Going Back

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“That’s what he said. He was, my father, a very gentle man. He was a businessman. Furniture business. He lost his temper with me only once in my life that I can remember. I was fooling with a Venetian blind or shade and I said ——! and he sat me down and gave me a lecture.”

“So where’d you live freshman year, before you were pledged?”

“Ann Emery Hall.” I’d known for certain before asking. Ann Emery girls uniformly wore dark stockings on Sunday mornings for church. And little pillbox hats.

“Don’t forget the veils,” she said. As an upperclasswoman she was made Delta Gamma rush chairman as well as vice president. “These old alumnae came in to talk to me. I had a lot of trouble with what they said, lot of trouble. They told me if I wanted, I could let in one Catholic and one Jew. I didn’t like that. Years later, when my nieces asked for recommends for Delta Gamma, I said, ‘No! I won’t give you recommends!’”

“You had to be wildly popular with the fraternity boys,” I said.

She shrugged.

“Well?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe I had social opportunities some of the other women didn’t. I liked to go to those roadhouses outside Madison where they played jazz and Dixieland. I’ve always gotten a lot of satisfaction from music.”

“Did you have any unhappy love affairs, unrewarded crushes?”

“None that were disabling.” Pinned to a boy who had graduated with a ROTC commission, she visited him at his base, lost interest, broke it off.

“Were you a virgin when we graduated?” A part of me could hardly believe that I was actually asking such a thing of Weezie Clark.

“Until I married.”

“And your sorority sisters?”

“Some of them, no. The boys they were going to marry.” (“Ah, me,” said my friend Joe after talking of his Cynthia in the days when Ike was President. “Today your questions would apply to grammar school grads.”)

After college, husbandless, typing school behind her—what else, this was the fifties—she went to live in Minneapolis with Judy and Judy’s husband and to take dictation for the University of Minnesota alumni office. She met a young man who was of a group circulating about Hubert Humphrey. She worked in a Humphrey campaign. “Adlai Stevenson came, and he gave a speech standing on my desk ! I chalked in his footprints.” She married the young man in her hometown church, with reception afterward at the Burlington Golf Club. The minister talked about love, toleration, understanding, and then at the club got loaded, had a fight with his wife, and fell into the swimming pool. They laughed about it for years.

Her husband was very successful, of course. (If you couldn’t be successful in those years, forget it.) His career took them to Washington, the Midwest, California, back to Washington. She had toddlers at her feet. She would work three days to prepare dinner parties served on her family’s china and eaten with their silver and on damask her mother had shown her how to iron correctly.

The sixties came in, and she heard there was a project in Cabin John, Maryland, to work with black children who were suddenly going to be put into integrated schools. They were completely unprepared. She went with her kids daily to be with them and their mothers.

“What— you ? ‘I’m here, blonde, beautiful, blue-eyed, there she is, Miss America’?”

“You don’t come off like that. You go in, ‘We’re all mothers, we all have kids.’ I remember those dark eyes. They wanted what we want. What we did was a model for Head Start. I’m very proud of that.” She’s kept it up to the present day—works with kids in Trenton, half an hour from Princeton, in what once was called the slums, then became the ghetto, and now is the inner city. This gun problem—a girl she’s been counseling, seven, eight years old, was recently shot in the knee.

Washington then was foaming, it seemed to her, with a thousand new impulses, as was the country, as was Burlington, where the cousin who had sold her the red formal found his store getting killed by the huge malls out in what had been farmland. Once some aunts came to visit. She drove downtown to pick them up and brought them home through a demonstration being dispersed by police. “They had come from Iowa to visit their nation’s capital, and they were wearing long white gloves. I ran up the windows because of the tear gas.”