Monthly Archives: February 2010

Raise Your Bic Lighter!

Standing on a folding chair, about fourteen rows back, the Eagles were performing “Hotel California” and I was in “unbalanced” heaven. I was a nerd and didn’t take a toke in my high school years, but the second-hand smoke at this concert was doing the trick. This was 1980, back in the days when you could smoke indoors, even in hospitals, thousands were smoking, but they weren’t smoking Camels.

My senior year of high school was a time of great music and my preferred wardrobe was faded jeans and concert t-shirts. If you went to a concert, it was mandatory that you bought a t-shirt. That way, the next day, everyone in the crowded halls could identify the lucky kids that had gone to the previous night’s show. One of my all-time favorites was the Pat Benatar shirt, she first had a hit when I was a sophomore and was very big at the time. I wore the black shirt with matching black sneakers, of course. As you might guess, I didn’t go for the “Benatar” look that was popular at the time…the stretch black pants, over-sized shirt with cloth belt….spikey hair, too much make-up and head-band. I laugh every time I watch the movie Sixteen Candles…at the part about the school having three “Benatars”….we had at least six!

During that period, I saw too many concerts to list in this blog. I loved music and did not discriminate…whether rock, blues, or pop…if they came through Dallas/Fort Worth, chances are, I was a face in the crowd. Jackson Browne, Heart, Rolling Stones, Foreigner, Van Halen, Bee Gees, Bryan Adams, Earth Wind & Fire, Diana Ross, Doobie Brothers, and Linda Ronstadt…all played…and I listened. I always got a t-shirt and you can bet I already had the newest 8-track each band had put out on the market.

I was mocked by my friends for my love of the Bee Gees. I had loved them pre-Fever days and that movie put me over the top! My friends were jamming to Led Zeppelin and Santana…they didn’t relate when I went into my falsesetto and proceeded to belt out Jive Talkin!! At the height of their popularity they scheduled a concert at the Fort Worth Convention center in June of 1978. No one I knew would go with me to the concert….no one would take the risk of being caught dead at a disco show. My older sister, who rarely went to concerts, was going with her husband…but they could only get two tickets. I was on my own…it was a sold out show.

Face value ticket prices were $17.00 for the Bee Gees…that is the equivalent of about a $100.00 today…it wasn’t cheap. I was on the Chargers that year, we were a really good all-star softball team. We traveled out of town for tournaments quite often and for extra money we painted address numbers on curbs. I walked door to door with my stencil and black spray paint, basically soliciting for work…we charged $4.00. If we walked for the team, the money had to go toward traveling. But some days I ventured out by myself for extra cash…..well, you can tell by the way I use my walk….the Bee Gees knew how to work it and so did I.

I found a ticket from a friend of a friend, paying a whopping $24.00…more than I ever had paid up until that time. My friends were howling with laughter at my terrible taste in music and my careless waste of good money…but I didn’t care. I loved rock, but there was something about the disco beat…it was my guilty pleasure before I knew the term.

I had worked hard to get my hands on that ticket…I had about 2 days to be happy. My softball coach called and told me that he had signed us up for an all day tournament on the day of the concert. Good grief! The only thing I loved as much as music, was softball…what could I do…what would I do?

We figured out if we won the first two games on Saturday, we would then go to the championship round on the next day. The second game wouldn’t be over until about 8pm and the concert was slated to start about the same time. My mother, who watched every single game of my career, was in the stands that day. She drove me to the field and said as soon as the last out was made I should sprint to the bathroom and change….then head to her car and she would drop me off at the concert hall.

I did just that…I took off my sweaty uniform, threw on my jeans and Talking Heads t-shirt and raced to my mother, my taxi for the night. I don’t imagine I smelled too good having played two softball games in a row under the June, Texas heat, but I made it to my seat at about 8:15pm…well before the brothers hit the stage. My long anticipated wait for the big show was over….and I was sweating like I truly had a case of Saturday Night Fever.

The lights went down, the crowd stood up…the back beat started…and for an hour and a half I was in disco heaven! The rest of the crowd was about 10 years older than me, all dancing in their best polyester outfits. I didn’t care….How Deep Was Your Love? ..mine ran pretty deep. I still have the ticket stub in my photo album…and always smile remembering the mad rush to sit in sticky clothes and watch my disco idols.

