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Growing Up Juju (part 4 in a series)

Juju was crouched behind a Sycamore tree, breathing heavy. The neighborhood kids were playing hide-n-seek and she liked to believe she excelled at the game. She had a game strategy of changing locations every 5 minutes or so….a moving target was harder to find she thought. Juju loved the game, hiding in the darkened spaces between the houses on Oak Street. Even at seven, she didn’t scare easy and could outlast the older kids that were looking for her…she was very competitive.

Even though it was about 9:30 p.m., the kids in the neighborhood were all playing outside on a hot night in July. At least they had a slight breeze and most of the time that was better than inside. Juju’s house did not have central air conditioning. Her parents had a small window unit in the living room and one in the master bedroom. Doors were left open throughout the house with the hope that the cool air would circulate, but that didn’t work out too well. Hot, sticky kids preferred to run around like little banshee outside rather than play G.I. Joe in their stifling rooms.

Juju had her two six-shooters in her holster, loaded with red caps. She was going to scare the heck out of anyone that came close to her hiding spot. Her older sister Junene was crafty and sometimes she got the other kids to just stop looking for Juju…to stop playing the game. One night Juju had hidden in the bushes at the Swenson’s house next door for an entire hour before she figured out the joke was on her. She was ready for that this time…having positioned herself where she could see her sister sitting on the front porch of their house. Not this time she thought…the joke is going to be on someone else, as she cocked one her pistols and eagerly awaited her hunter.

Juju’s mother opened up the front door of her house and yelled for her to come inside quickly! What? And spoil my great ambush? Juju heard her sister respond to their mother, “it is not 10pm yet!”
“I don’t care!” came the reply from their mother…”get in this house this instant, history is happening!!”
It was July 20, 1969 and Neil Armstrong was opening the hatch door of the Apollo 11 capsule. Juju holstered the pistol and begrudgingly ran next door to her shouting mother, the ambush would have to wait until tomorrow night’s game.

Juju and Junene took their usual places, laying on pillows on the green sculptured carpet of their living room floor. Juju’s parents were in their appointed chairs, already watching the grainy black and white images from so far away in space, none of them could comprehend the distance. Chairs and a place to sit in a large family were scarce in the household. Juju’s family had a “rule of the house” that had solved the problem years before. If your rear-end was in a seat and you wanted to leave the room to say…go to the restroom…and you wanted that seat back when you returned…the rule applied. The person had to shout the word “cabbage” before their rear-end lifted off the seat..not after…and only then was that seat secured until their return. Juju knew and loved rules early on…she loved structure. She also knew that all rules generally have exceptions. The Cabbage Rule had one exception…Juju’s parents could have any seat they wanted at any moment. It was a good rule.

Juju layed there on the carpet with her eyes glued to the TV console. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Juju’s mother explained what that meant as they watched Armstrong’s feet hit the lunar surface. “Pay attention and watch this and you will remember it the rest of your life,” her mother said. Juju secretly wished she was watching the Carol Burnett Show, but this seemed important to everyone, so she watched intently. After a while when the news reporters were talking back and forth Juju stood up and begged for 30 more minutes outside until bedtime. Juju’s older sister Joan yelled “cabbage!” and got up to go get a drink out of the fridge. Her father barked for everyone to settle down or get out…Juju took that as her cue and ran back out the front door to the steps of the porch.

Sitting her bottle of Coke down beside her on the stoop, Juju looked upward. There it was in all it’s glory…a full moon. The moon was lighting up her block so brightly that night that Juju could see her neighbors Robbie and Rita and their kids standing in their front yard. They were lighting sparklers and waving them around along with miniature American flags. This was kind of like the 4th of July a couple of weeks ago Juju thought. She squinted her eyes and tried with all her might to see any movement or humans on the face of the moon.

Juju didn’t see Neil Armstrong, but she thought that she could see the face of Jackie Gleason across the full white expanse of the moon’s surface. Straight to the Moon Alice!, she yelled. At that moment the back door of her father’s Cadillac opened up and out popped Dennis, a kid from up the block. “Is the game over,” he asked? Juju started to laugh uproariously and danced about the yard…she fired an entire box of caps into the sky on that long ago July night.

