Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Achey, Breaky Heart"

I'd like to preface this by saying that I firmly believe that things happen for a reason and we all live the life we are meant to live.  Even if we don't understand how or why until years later, if ever!  But there are certain times in our lives when nothing seems good, nothing gets better, and we are completely unsure if we will ever survive.  We usually do survive and go on to bigger and better things but at those times you can't help but feel that all you have is your "Achey, Breaky Heart."   Fair warning, though, this is a very self-indulgent foray into the trauma of my youth and it will more than likely be a really long post.  I'm sorry, but it's a complicated story.

When you live in a small town and you are anywhere between 12 and 18, your entire life revolves around school.  Your activities are pretty much run by either the school or your church.  Your friends are part of your school life.   And everything important in your life revolves around those activities and those friends.  And during teen age years, there is nothing else that matters.

As I mentioned multiple times in past posts, my family moved a lot when I was growing up.  The longest time we ever stayed in one place was four years, from the time I was 13 until I was 17.  Each year we were there my confidence grew, my friendships increased, I became involved in lots of school activities and I loved it.  By the time I was a Junior, I was looking forward to finishing high school and going off to college, probably with some of the friends I had made.  I was making good grades, I was in several  activities. I fit in.  I was even a cheerleader! And I had a new boyfriend!! I was happy.  And then 1963 hit.

1963 was the worst year of my life.  In hindsight, there were good things about that year, but for me it was just one upheaval and misery after another.  In February (I think), my parents informed me that we were moving!  Dad had taken a new job in an even smaller town about 90 miles west of the town we were in. 

NO!  NO!  Not again!  I didn't want to move, I didn't want to leave my friends or my school or this town.  I finally felt like I was a part of things, they couldn't make me leave NOW!  I was going to be a SENIOR next year!!  I ranted and raved and begged and cried pitifully, but ultimately I was shot down by that impossible to fight, parental authority.  They were leaving and I was their daughter, so I was leaving too and that was all there was to that!  I was miserable, angry,  and broken-hearted, but when the time came, I went.

So yet again, for the gazillionth time in my life, I was the new kid.  Only this time it was worse, high school kids are not notoriously welcoming to new kids.  They watch, they ignore you, until bit by bit, you begin to find a friend or two. It was horrible and I hated having to go through it again.   For me, the saving grace was the choir in the new school.  It was a smaller choir than I had been in previously, but that led to fitting in sooner and ultimately, led to one of the most important events of my life (I wrote about it here: ), but that came later. 

I owe a lot to Miss Jones and that choir.  They helped me through a difficult transition and I began to fit in.  The school was going to present "The King and I" in the fall of the following year and Ms. Jones gave the role of Anna to me!   I was thrilled and we started to work on the music for that show.  Summer came and Miss Jones even had a summer music program that included an opportunity for me to be one of the featured soloists at the end of summer concert.   I sang a duet with a nice boy, who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but still, it was a first for me. My mom and dad came to see that show and it was the first time my Dad had ever heard me sing in public. 

School started up shortly thereafter, and we began to work seriously on preparing for "The King and I".  I began to look forward to the rest of my Senior Year.  But 1963 wasn't done with me yet.

Two weeks into the school year, one afternoon I came home from school and my mother told me that my Dad had left.  Left!  As in left town, left her, left us!!  What???  I felt as if the house fell on me.  My heart which had begun to heal nicely was split right down the middle....just like my parents' marriage.  Oh. My. God.  What would we do now?? 

Mom had no car, no job, no income, no prospects, no money, no nothing!  She tried to find a job to support us but it was a very small town and no jobs were to be had.  I wanted to go back to the town we had left in February.  We had friends there and it was a bigger town and she might be able to find a job there.  But Mom didn't think that was a good idea.  She made up her mind that the only logical thing to do was to move back to Chicago.

Chicago??   We hadn't lived in Chicago since 1953!  We didn't know anyone there.  We didn't know the city.  Chicago was huge!  And cold! It wasn't safe, bad things happened in a big city like Chicago!!  And how could she get around in an even bigger city?  I didn't want to go to Chicago!  I was a small town, Florida girl, at the start of her last year in high school.  I would be miserable in Chicago! 

Well, of course, all my objections were just about me!  Mom did have friends and family there.  She grew up in Chicago and knew her way around.  There was a massive transit system with buses and trains to get around. There were many neighborhoods that were just as safe as anywhere else we had lived. There were good schools for Little Sis, and apartments to rent that we would be able to afford.  And she would have no trouble finding a job there. 

I was still pretty much in shock that Dad was gone, but I soon realized that Mom was right, it was the best thing for us to do.  Just being close to her family again would make life easier. Mom was doing her best.  She was taking care of us.  We wouldn't ever starve.  So I sort of shut up and tried to be a little more positive.  It was hard for me though, I was incredibly angry that I would have to go through all the problems of moving and being the new kid and not having any friends yet again!  Would this never end?

So there we were in Chicago at the start of October.  We stayed with my aunt until Mom found a job.  It didn't take that long, and then we found a small 3 room apartment we could afford.  My grandparents only lived about two blocks away and they took care of Little Sis (who was 5 and in kindergarten) after school. And the new kid went off to yet another new school.

My cousin, Pam, was in my class at the new school which helped a bit, at least I had someone to have lunch with!  But the school was enormous, there were more kids in my graduating class, than there had been in my whole high school back in Florida.  I was overwhelmed and I felt like a fish out of water.  I didn't even try very hard to fit in or make friends, I just wanted to finish the year and graduate.  I thought I would probably go back to Florida after I graduated.  At least that was my plan, even though it never happened.

But 1963 had one more knockout punch to deliver.  If I mention November 22, 1963, I imagine you will all know what that punch was.  That's right, as I came into my American History class that day, the teacher was sitting at her desk crying!  That was mind-blowing.  Teachers didn't cry!  After the bell rang, she looked up at us and said, "Please, just sit quietly at your desks.  We won't be having class today.  The President has been shot!"  And thus ended Camelot, and the innocence of youth, and the world was never the same.

Yes, 1963 was the worst year of my life.  Just one long "Achey, Breaky Heart" indeed!


  1. I can relate to your pain about November 22, 1963. I was a freshman in college preparing for my first "finals." I don't remember the finals, but I will never forget JFK. He was the hero of our generation back then.

    And sometime I will blog about my horrible years in HS. Not the best times of my life, for entirely different reasons.

  2. It's interesting how your life and mine have so much in common. I, too, moved a lot and, between that and new schools being built, I never attended a school for more than 2 years! I SO envy people who have friends that they went to school with from kindergarten through junior high or high school. What a gift that would be!

    And my parents broke up when I was a teen. I still remember my mom standing in the kitchen sobbing because she had to try to find a job and her dream had always been to be a wife and mother. So no job skills.

    And that fateful day in November. I was in journalism class and we were trying to find a big story for our next edition!


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