The Eagles, Long Run Tour was one I didn’t want to miss either and that was how I found myself standing on the folding chair and listening to Don Henley that night. The California rock band moved into their next song, I Can’t Tell You Why, as the lights all went out and the Bic lighters went up….10 thousand of them. It didn’t matter if you smoked or not, inside every kid’s jean pocket was a Bic lighter, a necessary tool in your concert enjoying experience. It made for a pretty sight, if you happened to be high, it just about blew your mind! It was awesome!!

It did blow the kid on the isle seat’s mind and he started to fall through his collapsible metal chair….grabbing his best dude friend beside him…and that dude grabbed the guy on the other side of him…you get the picture…it became a major chain reaction! I teetered for a second and then fell backwards. I got some help from the kids behind me that prevented my head from hitting the concrete floor. The entire row had toppled, but no one was hurt that badly and nothing really mattered. We were young, some of us were loaded, and the Eagles were playing live, just fourteen rows in front of us!

The concert t-shirt was the usual black..with just the words, THE LONG RUN, printed in white across the front. I half-way strutted, and half-way hobbled down the hall the next day…I had bruises on my legs that matched the shirt, but it was all good. I never got the nerve to wear the Bee Gees t-shirt to school. It was pale yellow and had the brothers dressed in white polyester suits, standing together on an illuminated disco dance floor. I was a nerd, queer girl, and I liked to sing disco songs…I didn’t feel the need to push it.
I did use it as a sleep shirt though…it was always folded nicely in my top drawer…right beside the one with the silk-screened picture of the Disco Duck.


Every trip’s a pleasure, when you stop at Stuckey’s. That was their motto and boy did I buy into it. A trip just wasn’t a trip unless we stopped at Stuckey’s at least twice. In the summer of 1971 we took the mother of all road trips. My parents in the front and my sister Junene and I in the back of a 1970 Cadillac Fleetwood. Traveling at about 75 mph up 35 North, destination…Ottumwa, Iowa.

My father wanted to visit his Aunt Mabel, but mostly we all just liked to hit the road. Ottumwa was our McGuffin, you know the term made up by Alfred Hitchcock? A McGuffin was the thing that drove the plot, but otherwise it was a meaningless thing. Why were the bad guys trying to kill Cary Grant? Because of the McGuffin..did we really care about what it was? No. Would my family leave on the drop of a hat for just about any reason? Yes…as long as there was a Stuckey’s on the way.

I was nine years old and rode wedged up against the back window of the car…like a sleeping compartment. No stinking seat belt needed for me or my sister who was stretched out on the backseat, below me. This was before the national 55 mph speed zone campaign…and it was before the Surgeon General warned about second-hand smoke. We were flying low and we were northbound…all windows up, my father smoking like a chimney. Ah, the good old days!

Thirty-five miles to Stuckey’s! We had the first sign in our sight…my favorite oasis on the highway was fast approaching. At the speed the Caddy was traveling, I would be eating some taffy very soon! Have you begun to notice most of my childhood memories center around food? Yeah, I am seeing that too….when I read them back I get hungry.

Stuckey’s had that good long and flat taffy in all different flavors that I loved so. And the souvenirs were the greatest…Stuckey’s was like the rodeo and Six Flags Over Texas all rolled up into one. You could get any novelty or Texas souvenir you desired…and a hot dog and coke to boot! Was that the teal blue roof ahead? I was having trouble seeing it through the dense reef of smoke hovering over my head…but yes, there it is!!! The teal blue roof is on the horizon, the mecca of childhood road trips! Yes!!

My mother almost ran me over on her way to get her pecan divinity roll. She drank coffee and her caffeine buzz, along with the sugar from the divinity kept her going and at the wheel like the Ever-Ready bunny. High fructose corn syrup was like Crack to my entire family and Stuckey”s was our vacation “supplier.” My father would pump the gas, for 36 cents a gallon, then check out the snack bar. I would go sit with him as he drank a cup of joe and complained that the hamburger he was scarfing down was “terrible.” He didn’t like eating out much because he always compared the food and cleanliness of the restaurant to his own kitchens…they never made the grade.