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Growing Up Juju (part 3 in a series)

Juju and her best friend Kelli were supposed to be running laps around the school yard. The rest of the girl’s volleyball team was far ahead, jogging in a group. The two girls slowed to walk, even though it was September, Fall had not yet come to Texas…it was miserable hot and humid. “Move your butts!!” yelled their coach from her perch at the door to the gym.

Juju and Kelli looked toward the coach and laughed, they waved at her and pretended they couldn’t hear what she was saying. What? What are you saying? Juju knew they were going to get into trouble, it was so unlike her and Kelli to disobey the coach they liked so much. “She is going to kill us,” Kelli said. As they turned the corner and headed for the home stretch, they picked up their pace, but both of them knew it was too late. The coach would have her retribution. They looked ahead and saw the rest of the team entering the gym with the coach…the door slamming behind her.

As Juju and Kelli approached the gym, Juju caught site of a peculiar scene. Her sister Janice’s car was parked in the gym parking lot and there she stood beside it, crying. Janice was 15 years older than Juju and the two had never been particularly close, she would never come to school unless something tragic had happened. Juju trotted up to her crying sister and stated, “Daddy is dead, isn’t he?” Janice nodded her head, Juju got into the back seat of the car and layed down…her head was spinning.

Juju’s other sister, Joan lived two houses down from her, with her husband and their baby girl. Another sister Joyce, lived across the street with her husband and three children. The other neighbors had conceded the street to Juju’s family long ago, they had to, they were overrun. Janice pulled her Chevy into Joan’s driveway and Juju looked two houses down to her home. A black hearse was at her house, she ran into her sister’s house quickly to avoid a sight she did not want to witness.

Juju’s family were seated all in the living room, her mother on the couch. Everyone was crying, her mother kept saying one thing over and over, “I can’t believe this is happening.” Juju sat down in an old wooden rocking chair and rocked back and forth. No tears were coming, shouldn’t I be crying she thought? Fifteen minutes ago Juju was laughing and tormenting her coach…now she had a surreal scene playing out in front of her. How quickly life changes. Juju looked down at her outfit, sweaty t-shirt, gym shorts, and some socks she had to borrow from a teammate having forgotten hers that morning. Juju hunched over and looked down at her socks…her Daffy Duck socks.

For three days friends and relatives filled Juju’s house…and they brought food. Why is it at the time you absolutely don’t feel like eating, people bring it? Juju’s mother told her it was really for the other people who showed up to express their condolences. Can’t they have this party someplace else Juju thought? Can’t they eat before they pay a visit? Juju retreated to her orange shag carpeted room for solace. The carpet still smelled like cleaning fluid from the “mod flowers” incident. Her friends had always thought her father was her grandfather because he had been 49 when Juju was born. She didn’t think he would die on her like grandfathers do though…not when she was just 14. Juju knew that he had a bad heart, she had guessed correctly when she found Janice standing before her in tears. But this was just something that happened in the movies, not in real life. Juju was with her mother on one thing, was this really happening?

On the day of the funeral Juju sat there on the front row beside her mother. She wore a tan blouse with brown embroidery, more frilly than she would usually wear, but it matched the brown slacks. Her mother had not even tried to get Juju to wear a dress, by that time that battle was long over. Juju sat through the service and thought about what her father meant to her. She had refused to go to the visitation the previous day, she didn’t want to see her father laying in a casket. How creepy was that she thought? Why would the adults want a kid to see that? She also thought he should have been buried in his Chef uniform, all starched and nice. Not the leisure suit that he only wore when he was forced to go somewhere fancy…he would hate that.

Juju stared at her mother the evening after the funeral. Jewel looked pretty young, but kids often thought she was Juju’s grandmother too. What would happen if she died too?
As if Jewel was reading her mind, she told her daughter, “don’t worry, I am going to be around a while.” Promise? “Yes, I am promise.” Juju went to bed and thought to herself that she now knew what the term “bone tired” meant…she could feel every bone in her body…she had never been so tired. As she drifted off to sleep she remembered Easter with her father.

Her father, Jim, was always in charge of hiding the Easter eggs at their house. Juju was a smart child and the bunny story stopped at the age of four, after that she preferred her Daddy playing the part. As the years went on, Juju and her sister Junene, didn’t want the egg hunt to end because they saw how much he enjoyed it. They would get up early and peer out their bedroom window, watching him take careful attention in placing the hard-boiled eggs all over the back-yard. After that he would just scatter the multi-colored sugar confection eggs about the grass and garden.

