmond, Virginia.
In the spring of 1990, when we had our field trip, the Pen was about to be closed down. There were still inmates there when we came to visit the place. I remember how my classmates and I were each frisked, then shown into this huge cell block that had several tiers of tiny cells, which you can see in the featured photo. The place was painted light blue and there was a smell of human filth, sweat, and detergent in the air. The building was obviously very antiquated and unpleasant. It definitely needed to be torn down or renovated.
Gazing up, I could see the huge windows allowed birds to come in. They flew near the ceiling and probably mocked the inmates with their ability to come and go at will. On the floor, I spied a dead mouse that looked like it had been there for awhile. A heavily muscled guy with a mullet wore a wide leather belt with a set of handcuffs prominently displayed in a case as he led us through the facility. He didn’t wear a uniform, though he obviously worked at the prison.
The inmates were in a different part of the prison when we visited. I remember looking at the first big cell block, which was apparently vacated as inmates were transferred to other facilities. We also visited death row, which had also been vacated. Some inmates were in a yard nearby as we made our way to the death house. They shouted and jeered at us. I remember the death row cells were a whole lot larger than the ones in the cell block. They had bars all around them and a lone television set was mounted on a pole that would have allowed all of the inmates to watch it.
At the end of the hall was the electric chair, which Virginia used to execute a lot of men until lethal injection became the preferred way to put condemned people to death. Several of my classmates sat on the big oak chair, outfitted with heavy leather straps with big metal buckles. I remember one teacher actually pretended to strap a couple of students in. Back then, it was kind of a joke, but today, it seems kind of inappropriate and not that funny. Virginia is a notorious death penalty state. (ETA: Thanks to former Governor Ralph Northam, the death penalty was abolished in Virginia last year. I never thought I’d see the day.)
I remember after we saw the penitentiary, we went to Virginia Commonwealth University for lunch. Two of my sisters are VCU graduates, so I was somewhat familiar with the place. By then, I knew I was headed to Longwood for college.
It was an eerie day… and probably the day that I first started to have ambivalent feelings about the death penalty.
Edited to add in 2022: In his amazing talk in the above video, Dale Brumfield, talks about the kinds of crimes that would land people in the penitentiary. At one point, he talks about how Black men could be arrested and imprisoned for being caught on someone else’s property. They could get up to ten years for just appearing to LOOK like they were going to commit theft. As he was talking about that, I couldn’t help but think about the Ahmaud Arbery case, and how he was gunned down by three White men who thought he was a thief. It’s so sad that we haven’t evolved much since the early days of the Virginia Penitentiary’s history.
I often think of my husband’s dealings with his abusive ex wife as being akin to being trapped in a can of soda that is being shaken. You know what happens when you shake a can of soda. The bubbles get agitated and pressure builds. If someone happens to open the can while it’s agitated, the liquid spews out all over the place, making a huge mess. As we were talking about the most recent situation last night, I was reminded once again. It’s like dealing with a can of soda that has been shaken. Once you’ve been exposed to such a situation, it can replicate in similar situations. You learn habits that might not be the best for dealing with problems. Instead of taking a deep, cleansing breath and being mindful, maybe you’ll explode, like a can of Coke that was just used as a maraca.
This morning, I read about Will Smith’s decision to resign from the Academy in the wake of his decision to hit Chris Rock during his performance last week. I’m sure that this decision wasn’t an easy one for Smith to make. In fact, I’ll bet he’s had a difficult week. I don’t necessarily think he’s wrong to step down, in spite of his Oscar win. What he did was very seriously fucked up, although many people are still saying that Smith was only standing up for his wife. But, as I read about the decision Will made, and remembered what happened at the Oscar Awards ceremony last week, I was suddenly a little bit “triggered” by an old memory. Seeing Chris Rock being hit on live television reminded me of something that happened to me in 1993.
It was June, and my family decided, for some strange reason, to rent a beach house in Corolla, North Carolina. My parents, my three sisters, my brother in law, my baby niece, my brother in law’s brother, Mike, and my ex friend and my sister’s ex friend, Peggy, were all there. The house was very full, with many different personalities in attendance and a lot of alcohol flowing. I was twenty years old, and would be turning twenty-one in a matter of a couple of weeks.
I remember that at that time in my life, I wasn’t getting along with my dad. Actually, for most of the time he was alive when I was an adult, I didn’t get along with my dad. He was often abusive to me, although I’m not sure I recognized it at the time. Add in my sisters and their strong personalities, my brother-in-law, who loves watching us fight, my former friend and Peggy, as well as a baby, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. To make matters worse, I had PMS and was about to start my period.
One night several days into the “vacation”, we all went out to dinner, and my dad was really getting on my nerves. I made some snarky comment that was directed at my dad. I don’t remember what I said, but my sister’s friend, Peggy, heard it and apparently thought I was talking to her. Suddenly, all hell broke loose. The next day, my sister’s friend suddenly decided to leave. I remember she had given me $10 because I had planned to make dinner the next night and she asked for the money back. At the time, I didn’t understand why she was leaving. I had no beef with her.