Junene and I had started a collection of salt and pepper shakers. I think my mother must have suggested it originally to keep us from buying silly toys we would never touch again after a trip. So we bought shakers at every stop instead to take home and never touch again. We had a corner curio cabinet where Junene would take careful attention in placing every new set in the absolute perfect location. As we stood at the check-out I was wondering what she might have in mind for our newest find….a Hill-Billy salt shaker and an out-house that “housed” the pepper….classy. I always called the curio the “crap cabinet” to voice my displeasure over the latest pick.

Stuckey’s had road games you could buy to ease the boredom of long trips. They looked like bingo cards with little orange slide windows that you slid over to cover the individual pictures. They were pictures of things you might encounter on your journey. Railroad crossing sign? slide. Cow? slide. Volkswagen? slide. Police car? Bingo!! If I won I actually got to sit upright in the back seat…woohoo!

That trip we also brought along one of our greatest Christmas gifts ever. We each had a transistor radio with an ear-piece…just one ear-piece. It was an “official” Realtone 6 Transistor with a front cover that looked like it belonged on the dash of a Buick. Junene preferred the harder edged rock at fourteen, but it was my “Carpenters” period. Karen Carpenter was a tom-boy that played the drums and had an incredible alto singing voice. With Karen in my ear and Stuckey’s taffy in my mouth…it wouldn’t have mattered if I went flying out the Caddy like a missile, after a quick stop… I would have died happy!

It was July 6, 1971 when we finally arrived in Ottumwa. I have an incredible mind for bullshit trivia that doesn’t matter to most folks…I have told you that before. I mention it here because that day was a sad one for my father. We heard on the radio that Louis Armstrong had died, Old Satchmo…perhaps the best jazz trumpeter ever. My great Aunt Mabel met us at the gate to her picket fence. She looked like she just walked out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

We enjoyed meeting Aunt Mabel, an incredibly sweet woman, and other distant cousins that trip. Junene and I fed her horses watermelon. We ate corn on the cob, right out of the field…and ran through the cow pastures with youthful abandon. We did ALL of that in about 45 minutes and were ready to get back in the Cadillac! We actually stayed about four days before heading back south…but it seemed like a much shorter turn-around…the McGuffin.

There were three Stuckey’s along highway 35, the path of our trip. On the way to Ottumwa we had talked mother into stopping at two of them. On the way home, I feigned a bathroom emergency and we hit all three! Matching corn cob salt and pepper shakers were now flying with us towards good old Fort Worth.

What’s that red roof ahead I asked? Mother yelled that it was Nickerson’s Farm and NO we were not stopping! It was a restaurant chain started up and dotting the landscape…by a former disgruntled Stuckey’s employee. I wondered aloud if they had pecan divinity…my mother took the exit sharply. There was 245 miles to go, we all needed a fix!

The Crayon Story

Mrs. Runyun was 4’8″ tall and walked with a limp. She had one leg shorter than the other by a good 3 inches and compensated with an elevated shoe. She liked to walk in-between the rows of desks, using a yard-stick as her cane. Mrs. Runyun taught third grade cursive writing at Harrison Lane Elementary. The first day of class she said to me, “Billhymer? Are you like the rest of them?” Six kids had come before me, not all had been in her class, but she knew the name. No, was my reply…I am different. “Good, you might do well.” I made one “B” in the six years of elementary school…she said my writing was very sloppy and she didn’t like the way I wrote my “Fs.” Do you know what you can do with that “F” Mrs. Runyun? Take that yardstick and…

I knew even in grade school that I could write. My first public notice came that same year when I was asked to write a story in English about family. My piece involved 2 Marks-a-Lots marrying…having a small box of Crayons to call all their own. A multi-colored, diverse family living happily together…in a Partridge Family lunch box. My teacher liked it so much she took it to the front office for Mr. Arnold to read it. He couldn’t believe I was the same girl who had puked herself through first grade. I remember that he taped a copy on the glass window by the front desk for all to read.