By the time the last egg hunt came along when Juju was in fifth grade, she had to become a little actress. She walked from location to location…acting surprised at her finds in the usual locations. Never letting on to her Daddy that he had hidden an egg in a certain spot for the past 5 years running….or that she had cheated a peek and saw him hide the egg! Daddy would sit on a folding lawn chair on the back porch, watching the hunt, smiling broadly. After the eggs were all secured, Daddy would call her over and tell her he had one more surprise. He would pull out a big chocolate bunny out of a five and dime sack and wish her Happy Easter. Followed shortly thereafter by, “hey, give your old man a bite of that rabbit!” There was always a time around July or August when Juju would find one of those cellophane wrapped sugar eggs in her mother’s garden. She would run and tell her Dad about her find…the response was always the same. “Well, that must have been a good one. I will have to remember that spot for next year.” Juju drifted off to sleep with that vision of her father in her head…the hunts had stopped a few years ago, but the memories would remain. The holidays would still come she thought, the years would pass….she was going to finish growing up without her Daddy.

The years did pass, Juju started to forget what her father’s voice sounded like, but every once in a while she remembered a small moment. A short conversation would pop in her head, with 100% clarity, that she had enjoyed with him, or she would hear him whistle a tune. Those moments Juju equated with those three-month old eggs found long ago in the garden. “That must have been a good one,” she heard her Daddy say.

Growing Up Juju (part 2 in a series)

Juju sat at her table, no longer called a school desk, and stared across at the two giggling girls. It was the beginning of fifth grade and the year Harrison Lane tried a new concept in teaching…big open rooms with small tables for each kid all arranged together in a big L shape. Two teachers commanded the group of kids for two general periods a day, then the big split occurred. The students were shepherded off to math, english, and science classes according to aptitude scores and their skill level.

In fourth grade the groups had been called: High, Medium, and Low. Juju was in High, but even then she knew it was pretty demoralizing when the teacher yelled, “Low kids, get in the hall!” The “new concept” teaching of her fifth year changed the names of the groups to: 1, 2, and 3. Even the 3s figured out they were the old Lows…look around, yeah there is the kid that sits in the corner and picks his nose for sport…same group.

Susan and Terry sat there and giggled and pointed across the table at Juju most every day….she was tired of it. She didn’t like to tattle-tale, so she was going to have to take matters in her own hands. Terry was a 3, but Susan was a 1 with Juju in every class of the day….she should know better than to pick on people. Juju told them she knew they were talking about her..they didn’t try to hide it, they even pointed at her, said her name loud enough for her to hear.

Juju could have just walloped them, she was taller than every kid in her class, except Louis. Louis was a kid that would grow on to over 6’8″ and play college basketball…Juju liked the fact he was in her class. She would not be the tallest kid in the class picture this year. Juju decided that physically going after them was not the right tact, people would deem that unfair of her anyway. She decided to use the same weapon they were using, a verbal attack.

Every day for the next week, Juju would walk up behind the two girls in the crowded hall of Harrison Lane Elementary….she would bend down and whisper one word in their ear. She did this for five days in a row, Monday thru Friday….she noticed the taunting had stopped by the second day…but she threw in three more days just for good measure. Her plan, it seemed, had worked…she was feeling pretty good that Friday afternoon in math class for the 1s. Susan looked at her from across the room and had a funny smile on her face…a Cheshire cat kind of smile. Juju wondered what that was about?

The 3:05 bell sounded and math class was over, time to go and enjoy the weekend! Juju’s mother was waiting in the front drive of the school, she was especially excited because they were going sneaker shopping today…it was a good day! Mrs. Threadgill, the math teacher called out to Juju as she hit the door. She told her to go back to her homeroom to see Mrs. Dennard about something. Juju trotted off, not knowing what she was about to walk into…not knowing it had to do with that one single word she had been uttering into the ears of her two tormenting adversaries.

She walked into the large expanse of the homeroom and saw a strange site. There stood Mrs. Dennard, Terry, Susan, and their two mothers!! She walked over to the desk and Mrs. Dennard said they were all talking and concerned about something the two girls were saying that Juju had called them in the hall. Mrs. Dennard asked if Juju had said the word and she responded yes. She was admonished and made to apologize to the girls. When asked why she had said such a word, Juju related that the girls had been mocking her for being different…laughing at her daily. Susan and Terry denied the allegation and tearfully looked up at their respective mothers. Juju felt as if she were about to explode in tears….tears of anger. She loved Mrs. Dennard and couldn’t believe that she was siding with them! Juju was dismissed and walked with head held low to her mother’s car.

