My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.
I must have been a big disappointment to my mother. She was always pretty, and so was my sister. I took after my father—overly tall and big boned with an average face and size 11 feet. Worst of all, I never learned the flirty coquettish ways that southern girls are supposed to have as a birthright. Mama simply couldn’t understand. She had married at fourteen and had me at fifteen. Lord knows, she tried to help. “A girl don’t have to be good looking to get a boyfriend,” she told me soon after my younger sister began to date. “Now I don’t mean you have to be trashy or anything like that,” she quickly added, as though she hadn’t made all that clear before I ever heard the Facts Of Life. “A girl just reaches that age where she has a certain something about her that makes the boys pay attention. Now if you started wearing a little make-up and let me give you a home permanent….”
“You gave me a Toni,” I reminded her, “ and I looked like Little Orphan Annie. Besides, I don’t want to date. I’ve never seen a marriage I’d want.” And that was true. I’d already made up my mind about that before Dwight McFalls wrote me a love note back in fifth grade. I had walked to the trash can, which unfortunately was right next to Dwight’s desk and tore his note into tiny bits while giving him a witheringing stare. The poor boy turned red and sank down in his desk. I never got another note from Dwight. Or any other boy in that class.
There were a few boys Who made my heart flutter, but those boys didn’t know I was alive. And, I told myself, if I really got to know them, they’d be as undesirable as all the rest. So I went on through twelve grades of school without a real date. I won’t count the two unfortunate blind dates I got roped into.
So I went off to college in ’57 with no flirting skills. That was back when Berry College had uniforms that did my figure no favors. If I had started developing that “certain something” probably no one would have noticed in those uniforms. The skirts were full-gathered, because can-can petticoats were still the style. I had enough sense to know I didn’t need a pile of ruffled crinoline underneath that full skirt. Besides, I knew I’d never look as ravishing as Lorna, Mary Ann, and Barbara floating around in their ruffles. Making “A” in every class was my goal.
The closest I came to flirting was totally unintentional. One of my bachelor professors was about a foot shorter than me and seemingly ancient. Dr. Sweeney had traveled in Europe extensively and frequently told amusing stories from his time abroad. Traveling in Europe was a treasured dream of mine and so I frequently stayed a few minutes after class to ask questions. Apparently too frequently.
One day when I approached his desk, he started hastily gathering up his lecture materials and heading for the door. “I’m too old for you,” he said, “and I don’t socialize with students.”
“What?” I said, suddenly aware that the man thought I was trying to get something going romantically! Me and Dr. Sweeney?” It would have been funny if I hadn’t been so humiliated. For days I examined everything I’d said and done and remained totally mystified at this misreading of my actions. Needless to say, I never stayed after class again.
When I graduated college and finally decided I wanted to date, the Jackie Kennedy look was in, and the style was flattering. Then I discovered the miracle that a good haircut could perform. Make-up wasn’t far behind. But what a time to start my dating life—the Swinging Sixties! I still hadn’t learned to flirt and I sure hadn’t learned to be diplomatic in dealing with dates who assumed that I was a woman of experience. Fortunately, I never dated many that I was worried about insulting with bluntness. I didn’t have a huge number of second dates, but there were enough.
My mother was relieved. There was hope for me after all! Every time she heard I was dating someone, she’d ask about his job, his age, and possible bad habits. Then it was, “Why don’t you marry him? You’re going to end up an old maid.”
Just when I was learning to flutter my mascaraed eyelashes, I met my husband-to-be, and fell in love. Fortunately it was mutual and few feminine wiles were required to win him. When Mama met him, she could hardly believe my luck. Once when she was angry, she said, “How you ever managed to catch and hang on to a good man like Ben, I’ll never know!”
Well, Mama, I guess I just finally got “that certain something.”