My mother told me I got my writing skills from her older brother, Uncle Herschel. Herschel, she said, got all the looks and all the talent in her family. He was an accomplished athlete having played baseball with the Fort Worth Cats in their heyday in the 1940s. He was a real Renaissance man who also enjoyed painting and working with wood. Herschel had a friend named George Dolan who for many years was a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Dolan would publish pieces written by Uncle Herschel occasionally. I remember this well, because Herschel liked to write about his younger sister and her brood of seven children.

Uncle Herschel really was different than his six siblings. He had an olive type complexion, tall and lean, there was an unspoken ease about him. It was kind of like that kid on the TV show King of the Hill, the boy everyone in the neighborhood knows is the product of his mother’s affair. My mother always suspected this about Uncle Herschel, but never had a conversation with him, it remained the elephant in the room. Herschel died in 1975 from brain cancer.

George Dolan posthumously published an article that Uncle Herschel had written. It was about my family having lots of trouble with a squirrel that was in our attic. It seems my mother had done everything to get the darn squirrel out of our house, to no avail. One night he wrote, my parents awoke to the sound of the piano being played in our den. My father remarked to my mother…I can’t believe Julie is playing at 3am, but listen, she is really getting good! My uncle went on to say that my mother sprang to her feet to go get me back to bed…only to find the squirrel galloping up and down the keyboard of the piano, mocking her in song!

My grandmother died in 1984 at the age of 93. My mother asked her shortly before her death to tell her the truth about Herschel. Ma Ada confirmed what the entire family already suspected, there had been an illicit affair in 1917…with a handsome American-Indian. Indeed, my mother had a crayon of a different color in her family.

I was so proud of my crayon story that I took it to cursive writing class for Mrs. Runyun to read. She grabbed it from my hands and went limping towards the front of the class grumbling. I blushed as she demanded silence from the class and began to read aloud. Mrs. Ida Runyun was actually smiling when she finished the last part of the story, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I went up to her at the end of the class to retrieve the paper and to receive the anticipated praise I had so longed to hear from her…”Maybe you can learn to type.”

Queers and Restrooms

The brown wing-tip slides under the stall wall and touches the other guy’s right foot. A hand signal is flashed…WAIT….STOP! Ever since Senator Larry Craig was busted in that Minnesota airport John, I know there are thousands of straight people who think this is a common ocurrance….it is not.

I am not a gay male, but I know that the average gay male doesn’t cruise public bathrooms and parks for dates…period. The guys you read about in the paper or see on the news are just like Senator Craig….frustrated gay men living a life of lies. I was very sad for the Senator when I saw that news story. In a perfect world he would be an out gay man, representing the state of Idaho…probably with a male partner.

The only other males in the parks and bathrooms are cops! Cops looking to bust the guys living the life of deceit…looking to charge them with public lewdness. I represent the poor guys like Senator Craig…they are miserable people. I wonder what that feels like to pull in the driveway every night and to stare at the house…a wife and kids inside….a man truly alone in the car. It is 2010 and people are still making the decision to live mainstream, because it sometimes sucks to live an “out” life. Yes, even in 2010…things have to change, but until they do..there will be men like the Senator.

Now to something I know a little more about…queer girls going to public restrooms. I have been embarrassed way too many times, called out, picked on..verbally abused. I decided years ago, unless it was an absolute emergency, I don’t go to public restrooms.

Most of you reading this might not believe it, but when you look like me, you hear at least one derogatory comment a day directed towards you. They are sometimes whispered to another, sometimes spoken directly to me…every once in a while, shouted. A “dykey” looking woman puts up with the same amount of crap that an “effeminate” man endures. We are different than the norm, queer…we know this and don’t have to be reminded..but the general populace feels a need to state the obvious. Imagine forever being in 6th grade where kids said whatever came to their mind. That is what adults do to queers, like we don’t feel the sting of the words, the taint of the prejudice.

The female restroom is the worst. Women will call me “sir,” they have screamed and ran out…they have laughed and pointed. Can I get an amen from my little queer girls reading this? You guys feel me, I know you do. The inner confines of a restroom in a school, college, or mall is a place where anything can be said..common etiquette is not to be found.

