memories, nostalgia, tragedies, Virginia

German road signs that make me fall down rabbit holes…

A few days ago, when Bill and I were heading home from our trip to the Black Forest, I looked up and noticed a road sign for a town called Hirschberg. Google tells me that Hirschberg is a town in the northwestern part of the German state of Baden-Württemberg (as well as a place in Thuringia). I’ve never been there, and before Monday, I had never noticed that sign. But seeing the name of that town brought back some very old memories from my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia.

This is something I’ve noticed in Europe and the United Kingdom. A lot of the place names here, and in my home state of Virginia, come from surnames. A lot of places in Virginia, especially, are named after places in older establishments. Take, for instance, the town of Kilmarnock, Virginia. It shares that name with a place in Scotland. I guess people from Scotland settled the town in Virginia and named it after their original hometown across the pond. I have to agree, having been to both places, the landscapes are kind of similar.

In any case, when I saw the name Hirschberg, I was immediately reminded of a tragic story from my childhood, over 40 years ago. The date was March 23, 1981. I was eight years old, and a third grader at Botetourt Elementary School. In March 1981, I had only lived in Gloucester for about nine months. My parents bought their business, The Corner Cottage, in the spring of 1980 and we moved to Gloucester on June 21st of that year, the day after my 8th birthday. I experienced quite a culture shock in Gloucester, because we had come from Fairfax, Virginia, which is a MUCH more populated place. And we’d only been in Fairfax for two years; prior to that, we lived on Mildenhall Air Force Base in Suffolk, England. In 1981, I still felt kind of like a foreigner in the United States, having spent three of my conscious years abroad. I wasn’t fitting in very well in Gloucester and, truth be told, I hated it there.

My next sister, Sarah, was sixteen years old on March 23, 1981. She was soon going to be 17 years old, and she attended eleventh grade at Gloucester High School. I would graduate from there myself in 1990. In 1981, 1990 seemed like a million years away. And in 2022, 1990 seems like it was yesterday.

In 1981, the principal at GHS was Mr. Donald W. Hirschberg. I didn’t know anything at all about him, but I do remember Sarah talking about her life at GHS. She probably mentioned the principal, too. She seemed so grown up to me at that time. I remember she was studying French and was even allowed to come to Botetourt to “teach” French to some of the gifted kids. At the time, one of my friends was one of Sarah’s “pupils”.

I don’t think Sarah was at Botetourt on Monday, March 23, 1981, though. That was a day that is still remembered by a lot of my peers because it was the day that Mr. Hirschberg’s wife, Nancy, and their twelve year old daughter, Julie, would die in a horrific car accident. I’m not absolutely certain, but I think another child also died in that crash. I make that assumption because I found a Facebook post about the accident that mentioned another girl who died. Strangely, I don’t remember hearing as much about her.

I was still very new to Gloucester in 1981, so I never had the pleasure of meeting Julie. She was three years older than me, and went to what was then called Gloucester Middle School and later became an elementary school (after I had finished GMS myself). I do remember the accident, though. It happened at a time when Gloucester had very few traffic lights. I know it’s a cliche, but in 1981, that county was still very much covered in farmland. We had a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut that served the whole county. The water in Gloucester Courthouse, which is about a mile or two from where I lived, had really disgusting water that tasted like sulfur. Our house had well water, which was only marginally better. I remember turning on the taps and seeing rusty water.

I’m not totally sure where the fatal intersection was, but I know I drove past it many times. Route 17 runs from north to south through Gloucester. It’s the main artery through the county, and it’s virtually impossible to avoid driving on it if you’re traveling through Gloucester. I actually think the intersection was one very close to my home. For years, there was nothing but a stop sign there, where people would wait as traffic coming down Route 17 barreled down the highway. Since 1981, the farmland has been turned into a huge Walmart complex. People probably don’t zoom past that intersection anymore, because it’s now heavily moderated by traffic lights. If that wasn’t the intersection, then it was one not far from there, and I would have passed it many times over the 19 years Gloucester was my actual home.

