Monday, June 20, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 26: High School in a whole new world in northern Utah at thirteen

Summer passed in a blur as I had my mind on what was going to happen come September when I left home.  I know Mother must not have worked me as hard because I did not get that horrible fatigue during the bottling season.  She also said she would buy me new school clothes, a promise she failed to keep.  She insisted on giving me a home permanent which I hated.  Mother did not trust anything but curls on her daughters.  She even gave perms to the daughters with curly hair and put them in her own curly hair. 
My hair was so fine it always turned frizzy with a perm.  I thought I looked a mess to go off to school.
As a matter of fact I had never even curled my hair with bobby pins or curlers as the older girls did in Garland I soon found out.  But not before Mother took me to Salt Lake and found some second hand clothes somewhere I knew were going to make me look a fright when I entered high school wearing them.  
I hated every outfit she bought me.  I wasn't even there to pick them out as Mother figured on telling me after she bought them that she and Daddy couldn't afford new clothes.  She also told me that I would have to make do with the steel rim granny glasses she and Daddy had decided I would have to wear because I broke every other kind with rough play.  Granny glasses were not in style in those days either! I had even stepped on the granny glasses and they were permanently bent. If I didn't watch closely one side would hike up considerably higher than the other side, making me look totally goofy I thought.
I found out just as soon as I attended school the first day, I would need lipstick at least.  It was time to learn about makeup although I doubted I would ever slather it on like some of the freshmen girls did.  I did not have my period yet, even though I had turned thirteen in July, but surely it would arrive any day.  Barbara had gotten hers a couple of years before.  I didn't know what was holding mine up.
I had never been to Garland before and could only recall seeing my Aunt Neta two or three times in my life.  But I had been visiting Aunt Nethella ever since she had come home to help Grandpa and Grandma on the ranch.
I had always looked upon Aunt Nethella as the aunt most like me since she was the English and Journalism teacher. I had not pictured myself at the mercy of the sewing teacher, Aunt Neta, who taught home economics which most of the high schools still offered in those days.
Aunt Neta did not lose any time in informing me that if I was going to live with her I would be required to take sewing for three years!  That was a bad shock.  I had contrived to get out of hardly sewing a seam up to then and now I was hearing that I would be making a suit in my third year!  A suit??  I could not picture myself even wearing a suit that I had cut from a pattern and sewed.  I was going to have to see this feat accomplished by myself to believe it could happen.
In the meantime, I begged off taking sewing the first year. I told Aunt Neta I would need time to adjust to her conditions.
She also informed me that I would need to take Mormon seminary all three years if I was going to live with her!  And I was to attend church regularly!
It started sounding to me like Aunt Neta was a living saint or trying to be.  I was sure she would be attending every church meeting along with me.  We would become saints together.
It wasn't very long until I began to wonder if she was not trying doubly hard to dot all her i's and cross all her t's.  I wondered if she actually feared such a paragon of virtue as she was could be fired.  She did say Home Economics was probably going to be phased out of the high schools after she retired, the way society was going.  Women did not think they needed to sew their own clothes any more she snorted.
If the women from the north were anything like the handicraft fiends of southern Utah I was sure there would be plenty of would be seamstresses around there for years to come.
The whole story or at least the way I perceived it to be came out a little at time.  Lesbians at that time were very rare in Utah, or at least that is the way Mormons saw it.  Mormonism prevented homosexuality it was presumed, I am positive.
But I could not help but notice, given my perceptions of Daddy, that Aunt Neta was a man hater of the first order.  She was soon telling me the whole story of what her first husband and the father of her two boys had done to her with almost as much venom as surely occurred when it happened over twenty years before. Her boys had even departed from college and were serving their country.  The war was still going on.
I had already heard a version of the awful story of her straying husband which had shocked me at the time.  It seems that her husband, a handsome fellow from her town, was the oldest son of a doting mother who had tried to get all his sisters to help send him away to become a dentist.
As near as I could tell Aunt Neta had decided to become a truly self sacrificing wife, too, and stayed home with their two sons to save money, while he went many miles away to dental school.  I couldn't imagine any wife expecting such a handsome fellow not to stray under these circumstances.  Her husband not only strayed but he married the woman which was quite extreme lengths for a liar to go to while away from home deceiving his wife.  Only Grandpa King did not take kindly to such treatment of his daughter and saw to it that the bigamist spent a year in jail!
Any ordinary fellow would have considered his life ruined and become a hopeless drunk after he became a jailbird, but not Aunt Neta's ex-husband!  He was made of stronger stuff. He came out of jail and finished dental school with the help of the second wife who he made his legal only wife and was still with him to this day.  He had even become a Mormon Bishop in another state of course! It was quite a startling story I thought.
But I was not prepared for the raw emotion that Aunt Neta still exhibited over her husband's infidelity.  She said she vowed never go with a man again!  She said some had tried to date her, but they soon found out she was not to be tempted by the likes of men.