I have never read an article on queers and bathrooms, but I know this will strike a nerve, it is an unspoken practice. The next time you are out and see a queer person walking out of one of the “family” designated know the ones that are reserved for single parents and small kids?? Next time you see a queer exiting that room…you will now know why…they just don’t feel like putting up with any grief that day. They want to see if they can go the rest of the day without being called “sir” or a “Nancy boy.”

So there you have today’s blog. Not a rant, nor a diatribe…just the plain facts about queers and restrooms. Today’s queer lesson is that most gay men that go into restrooms are actually entering to do their business…not to get “busy.” Little queer girls that look like and dress like Justin Timberlake are not there for you to ridicule. They are different than the norm, but have every right to be there as the next girl…reward them with your respect…reward them with your silence.

In a Glance

Parked in a ditch and drinking a Slurpee, I was thinking about generating some activity. It was early on a Wednesday morning and I was bored to tears. Fishing for drunks seemed liked a good use of my time. I had already drove alleys for two hours and felt my district was secure. I was working in an affluent suburb of Dallas, a town where trouble never came up and introduced itself…you had to go reel it in yourself.

It was about 3AM when the speed flashed 83 on the display of my radar…I hit the button locking it in. I put my patrol car in drive, turned on the overheads and took off after the violator…yeehaw, something to do! I had to exceed 90 mph before the black Pontiac Trans Am pulled over on the shoulder of a major 6 lane highway. The driver was perfectly still and looking straight ahead.

I have OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. Not as bad as Jack Nicholson in that movie As Good As It Gets, but enough so that it is sometimes bothersome. My degree of OCD is what I call, “anal pre-occupation” or AP for short. Don’t bother looking it up in the American Medical Association Journal for verification, they haven’t returned my calls.

AP is actually what I consider the “golden child” of the OCD family. AP people have clean houses and very organized lives. We play by the rules…exactly by the rules, and get upset when others don’t. In the high school play, we not only knew our lines, but the lines of the ENTIRE cast. AP was responsible for my personal car being in the same parking spot every night at the station, at the same angle. AP made me sit in patrol cars and memorize the entire Texas Penal Code. AP made me spray cleanser on the steering wheel and radio mike in my patrol car at the start of each shift. AP helped me become the first female Sergeant in my police department. AP is making me stop this list because the length of this paragraph is starting to bug me. AP makes you pre-occupied with the details…it makes you sweat the details.

Officer safety standards are drilled into your head from the first day of the police academy. I paid close attention and never forgot the warnings of my instructors. Dallas and the surrounding suburbs had 19 officers die in the line of duty during the eight years I worked patrol. Looking back at statistics now, it was a particularly brutal time period for being a cop.

Your training as a police officer dictates exactly how you will conduct yourself in an emergency. My AP had me very sharp in the category of officer safety…I used a tragedy that occurred out west in the late 1980s as my touchstone. The CA case is my “best evidence” of how sweating the details…and utilyzing proper training habits, can save your life.

It was a very tragic story involving the California Highway Patrol, or CHips. It seems there were two patrol cars stopping a suspected bank robber, the suspect vehicle pulled into a parking lot. A shoot-out ensued and 3 CHips officers were dead..the suspect fled the scene.

An eye-witness recounted the story that the 3rd officer killed was crouched at the back of his unit. He was drawing fire as the suspect advanced on him…the suspect made it all the way to the rear of the patrol unit and shot him in the head…there was no return fire. The witness said the officer was fidgeting with something in his hand.

That officer was known to go to the shooting range at least once a week to practice…he was a classified “expert” at shooting with his revolver. He had a habit of dumping his spent shells in his right hand and shoving them in his pocket to recycle them. The officer had a re-loader at his house, it saved him money on ammo…because he practiced all the time.

The investigators found six spent shells in the dead officer’s right pocket. Even in the heat of the shoot-out, …with his life on the line…the officer reverted to his training. He had “trained” himself to dump that brass in his pocket. I am sure without even being conscious of the fact, he fumbled to secure the brass, then tried to re-load…as the bad guy advanced…and it was over.