So there I was on Monday, October 3, 2022, speeding down the Autobahn, suddenly remembering Gloucester in the early 80s. I saw that sign for the town of Hirschberg in Germany, and it made me think of twelve year old Julie… a girl I never knew, but heard a lot about when I was growing up. Knowing how Gloucester was in the 80s, I feel very sure we would have probably met at some point. Back then, Gloucester was the kind of place where most people knew each other. I don’t think it’s like that anymore, though. I do still know a lot of people who live there, as a number of my classmates either never left or have returned with their own families.

I got curious about Mr. Hirschberg, too. So I looked him up, and discovered that he died in 1998. He had moved to Poquoson, a city not far from Gloucester, and remarried a woman with the same first name as his late first wife’s. Mr. Hirschberg, at age 61, wasn’t that old when he passed. I wonder if he never got over the grief of that terrible accident. People on Facebook were still discussing it as recently as 2011, with some saying they would never forget that night. A few said it was the first tragedy of their lives, and the first funeral they ever attended. Some said that they still think of Julie and the other girl who died every time they go through that intersection.

I think about the fact that Julie was just three years older than me, and it appears that she was a very popular girl with a lot of promise. She was involved in many community activities and probably would have gone on to live a very productive life. It amazes me that her life ended the way it did– so suddenly, tragically, and randomly, it seems. It could have been any one of us who met that fate. I wonder what she would think about me– someone who never met her, but was one of her contemporaries– thinking and writing about her 41 years after her death, reading about her on the Internet, which didn’t even really exist for regular people back in 1981. I wonder what she would think about people in the “You grew up in Gloucester” Facebook group, still remembering her in 2011 and posting about that dreadful day in March 1981. Julie never experienced Facebook, but I bet she’d know it well if she had lived to see adulthood. I never knew Julie, but I knew a lot of her friends, and they still miss her so many years later. That amazes me.

I haven’t been to Gloucester since 2010, when my mom finally sold the house I grew up in. I was astonished by how different Gloucester was then. It was weird to walk through the house and see things I hadn’t seen since we moved in back in 1980. Our house was old, and kind of weird, so there was a big plumbing pipe coming up through the floor in the tiny room that had served as my bedroom in the early 80s. It had been covered by my twin sized bed for many years. Now it was laid bare, looking as strange as it did in 1980. Even our house is very different now than it was in 1980. My parents doubled its size in 1984, when they added on a new kitchen and a knitting and needlepoint “shop” for my mom to run. My dad had a new custom picture framing “shop” built in 1997, knocking down the weird building that was erected there some decades before. Now, it’s owned by the lady my dad hired in 1989 to help him frame pictures.

Isn’t it funny how the most random things can cause a person to fall down a rabbit hole of memories? Or, at least that’s how it happens for me. I used to wish I was born in 1968, so I could be closer in age to my sisters and have more of a relationship with them. But now I’m glad I was born when I was. I think it was the right time. I don’t know why my mind takes me on these tangential rides, but I have a feeling someone else out there still remembers Julie. I’ll probably be “visited” here by people from Gloucester, who can recall the spring of 1981, too. I am not a Gloucester native, but I know a lot of people are, and they have long memories.

I was pretty fortunate to grow up in Gloucester, even though I hated it in the 80s. My sisters were all Air Force brats, so they were moved constantly. I don’t know if they really feel like they have a “hometown” like I do. They’ve settled in different places, but their childhoods were nomadic. I used to be envious of them, but then I became an Army wife and experienced that lifestyle myself. I think it would have been hard for me as a child. It’s hard as an adult. It’s nice to know that there is a place where people remember me, even if no one in my family lives there anymore. I’m glad to have some roots… although I doubt I’ll be moving back there. I don’t think I fit there anymore. It’s like the old Neil Diamond song, “I Am… I Said”, when he sings:

Well I’m New York City born and raised
But nowadays
I’m lost between two shores
L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home
New York’s home
But it ain’t mine no more

Yeah. I can relate to that.