All that day, my sister was being shitty to me. She wouldn’t tell me what her problem was. I finally lost my temper and confronted her. She said she was mad at me. My dad, who had been drinking, decided to break us up. He stormed over to us and took me into a room, where he proceeded to berate me for two or three hours. At one point, he hit me in the face, HARD. I was shocked and told him that if he had been someone on the street, I could have him arrested for assault and battery. And then I told him that if he ever raised a hand to me again, I would have him arrested.
He exploded. His face turned beet red and he said, “You go right ahead! Call the police!” Then he made some comment about how I lived in his house and I could just pack up and leave. At some point, I hit my arm on something and developed a really nasty bruise.
I remember that no one helped me during that confrontation, which left me really upset and feeling completely worthless and stepped on. And then, by that point, I’d started my period, which is probably why I was so irritable and made that rude comment in the first place.
My sisters later came in to talk to me. The one who had been mad at me explained what had upset her so much that this huge blowup happened. I told her that I hadn’t been talking to or about her friend, and if she had just asked me, we could have avoided this whole thing. The scene was embarrassing and traumatic, especially since there were a couple of people there who weren’t family members and had witnessed this Mommie Dearest moment between my dad and me. The worst part of it, though, was that the next day, my dad acted as if nothing had ever happened. My sister ended up losing contact with her “friend”, who turned out to be not such a good friend after all.
Five years later, my dad lost his temper again and threatened to hit me. I reminded him of the last time he hit me and what I said to him. He backed off and then started screaming at me. I ended up leaving. Unfortunately, at that time, I was kind of paralyzed. Though I was 26 years old at the time, I was living with my parents and had nowhere to go for more than a night or two. Not long after that, I got on the right depression meds and finally managed to start making plans to get out of my parents’ home. I needed to for their sake, but especially for mine.
Every once in awhile, those old memories resurface. I get “triggered” by certain things. I think watching Chris Rock being slapped by Will Smith was very triggering for me. And the more I think about what happened, the more I realize how wrong Will Smith’s actions were. I think it’s right for him to resign from the Academy. I hope he gets some help for his issues.
Then I started thinking about Chris Rock’s actual joke. Yes, it was tasteless. I don’t really find jokes about other people’s looks funny, as a general rule. But then I think of all of the jokes my favorite comedian, George Carlin, told over the years. I remember when he described former second lady Marilyn Quayle as looking like Prince Charles. I remember jokes Joan Rivers used to make about celebrities and their looks. Don’t even get me started on Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, and Don Rickles! I’m not saying it’s “PC” to make fun of how people look, but comedians have always done it. Kids do it on playgrounds. It’s almost like it’s instinct.
And while I think it would be good if Chris Rock and his fellow humorists came up with other jokes, I also realize that when it comes down to it, Rock was comparing Jada Pinkett Smith to a beautiful woman. Demi Moore, who was the lead in G.I. Jane, was in her prime at the time. She was strong, badass, and gorgeous. Yes, she shaved her head for the role, but she was still amazing looking, even if the film itself was kind of stupid.
Jada, herself, even said that she didn’t give “two craps” about what people thought of her bald head. So why was Will Smith so enraged? His profane tirade after slapping Rock also brought back terrible memories. I wouldn’t want to see that again. I think if there’s any chance that Will Smith would ever feel so entitled to walk up on a stage and hit someone like that, he should not be part of the show. This isn’t to mean I think he should be canceled, per se… If he gets some help and learns to control himself, okay. But that was traumatizing for me to watch on video. I actually chose to watch it, knowing what happened beforehand. I’m glad it didn’t take me by surprise.
In any case, watching that event unfold– a triangle involving Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Chris Rock– reminded me of that “shaken can of soda” sense I get sometimes when we talk about Ex… or I’m reminded of that time in my past, when I was regularly having to deal with my dad and his tendency to be violent when the mood struck. Maybe it’s a mild form of PTSD I have, because I realize now that I am no longer able to tolerate abuse. I react badly, as if I’m “saturated”, when there’s abuse afoot. What Will Smith did was definitely abusive and traumatic, not just for Chris Rock, but for everyone who watched it unfold. He reminded me of my dad… and that is not a good thing.
Here’s a repost from April 2018. I’m adding it because it reminds me of a good time in my life… and because spring is here. The featured photo is a screenshot of the house my parents bought in 1978. We lived there for two years. I see someone has added on to it since we lived there. Looks like there’s a room built over the garage, which didn’t exist in 1980, when we moved. I liked that house, but my mom hated it. It’s curiously located very close to the LDS church. Little did I know that I would marry a member (now ex member) many years after we moved.
In the summer of 1978, I was six years old and my parents bought a house in Fairfax County, Virginia. We lived in a suburban neighborhood at a time when people in America still got to know their neighbors. I had a playmate who lived a few houses down. His name was Chris, and we were in the same class in school. He had an older sister named Kirsten.