A scumbag wasn’t going to take me out…that wasn’t an option…it was going to be in the details.

I checked out with the dispatcher, giving her a quick description of the Trans Am, with the license plate, occupied one time. I walked slowly up to the left side of the vehicle, checking the trunk to see if it was secured. You didn’t want scumbag number two waiting until you got to the driver side window, then popping out to shoot you in the back. I had my flashlight in my left hand…gun hand always remained free. I approached and illuminated the interior of the car….he turned to look at me and our eyes met.

The white male in the black shirt had his hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel. I introduced myself and told him that I had stopped him for traveling 83 mph in a 55 mph speed zone. I asked him for his proof of insurance and his driver’s license… he gave me a glance and told me that he would have to reach inside the glove box to retrieve his wallet. In one quick move I drew my 9mm pistol and stuck it in his left ear. Make one move towards the glove box and you are a dead man!!

There was a pregnant pause before the man told me that his wallet was in the glove box. There was a look that he gave me that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. That coupled with the fact that as I had walked up to the car, I had shown my flashlight in the backseat …and noticed a wallet resting on top of a leather jacket.

I booked the parolee on possession of controlled substance, having found meth-amphetamine in the center console of the Trans Am. Oh yeah, and unlawful carrying of a weapon by a felon, a .45 automatic, nickle-plated and loaded was found…in the glove box.

The guy walked into the cell and I locked the door behind him. He said, “you could see it in my eyes, couldn’t you?” Yeah I responded, you would make a lousy poker player, you gave me a “tell” with just that one glance. I would have pulled my weapon even if I hadn’t have seen the wallet on the jacket. I told him his answer would stay between us, but what was he thinking, what thought had crossed his mind? “I knew I was going back to prison…I was thinking I could kill you and move on down the highway.”

It is funny how life whizzes by so fast that we usually just deal with the big picture, the macro and not the micro. But if you really think about it…your most brilliant and your darkest memories can all be reduced to very small moments.

Nowadays things are different, I know if I miss something in the courtroom, my life will not be in jeopardy. I do punch for the elevator with a knuckle though and not the tip of my finger. I like to sit in the jury box and try and guess the offense of each new defendant that approaches the bench. I carry hand cleanser and wash up as I leave each courtroom because I always wish a client well with a firm handshake. I sometimes count how many steps I take as I leave the courthouse for my car.

The AP is still with me and it’s okay. I don’t sweat the details now, I just marvel in the minutia of a life that I am living…a life that could have ended, in just one glance.

Growing Up Juju (part 15 in a series)

I could hear the tap, tap, tap of his shoes hitting the tile floor. He was breathing heavy, two packs of cigarettes a day will tend to do that to you. He was 54 years old and he was laboring to keep up with the young orderly that was pushing the gurney. The tunnel smelled like disinfectant, it divided the children’s wing of the hospital with the main building. They were headed to the operating room with a five-year old needing plastic surgery. I don’t remember any pain or discomfort, I just remember the clicking of those heels, tap, tap, tap…and my father’s hand enveloping my good one.

I was an early walker, starting at nine-months…walking from one piece of furniture to the next. It was in 1962 and my mother was sewing in the front room of our house. My sister Junene was five-years old and we were playing in the kitchen. Somehow I got to the den unnoticed by my mother, it was surprising that I could move that fast! The den was off-limits as it had a Sixties model space heater with an open grill-flame in front and a hot metal top. I don’t remember this but it has been related to me that Junene let out a scream when she saw me standing there. My little hand was burned and stuck to the top of the heater. My mother ran to the horrible site and grabbed me…running and screaming with Junene across the street to a neighbor’s house.

Mrs. Sibley drove us to the hospital. I had surgery soon afterwards on a third degree burn that took up most of my right hand. The doctor performed a skin graph, taking skin off of my left thigh and repairing my right hand. He told my parents it was a very bad burn, he could save my hand, but the damage was extensive. Looking back now, it sounds like a good medical malpractice case, why didn’t they take skin off of my rear-end?