Juju sat down in the front seat and started to bawl. What is wrong, her mother asked?
Juju related the story…the ENTIRE story, it came flowing out of her in pace with the tears. Jewel became incensed and jumped out of the car and headed to the classroom. Juju’s mother entered the homeroom to find the teacher and two mothers still chatting. She went into a rage, berating the teacher for having this obviously planned meeting without filling her in…without having her present. Jewel was furious that she had been left sitting in the car while 3 adults ganged up on Juju. She left the three women standing there aghast as she exited the room and yelled back one parting shot. “And MY daughter has a right to use that word any damn time she wants to…it is her right!!”

Jewel came back to the car looking like she had flames sticking out the top of her head. Juju was thinking the anger was directed at her….for saying the word. Jewel looked at Juju and asked her if she wanted to go to Sears or the shoe store on Pipeline Road? Juju knew she was a “1” but she was having trouble processing all that had happened. Why was her mother looking at her with that weird look on her face….tears in her eyes and a smile. Juju had never seen that combination on a face before, it befuddled her.

As they pulled into the parking lot of Sears, Jewel asked her daughter if she knew what the word actually meant? The irony was that Juju did not know what it meant. She just knew it had been thrown in her direction before and the general consensus at the school was that it was the lowest thing you could call another kid. Her mother told Juju that it meant different from normal, not the usual.

They walked into the store to buy a new pair of black and white Keds “track” shoes..the ones that had the narrow heel and pointed up at the toe…just like Juju had seen on the Olympics. Juju reached for her mother’s hand and gave it a squeeze. A moment of thanks passed from daughter to mother. Juju laughed aloud and said, “that was a QUEER afternoon, wasn’t it?” She liked making her mother laugh…and deep down Juju was feeling pretty darn good. She was getting the greatest track shoes ever and she now had a new word that described herself perfectly.

Growing Up Juju (part 1 in a series)

The boy named David socked her in the stomach so hard it took her breath away. She fell on her back on his driveway and gasped for a breath, what a brat she thought…he had sucker punched her! After about a minute or two she was on her feet again dusting off her blue jeans and thinking about kicking him…right at the place where her mother told her counted the most. She thought about it but instead gave him the best “go to hell” look an eleven year old can give, turned in her Keds and carted off to her own yard. It wasn’t worth it. That David kid was as queer as a three dollar bill and he didn’t even know it. At least she knew…she was as odd as he was and just trying to be his friend.

She had always known she was different, but she had really got to thinking about it in the last month. Every since that day at Harrison Lane Elementary when the teacher divided up the girls and the boys for “the talk.” The girls were sent to the cafeteria and the boys were hustled to the gym. The P.E. teacher, Miss Pam, who looked like Paul McCartney, stood up to speak. She was “different” too, she just knew it. She wore track suits to school every day and had a pair of sneakers to match each suit. Miss Pam bit her fingernails down to the quick and wore no make-up like the other teachers….and no exaggeration, she looked like the Beatle in his mop-top heyday.

Miss Pam doubled as the health teacher and when she stood up that day she started talking about the differences in boys and girls. The girls watched a film on just how different they were and what would be happening to their bodies in the next year or two. Juju sat there kind of disgusted. She couldn’t believe that was going to happen to her…and all to have babies!?! If you knew you weren’t going to have kids why did this have to happen??

The film had prompted a discussion that night with Juju’s mother. At the end of the talk, Juju knew what her mother had done to have seven babies, she would never do. She got the nerve up to tell her mother she day-dreamed quite a lot, but wouldn’t tell her mother about what. She was told that day-dreaming was perfectly normal and to not be worried. Juju wondered if she were somehow broken. She knew the day-dreams were not the normal thing for an eleven year old girl to think about…she was worried. That day however had yielded too much information, her worries would have to wait for another day. Until then, Juju went about her daily activities, hoping one day she would have all the answers to the questions swirling in her mind.