Just because it’s a great song that still works in 2022.
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memories, music, nostalgia, YouTube

The Red Scare!

Yesterday’s post about public TV caused me to fall down a very interesting rabbit hole on YouTube. Anyone who follows this blog for any length of time is likely to come to the conclusion that I have way too much time on my hands, most days. And when I get bored, I go hunting for things to alleviate my boredom. I had wanted to add a certain video showing a Soviet children’s show on yesterday’s post. I couldn’t find it, but I did find this video, which I also shared in yesterday’s post…

Someone in 1981 was REALLY scared of the Soviets taking over our capitalistic society… That still photo is Toni Ann Gisondi, who played Molly in the 1982 movie, Annie.

I didn’t really write about what’s in this video when I posted it yesterday. That’s because I discovered it at the end of my post and had already written a lot… and the former Soviet Union wasn’t really the point of yesterday’s writings, anyway. In this video, an elderly teacher, obviously stricken and terrified, tells her class that all current teachers will be forced to give up their classes. A little boy named Johnny tells the teacher not to panic as she explains why she’s so scared.

At 9:00am, right on the dot, a tall, attractive woman with reddish brown hair, blue eyes, and a vague British accent appears at the door. She wears what looks like a Soviet inspired uniform, enters the room, and tells the children that she’s their new teacher as she firmly kicks out the old lady who had originally been teaching the kids. She knows all of the students’ names, shocking them. Then she shocks me by poorly trying to sing “Children of the World”, a positively cringeworthy song by the Bee Gees. Talk about a Red Scare!

The young teacher has a kind and friendly demeanor, but it’s clear that beneath that calm, gentle facade lurks a woman who could probably kill the children if provoked. Or, at least have them sent to a gulag or something. They are impressed by her, but also a bit scared. The teacher very carefully leads the children to her lessons, gradually and insidiously teaching them not to blindly honor American values. But little Johnny, the same one who told the old teacher not to panic, is going to be a troublemaker. The teacher takes down the American flag, then tells everyone they’re going to cut the flag, so everyone can have a piece of it. Johnny looks like he’s going to wet his pants.

A little girl named Leslie (who played Nadia Comaneci in the movie, Nadia), cuts the first piece of the flag because it’s her birthday. More pieces are cut so that everyone can have a piece, just like it was a birthday cake. The kids all disrespect the flag, all very innocently, as the sound effects get more ominous. When a child asks why their first teacher was crying, the new Soviet model says she was just “tired” and needs a long rest. And she says teachers should be young… like she is– only 23 years old. The old bat will be sent away where she will be nice and “safe”.

Then Johnny, the truth teller, demands to know where his dad is. The teacher says Johnny’s dad is “going to school”, becomes sometimes grown ups have to go to school, too. The teacher explains that Johnny’s dad had “wrong thoughts” and needs to be re-educated. And Johnny can visit him, once he has a vacation. Dads who are in school get vacation just like kids in school, do. Oh dear. The teacher tells Johnny that his dad had some thoughts that were “old fashioned” and needed to be corrected. I see where this is going. Leftists are BAD, and not to be trusted. Then the other kids start wondering if their parents should go back to school, too.

Sinister! The Red Scare was alive and well in 1981– for different reasons, as it turned out. That was also the year I learned about puberty.

Then the teacher tells the kids that they’ll all be staying together, from now on, in a nice state supported home where they will be taught the right things. They can stay up and have a good time, eat candy, and tell stories, like a slumber party that never ends as the state slowly reforms their thinking to the “right” way… which of course, is the “left” way. Then someone brings up prayer, and the teacher implies that God isn’t real because He doesn’t answer their prayers for candy. So the teacher tells the kids to pray to “our leader”. While their eyes are squeezed shut, the teacher dumps out a bag of Hershey’s Kisses.