Several years passed and my mother recognized a problem starting. My hand was beginning to “draw up.” It was difficult to extend my fingers or lay it flat on a table. It had also began to cause me pain. My parents found an excellent plastic surgeon this time and a second operation was scheduled.

My mother and I checked into the children’s hospital for a four night stay. I remember the first day very well. We played the card game Old Maid all afternoon and the nurses treated me to unlimited Popsicles. I was told the next day that the orderly would arrive to take me to the surgery. My mother couldn’t handle seeing me to the operating room, so Jim, my father took the job.

Tap, tap, tap…”you are going to be okay sweetie” my dad said, patting me on the head. Remember I said, you told me I could go to Edison’s after this and get anything I wanted, right? “That’s right Julie, we will talk later, I love you.”

I remember waking up from the fog to a circle of familiar heads above me…and a bandage on my right hand like a boxing glove. I have never had issues again with my hand, although the scars remain.

Edison’s was a department store in downtown Fort Worth with many floors and an elevator man just like you see in the movies. The basement had bargains, first floor housewares…I watched intently as the light kept moving up until finally the number five was illuminated. My mother walked over to the doll section and motioned for me to follow. I had received an Easy-Bake Oven that Christmas, with a complete kitchen set. Good grief, now she wants me to have kids! Funny how parents of the Sixties propagated the gender stereotypes without even seeing it in their own actions…my mother was a pretty progressive and strong woman. Yet, there was Jewel holding Betty Burp-Up in her left hand and pointing to her cute outfit enthusiastically with the other!

I waived her off with my white boxing glove and continued on in my quest to find what I had dreamed about at the hospital. I could pick one toy for the surgery and I was getting an extra pick as a preëmptive bribe for getting the stitches out, 65 of the them, in the near future. Jewel grimaced and followed me over to the “boy” isle, but not before picking up a Easy-Curl Quick Hair-Setting Kit..Julie? No!

I left the store that day with a huge smile and satisfaction like no day had brought me in my brief five-year life! I had selected a Kenner movie projector and an M-16. My mother had given in and let her little girl walk out of Edison’s department store…with a plastic assault rifle.

The movie projector was just cool, I set it up in my faux kitchen and watched 8mm cartoons on the wall as my chocolate cake cooked in the Easy-Bake. The M-16 was left leaning against my dishwasher…always on the ready.

I actually wanted the rifle because the neighborhood boys all had variations of the same gun and we took turns killing each other. The winner of the game was always the kid that could make the most dramatic “death scene.” I knew that I excelled at the game. I would ride my bike past my neighbor Rod’s house, as he riddled me with gunfire. I would crash the bike into the yard and run around in a dance of pretend, writhing pain before collapsing by his father’s 67 Buick. The “automatic” aspect of my M-16 enable me to take out most of the neighborhood as they rode past my house. Rat, tat, tat, tat…it was the slaughter on Oak Street…, I was dubbed “Julie One-Hand.” Rod said it sounded like a villain on Batman, one of our favorite TV shows.

After an afternoon of gunfire and theatrics, four or five of the neighborhood boys would end up back at my house. The Easy-Bake oven would be fired up….that meant the light bulb inside would be flipped on, and the “cakes” would be served all around.

Yes, the little tom-boy served the “men” cakes and juice after combat. My mother would take a peek in my room and smile. I remember her being happy when I played with the kitchen set…I didn’t know then, but I do now…I was choosing my battles. You have to know when and where is the right time to make your points. I would continue to play with that kitchen set until the following Christmas. I had my eye on a GI Joe that came with a complete tent set and a miniature M-16…just like mine.

Growing Up Juju (part 14 in a series)

It was a Saturday in August of 1976 and I was spending a lot of time in my room. The Texas heat tends to make you a slave to the air conditioner. Softball season was over, the Wildcats had placed second…I was bored.

I had picked up a book at a garage sale, Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, about the Charles Manson murders. My mother told me it would give me nightmares if I read it. So, of course, I was prone on the orange shag carpet turning the pages and listening to vinyl.

I had an early interest in crime stories, real life crime to me was the absolute scariest…things that could actually happen. The original Star Wars would be released the following May and I would actually walk out in the middle of it. No made up aliens or robots for me, give me real drama!