Juju knew why the neighborhood boys wouldn’t let David play with them. He was called a sissy-boy most times..or told to go play school with the other “girls.” But the thing she didn’t get is why they let her, an actual girl, play tackle football with them? Her best buddy, Rod, had looked at her and said, “I don’t know, you can just play, but don’t spit, girls don’t spit.” Okay, note to self, stop buying the gum that came in a package that looked like chewing tobacco…and stop spitting like the boys did. Juju had it, David’s differences excluded him, her’s kept her in the clique. The boys thought it was odd if she jumped rope or played school with the girls, but they always reminded her there were certain lines she just could not cross.

This being different thing was hard to deal with and issues came up just about every day. Juju had been thinking weird thoughts since she was five years old and now she was beginning to think that they had something to do with the film at school and the talk she had with her mother. Those thoughts, her day-dreams, were going to remain hers for a while, she needed to figure this out for herself first, then tell somebody. Juju had learned some valuable lessons that week. The most valuable one she had learned was to be careful with whom she reached out to…David had not liked her inquiry that preceded the punch. By his reaction Juju knew he had day-dreams too and she had secretly smiled as she walked back to her house that day holding her stomach. Wow, she thought, mother was right, the truth does hurt.

Growing Up Juju (part 12 in a series)

You know how hard it is to make the first move? Remember when you were a teenager and you desperately wanted to tell someone you liked them? Rejection has a powerful sting…verbalizing something, reaching out to touch a hand…that is some bold stuff and the consequences could be really awful. But we did it…most of the time in the 70s it was a boy asking a girl out….asking her to go to the movies…leaning in for a kiss. I applaud them, it took guts and it was really, really different from it is today.

I am sure everyone that is reading this remembers those awkward moments. I am sure the gay people reading this can break into a cold sweat just remembering those first moments when they acted on their true being…..when they realized their true self. You want to talk nerve? Two gay kids rarely look at each other and come right out and say it.
There are long periods of time when absolutely nothing happens, unrequited feelings abound. Sometimes the silence never ends…but eventually you have your first encounter where someone makes an incredibly brave move.

I was eighteen years old and about hyper-ventilated every time I was around her. Her name was Annie and my teenage dream was that she shared the same feelings that I had.
By looking at her you would have never guessed she was queer…but there was something about the way she looked at me…I was beginning to think just maybe. She was dating a football player and she used to hang out at the gym waiting on him after practice…it was my senior year. I was a gym rat, always around because I had friends in every sport…the gym was our social club.

Gay kids back then were pretty late bloomers, for obvious reasons. I had already applied for and been accepted at Texas Woman’s University. I knew that school would be a haven for queer girls and I would probably fit in…I would most likely meet my first girlfriend there…I was so hoping that would come to pass. But for now I was watching Annie run and jump into her boyfriend’s arms…longing to trade places with him. She liked me, I could tell…she even laughed at all of my corn-ball jokes. And what about the flirtatious looks she gave me, what was that about? I lived off of those looks for about 2 months until one day she asked me if I wanted to go to a movie one night? Why yes, that would be nice! (thinking inside that I was having a coronary)

I picked Annie up and off we went to a theater at the local mall. The movie was “Private Benjamin” with Goldie Hawn. It is a very funny movie, but to tell you the truth, I had to go see it again later with other friends. The night with Annie I was all in a nervous flumox…years of waiting….years of queer thoughts were racing through my mind. What if I make a move and she actually doesn’t recoil in disgust? What if she does?? What if I am NOT the big queer I think I am? Eighteen years of being an outsider will go by the way-side and I will have to start thinking about guys? Oh gawd, her right forearm just brushed against mine…okay, slash that last thought!

The movie ended and we set off for the parking lot towards my Mercury Bobcat. We were seated in the car, listening to the radio…not quite ready to go home, not knowing what to do next. Tom Petty was our background music…Annie began to talk about dating the football player. Her complimentary description of him ended with the word I was waiting for ….BUT, she said, “something is wrong, I have been thinking of someone else.” Annie looked at me and…….and…..I couldn’t find the breath to make words. This was it….this was THE moment….say it damn-it!! Say it Julya!!!!! SAY IT!!!!!!!

Have you been thinking about me? Did that just come out of my mouth? I am sure I had sheer panic on my face. I thought I had just ruined the last remaining months of my time in high school. She would surely run screaming from the car…show up at class on Monday and tell everyone she could that I was a big old queer and had hit on her! My life was about to be over!! Wait! She just said something..what? Can you say that again? “Yes, she said…I have been thinking about kissing you.”