But that pesky troublemaker, Johnny sees what the teacher did, as his duped classmates say they’re going to pray to “our leader” every time. Johnny busts the teacher for her trickery. So the teacher says that it doesn’t matter who the children pray to… only humans can give you what you want, but praying is a waste of time… By the end of the film, Johnny is starting to see things the “right” way… which again, of course, is the “left” way. Wow. I had forgotten how different things were in the early 80s. Then, at the end, a narrator explains how easy it is to fall into the trap of giving up freedom.

I was a bit fascinated by the video, so I went looking for more. And since I was somehow under the impression that April Lerman was in the above video, I searched for her on YouTube. I thought maybe I’d finally find that godawful After School Special, “Little Miss Perfect”. No such luck. But I did find this weird Disney film about a boy growing up in Leningrad. I suppose the Disney movie was intended to make us less afraid of a “red scare”.

The kid’s accent is annoying as all get out. Otherwise, it was an interesting little video about a regime that would collapse in just a few years.

And sure enough, this morning I found that video I had been looking for yesterday that made me fall down the rabbit hole in the first place. One thing I loved about living in the former Soviet Union was how many very musically and artistically talented people are there. I meant to include the below video yesterday, but never managed to find it.

The Trololo guy, Eduard Khil, is in this video. I taught school in Armenia and my pupils didn’t have uniforms like the kids in this video or the one above it. However, they did wear black and white on the first day of school, which I think was the custom during the Soviet years. They don’t seem too scary, even if they are “commies”!
The “Trololo” guy, Eduard Khil… apparently, he did this in 1976 because the lyrics to the song were about a cowboy who was riding his stallion to his farm, excited about going home. Another legend has it that Khil had an argument with the songwriter that music is more important than lyrics and decided to sing a vocalise to make his point. Khil died in 2012, so he’s not scary, either!

My search for April Lerman’s turn in “Little Miss Perfect” led to yet another weird find. As I mentioned yesterday, Toni Ann Gisondi, who was in the video about “brainwashing children”, was in the 1982 movie, Annie. April Lerman was also in that film. She played Kate. April Lerman was also in another special film… one about puberty. Annie is about an orphan who has red hair and wears a red dress… and so it’s only fitting that she should be teaching us about the true red scare of every girl’s adolescence– the dreaded first period, otherwise known as menarche!

April Lerman, who now uses the name April Haney. She led me down quite a rabbit hole.

I’ve written about this topic a few times, but because I enjoy shocking people and being gross, I’m going to write about it again. Back in 1981, I was in the fourth grade. That was the year we all learned about puberty. I went to Botetourt Elementary School in Gloucester, Virginia for third and fourth grades, so things were pretty redneck. Strangely enough, neither my mom nor my sisters ever talked to me about menstruation. I used to see my mom’s feminine hygiene supplies in her little special wooden chest kept next to the toilet. I would steal them to make blankets for my model horses or Barbie dolls. Back in those days, the pads were super thick, like miniature mattresses. I didn’t know what they were for, but they made for good Barbie doll pillows and such.

Then, that fateful day in the early 80s, all us girls were ushered into “The Pit” (which no longer exists) and we all watched a film from the 1970s about periods. And it was literally a film, as in it was shown on a projector, not a VCR or DVD player… or even a Laser Disc. I don’t remember much more about the film, other than a scene where they showed a woman in a bathing cap diving into a pool. That was about the time in the movie where they discussed whether or not a woman can go swimming when she’s ragging. After the movie, a teacher, who later became a principal, talked to us about what it was to be a woman… or maybe she didn’t do it that year (fourth grade), but I do remember her doing it another year. Maybe it was when I was in the seventh grade. I do clearly remember her talking to us about womanhood, with her deep southern accent.