I played the album Chicago X over and over that summer and into early fall. As I read about the slaughter of Sharon Tate, the song Make Me Smile wafted about my room, in sharp contradiction to the words on the paper. I associate that album so much with the frightening novel, that to this day I cannot hear one of the songs without thinking about Death to the Piggies and the Manson followers.

There was a plain tan dresser in my room, probably purchased at a second-hand store. It was ugly and I needed to fancy it up a bit. I had a box of psychedelic paints and my idea was to paint mod flowers all over the dilapidated piece of furniture.

What’s that? Stickers would be easier? Remember I was fourteen and I had the urge to express myself, carelessness was my modus operandi! My mother left to go grocery shopping and I started creating my work of art…in my bedroom…on the orange shag carpet, with no drop cloths.

The blue paint splashed down on the shag and actually looked like a Jackson Pollock original. I admired it for a second, then imagined my mother chasing me around the house with the fly swatter. Lately she wasn’t catching me like the younger years. She was now 54 and losing a step or two on me. I liked my odds, but I thought maybe I could clean it up before her return.

I did, what any teenager would do…I smeared it around and ground it down to the base of the shag carpet fibers. Hmm…..maybe just scoot the dresser on top of it? No…pretty much in the middle of my room..this was going to be bad.

My mother made a bee-line to my room to gripe as to why I didn’t come help her unload the groceries. The profanities that spewed from her mouth when she saw my work shocked me…and as the seventh kid I thought I had heard just about all of it!

Mother got a bucket of cleanser and water and dropped to her hands and knees. She scrubbed back and forth for the better part of an hour until there was no trace left of the paint. I got to dust the house and fold clothes, two things I loathed to do…and I was grounded the rest of the weekend. I felt bad….and now I had a pitiful tan dresser with parts of two blue flowers on the side of it, and carpet that smelled awful. Stickers. Stickers would be good, I thought.

My mother woke up the next morning with a nagging pain in her right breast. She thought she had worked a muscle she hadn’t used in a while, as she was on her hands and knees scrubbing. The pain persisted for a couple of days and she decided to go to the doctor.
A mammogram was done and a cyst was found. The surgery that followed and biopsy revealed that it was a benign cyst. The entire family was relieved…we had escaped a breast cancer scare.

My mother had been negligent in going to the doctor for annual check-ups. Having seven kids and a job, she was like a lot of women…putting her needs behind everyone else’s…on the back-burner. Recent controversy over when you are supposed to start annual mammograms has led to some confusion. The answer is do what works for you after you have consulted your physician. Some high risk women need to start annual check ups when they reach 40 or earlier…again, call your doctor…I am a lawyer, what the hell do I know?

About two weeks after she was released from the hospital, my mother took me to M.E. Moses’ Five & Dime Store up the street from our house…we got paint and mod flower stickers. My father and I hauled the dresser to the back porch where mother supervised the “right” way to do a project….meaning “Jewel’s” way. Her way was usually pretty darn close to the right way…the dresser was an exact match to the cool vision in my head.

My father died on the 26th of September of a massive heart attack. We had survived a cancer scare with my mother, only to lose my dad at 63…he died in his sleep. After the funeral, when my older siblings had cleared out of the house to go to their own mother and I layed on the couch together. We cried and she told me that God works in mysterious ways….we couldn’t know the reason I had lost a parent at fourteen. I didn’t know what to think about religion at that age…I just knew that life seemed incredibly unfair.

I had never seen my mother cry like she was at that moment. I was so scared and wanted to say anything to make her stop. I told her I wanted her to take good care of herself, I wanted a mother for many years to come. “Please tell me you will go back every year for a mammogram!” I will, I will she said…sounding tired beyond belief…I hoped that I could trust her.

I am proud that spilling that paint was the catalyst for my mother taking better care of her health needs…that and the fact that she was now a single-parent…an older single parent. I kept that dresser for years to come and it served as a standing monument to the end of 1976, a year of loss. It served as a reminder of a kid’s carelessness….and thankfully to the end of a mother’s carelessness regarding her health.