I only gradually found out that another teacher had been living with her for a year previous to when I came, but they had decided that she should find another place to live to see how it went with me living there.  I wondered what she thought I might do as it looked as though the house was big enough for the three of us with Aunt Nethella and the two aunts' three sons gone.
When I did finally meet the teacher in question I had to wonder.  She was a tall mannish looking older woman about Aunt Neta's age who smoked cigarettes in a holder and wore pants suits.  She had quite a deep voice, and she was not Mormon.  She was from Ogden, Utah, and had never married.  She taught history and seemed quite intelligent if a bit garrulous. She actually seemed about the closest thing to a lesbian I could imagine in a school teacher which did not bother me as I thought that everyone had the right to earn a living even homosexuals.  
I was not that bothered by the idea of lesbians teaching the young either.  I was sure that any improper behavior would be quickly squelched by somebody.
What I feared a whole lot more was absolute denial and secrecy which I thought was bound to cause the tortured abnormal people to be more stressful for relatives who had to contend with them.  I was thinking of my dad in particular.  Although I was pretty sure nobody would be voicing a suspicion of homosexuality in Mormon society except on the quiet.
Well, I had not expected to be able to discuss with Aunt Neta what I thought plagued my dad and caused him to be so suicidal, but I was some disturbed by her determination to keep my reputation spotless with frequent church attendance as well as a submissive attitude toward sewing.
I thought she was risking her reputation far more than I would ever risk it living with a woman like her mannish friend.  Surely someone besides me might suspect she could be a lesbian, but Aunt Neta apparently did not think the likelihood was very great.  She had established herself as a great mother to her two sons, and she may have thought her reputation could withstand whatever suspicions might be aroused by two middle aged teachers choosing to live together in an all but empty house. I didn't know but what she was right, but I still felt uncomfortable because of what I was expected to do to create the impression that she and I were extremely upright and terribly religious.
I just hoped this whole complex thing would not prove too great a problem for me to handle with two members in the family manifesting the same possible tendencies.  Well, Grandma and Grandpa King had such a distant relationship with each other I thought that Aunt Neta having grown up with their marriage arrangement might have become susceptible to a woman's healing love after the searing humiliation of her husband's bigamy. 

Aunt Nethella had come back home with a new husband in tow she had only known a very short time, so she was obviously not nearly as hostile to men as her sister O'Neta. Aunt Nethella had told me more than once that her first husband had been one of the finest men in the country. Even my dad liked him. She had not blamed him for deserting her since his death was totally accidental.  
Her new husband didn't prove to be ranch manager material and when he left her quite soon it appeared that he had enough of his authoritative bride and her father. But they had also had enough of him. So nobody's heart was really broken by this brief marriage. Aunt Nethella was even in the market for a new husband, possibly.  Since she was a woman with a very old father and an ailing mother who was bound to inherit when they passed, local widowers were likely to be interested.
Aunt Nethella had left some passionate love letters from the new husband out in the living room in a bowl, and when she was outside doing something I could not help but read a few. I have always admired a masterly letter writer.  I thought their contents had probably won her heart in the first place.  Her new husband had probably had very little experience with horses however. He could probably go on beguiling women with his expertise in writing love letters, even though proving to be a disappointment in person to horse people like my Grandfather and his daughter Nethella.
Aunt Neta also took me over to see another single teacher friend of hers who she informed me would be my English teacher the following year.  This teacher was a big gentle acting woman who had gone to Europe with Aunt Neta a few years previous.  I thought she seemed a trifle withdrawn in relation to her friend Aunt Neta. Given my active imagination I had no doubt it was over the outsider history teacher now living with her, or that is, would be living with her again as soon as my trial period  was over with.  This nice English teacher lived with and took care of her mother, so there was no possibility of her having any extended living arrangements with Aunt Neta.
I considered that I might have a too active imagination, but this scenario is more or less what I perceived was really going on in a society that probably recognized such arrangements less for what they were than any culture on earth.
It is easy to understand why.  People were always afraid of hurting the kids if one of the parties in question had some peculiarities.  Aunt Neta had raised two fine sons who did not smoke or drink she told me proudly.  One had already married a lovely Mormon girl in the temple, so it was up to Aunt Neta naturally to maintain a spotless reputation to maintain his current high standing.  
I soon met her oldest son's wife who was  indeed a gorgeous, wholesome acting Mormon girl and very nice. She immediately got me a job tending the children of her sister.
Her sister had a bad heart, so I became very interested in her case, as she was not expected to live too many years.  I was glad to tend her children as well as earn a little spending money for the movies, so the ailing sister could have all the pleasures of life she could possibly enjoy before she passed on.
I could see that Aunt Neta's oldest son's wife could not possibly have wrapped her mind around the deeply hidden problems in her mother-in-law's life let alone in her alcoholic brother's life, so I knew better than to discuss even my dad's alcoholism while living in my aunt's home.
I also learned that my cousin Roma had graduated only a couple of years before while living with Aunt Neta and Aunt Nethella, too, before she retired and left. Roma, I took it from Aunt Neta's remarks, had been a nearly perfect school girl her whole four years in Garland, despite being the sister of wild Ray and the daughter of the alcoholic Uncle Glen. She took after her long suffering mother, my Aunt Hazel, who was very religious.  Aunt Hazel had little effect on wild Ray, but I am sure she could have imprinted her personality on her daughters' a lot easier than on her sons. 
Aunt Neta said that Roma sewed a perfectly beautiful suit. I am sure Roma was a very talented seamstress, and would have gone on to become one of the handicrafty women geniuses in the King family.  If this is what Aunt Neta was expecting from me, she was going to be sadly disappointed, I was sure. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm so happy to be reading you memoirs again, Gerry! This is like the prequel to the ones you were writing when I first started reading you. AWESOME.