I remember Chris and I had the run of the neighborhood and were allowed to run around unfettered. We walked to school and played at a neighborhood playground that we discovered one day during our adventures. I remember his dad was very German and his mom was very pretty and worked for the Red Cross. She was pregnant when we met and delivered a daughter named Ashley in 1979. I remember when Ashley was born because when I’d go to Chris’s house to see if he could play, she’d have posted a sign by the doorbell requesting that no one ring it. Ashley was sleeping.
Now Ashley is 43 years old. Chris lives in another state. And Kirsten, whom I also remember playing with to a much lesser extent, is an artist in Georgia. She appears to be quite successful, too.
I found Kirsten when I Googled. I was amazed by how many people had written about her work. When I checked out her ceramics for myself, I found myself wishing we still lived near Atlanta so I could visit one of her shows. We were living in Georgia when I started this blog in 2010. It’s entirely possible we could have run into each other had Bill and I not moved away from there.
I doubt either Kirsten or her brother remember me. Ashley wouldn’t have known me at all, since we moved out of that neighborhood in 1980 and she was still a baby. But I do remember them. I remember calling Chris in 1983 once, when my parents took me to a party thrown by friends of my eldest sister’s, who lived in the DC area at the time. That was the last time I ever talked to Chris, because in those days long distance was a thing. I never forgot him, though, and always wondered how he was doing.
I really like Kirsten’s art. I would like it even if I didn’t remember living near her when I was a little kid. I like quirky pieces and I can see that’s what she produces. It looks like she enjoys European cultures as much as I do, too. I see references to trips to France and Italy on her Facebook page for her work. I don’t know if we would have been friends if my family had stayed in Fairfax, but I think it’s kind of cool to see what she’s grown up to be.
Yesterday, I even joined Classmates.com so I could look at old yearbooks. I found the one for the high school I would have attended had we stayed in Fairfax. My aunt taught at that school and my second eldest sister graduated from there in 1979. My aunt’s sons also graduated from there– one in 1986 and the other in 1988. He would have been in Kirsten’s class, though I don’t know if they ran in the same circles. It was a huge place, serving 7th through 12th grades. I used to wish I could have gone to that school, which is probably still the biggest one in Virginia. It seemed like the students had a lot more opportunities available to them than I did at my rural high school in Gloucester, Virginia.
Me at 17, looking like I smell something bad…
And me at 45… looking like I smell something bad…
I found Chris’s picture in that old yearbook, marveling at how different he looked at 18, although his face was the same. I think of my own picture in my senior yearbook. My mom hated it. She said I looked like a snob. Like everyone else who was 17 in 1989, I had mall bangs. I kept them until sometime in the early to mid 90s. Chris had an interesting haircut that makes me think he probably enjoyed alternative music. But, of course, I don’t know for sure.
On another note, once again I am amazed by how much one can find out about someone just by knowing where to look online. While I love that it satisfies my harmless curiosity, it also kind of serves as a reminder to be careful. You never know who’s stalking you. On the other hand, the Internet has also made it possible for Bill to connect with one of his long lost daughters… and it made it possible for me to even meet Bill in the first place. It’s definitely a mixed bag. I probably live a little on the edge, writing these blogs.
I can’t believe I knew these people over 40 years ago and still remember them so well. My memory is probably pretty dangerous to some people. 😉
ETA: A friend who is moving to Fairfax, Virginia posted yesterday that she just got word that she and her family managed to secure membership to their community’s public pool. We were members of the pool in my old neighborhood, too. I remember it was a pretty awesome facility, as one would expect in Northern Virginia in the late 70s. It had a high dive, and as a six and seven year old kid, I didn’t mind jumping off of it. I probably wouldn’t do that today, but I read that they removed the high dive anyway, due to liability issues.
My friend’s comment about the pool reminded me of how, when we moved to rural Gloucester in 1980, there was no community pool. My parents joined the American Legion Pool, which was not nearly as nice as the one in Fairfax. And, unbeknownst to us at the time, the American Legion Pool was racist. Black people were not allowed to be members. I didn’t find out about that until 1990, when I took a speech class, and my classmate (who went on to Princeton University), delivered a speech about our community’s need for a public pool. Our high school, at that time, didn’t have a swim team. It has one now, I believe.
I was shocked that the American Legion had such racist policies as recently as the early 1980s (we were only members for a few years). Years later, that policy was confirmed in a Facebook group I belonged to, in which some of my Black classmates bitterly complained about not being allowed to swim at the American Legion Pool in Gloucester! My parents eventually quit joining the American Legion Pool because I got busy with my horse and didn’t go anymore. And when I did want to swim, I could go to Fort Eustis or the Coast Guard Training Center.
I’m pretty sure that pool is now shuttered, and Gloucester does have new facilities for swimming. But I still have good memories of the Sideburn Pool in Fairfax. That was where I learned the very basics of swimming, which served me well years later, when I had to pass a swimming test to graduate from then Longwood College (now Longwood University). The swimming test at Longwood, like its pools, are also now defunct.
The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.