After the movie, we were all given the Personal Products pitch– that was the company who made the film, the accompanying booklet, and, if you sent in for it, a box of assorted maxi pads and tampons. I didn’t need any of that stuff until New Year’s Eve 1985, when I was 13.5 years old, almost to the dot. And I didn’t have my second period until July of 1986, when I was 14. I skipped six whole months. After that, I was like clockwork until very recently. Now that I’m pushing 49, my periods are becoming weird and irregular. I suspect I’ll be done with the whole nasty business very soon, and thank God for that.

I suppose the next incarnation of “Growing Up and Liking It” came about in 1984. The musical, Annie, was still running on Broadway, probably thanks to the 1982 film. So, some bright person at Personal Products decided to get a bunch of actresses who had starred in different productions of Annie to do a video about puberty for girls of the 80s. I found that video yesterday, because April Lerman was in it. But now it occurs to me how odd it is to do a menstruation video starring kids from Annie— red hair, red dress, no mom to teach her (just like in that brainwashing video), and blood gushing from between one’s legs. Growing up is a delight!

My face was probably like the still video shot above.

The video begins with seventeen year old Shelley Bruce, who had played Annie on Broadway, introducing everyone to the motley cast of girls who had been in other Annie productions. The girls were of varying ages and statuses of development. Some were new menstruators, while others were still waiting… and they all sat around a chatted about their menses as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Interspersed within their chat sessions is the soothing voice of a matronly looking woman who looks like Anne Murray. She explains everything in calm, motherly tones, assuring us that all girls eventually turn into women and get to endure the monthly mess.

Someone in the comment section wrote the brilliant line… “The blood’ll come out… tomorrow…” which caused me to cackle uproariously. I sang it to Bill this morning, and he added, “bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be blood.” And then it occurred to me that my own period hasn’t yet shown up this month and was really light and late last month. My… how quickly 40 years goes by!

Well… I suppose these young ladies all got paid for this. And I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed watching them dance. One of the girls, Sarah Navin, apparently died in 2005. I’m not sure why, but her obituary mentions donating to Susan G. Komen, so maybe she had breast cancer at a very young age. How sad!

It’s funny listening to Shelley, who comes off as a real “pal”, except it’s obvious they aren’t friends and barely know each other. And now they’re going to sit around and talk about their monthlies– girls who starred in a musical about a girl with red hair who has no mom with whom to discuss these things– at least not until she gets adopted by Daddy Warbucks and his secretary, Grace Farrell. The girls all have New York accents, and some look a little more comfortable on camera than others. Poor Shelley, though. To go from being Annie on Broadway to teaching girls about their periods! A buck’s a buck, I guess.

Here are two Annies… Shelley Bruce played Annie after Andrea McArdle, who was probably the most famous Broadway Annie. She doesn’t look like she did in 1984!

And just because I’m still in the rabbit hole, here’s another gem about people who’ve played Annie. But most of them haven’t talked to young girls about menstruation… It now seems odd that a bunch of kids in a show about orphans, again, meaning they don’t have moms to talk to them about this stuff, would be tasked with making this video. But I guess they were at the right age. Besides, having a mom around doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to tell you about puberty. My mom was at home all the time when I was growing up and I don’t remember her ever talking to me about periods, except to tell me when I leaked and remind me to make sure I wrapped up my pads properly so my dad wouldn’t be offended.

My goodness… I never liked Annie’s stereotypical curly hair. It was a little Mrs. Roper, wasn’t it? The last Annie, who was in the menstruation video was not in this performance. Sarah Jessica Parker is in this! And we all know where she is, now!

Well… I suppose it’s time to come out of the YouTube rabbit hole and walk the dogs. May your day be without any visits from Aunt Flow or young Red Scare teachers who kick out your kindly instructors and want to get you to think the “right” way… which of course, is the “left” way… As for me, perhaps the blood’ll come out, tomorrow.

Edited to add… you must listen to Andrea McArdle do an impression of Carol Channing! Hysterical!

I’m glad I watched it just for Andrea’s impression.
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