It was just like in the movies, the radio changed to a love song as if on cue, I leaned in and our lips met. I AM gay!! I am sooooooooooo gay!!! I am gleefully queer!!! You can think it and feel it your entire life, but until a moment like this happens, you really aren’t IT, are you? Don’t you have to ACT on something to truly be it? I was dizzy and really relived…..and so freaking happy!!

So, I don’t think Annie will read this, but if she does….thanks. There always has to be a first and I am thankful for you dear, beautiful Annie. She went out-of-state for college and last I heard she was very happy with a long-term partner. We had lasted until graduation and knew life was taking us in different directions. It hurt, but I knew I had met her for a reason…I knew we were parting for a reason.

We all have an “Annie” in our background…we all have those memories. I know some of you, gay and straight, were perhaps re-buffed in your encounters. I imagine some of my queer readers might have some ugly stories to tell…some of your tales very well might have ended with the girl running away and “outing” you. I am sorry if that happened to you…but the moments have defined us as the people we are today, right?

Every once in a while I am driving down the road and Tom Petty comes on singing Refugee…and my heart starts to beat like an eighteen year old after wind-sprints. I will always remember that night and the first time I figured out being queer was, for me…not really strange at all.

Growing Up Juju (part 13 in a series)

The edge of the creek was lined with Maclura Pomifera trees, most people know them as “Horse Apple” trees. The rough and spherical fruits were lying about…as an attorney, I now would call them an “attractive nuisance,” back then at age 7, they looked like green softballs.

My little neighbor friend, Robbie, was riding his bicycle back and forth in front of me, about 3 feet off the edge…in and out of the tree trunks, like a make-shift obstacle course. Let’s make this course a little more difficult, I thought to myself, as I began rolling the apples towards the creek….and directly in the path of the quickly moving Schwinn.

About six weeks earlier a neighbor kid had beaned me on the forehead with a croquet ball, sending me to the ER for 3 stitches. You would have thought that would have been on my mind, but when you are seven…you don’t think about consequences. I actually wanted him to bite the dirt, not get hurt, just fall in a very dramatic crash. We crashed bikes all the time…when both parties were in on the joke…unfortunately, this time I didn’t let poor Robbie in on the caper.

I timed it just right and my last toss connected with the front tire of Robbie’s bike, getting caught up in the spokes, stalling his progress, and sending him over the handle-bars…in a very dramatic fashion. Robbie stood up quickly and I could see blood gushing out of a cut just over his left eye. OH MY GAWD! What have I done?? I grabbed him by the arm and we went running up to the front door of his house.

I rang the bell and his mother, Rita, answered. I quickly told her Robbie had “fallen” while riding his bike. Rita grabbed him up and off they went to the ER. Robbie’s dad wasn’t home, he was a Fort Worth police detective…I remember thinking that he would be hot on my trail! I felt like I was going to throw up as I raced back across the street to my house.

My mother had run to the store and left my older siblings in charge. I didn’t bother to relate the details about what had just happened to my sister Joyce, as I hurried to my room and slammed the door. Well, news traveled fast in a 1960s neighborhood, not as fast as a Google search, but pretty darn fast.

As my mother was getting out of her car, one of the neighbor boys approached her and spilled the beans on what I had done. Rita’s car was not in her drive-way, I am sure my mother either gave a heavy sigh or rolled her eyes….she was heading towards me!

Overcome with guilt and grief…I was crouched and hiding behind the large desk I had in the corner of my room. The door creaked open and my mother stood there for a few seconds, scoping the empty room. “Julie, are you in here?” Silence.

She waited a full sixty seconds before saying,”You did it on purpose,didn’t you?” The desk spoke the truth….yes, was the answer from the dark corner. “Stay in your room until they get back from the hospital, then you and I are going over to apologize.”

Believe it or not, seven was about the age when I started having conversations with my mother about being “different.” At seven you can’t articulate the feelings or thoughts you have streaming through your head…but I knew I was not like the other girls in my first grade class.

At P.E. every day at Harrison Lane Elementary the same division of the sexes occurred without any adult interference, whatsoever. Mrs. Brown marched us down the first grade hall to the back exit door in a single file line. The first kid hit the door, slammed it open and the bisection occurred…created by societal influence, genetics, I don’t know…make your own argument.

The girls ran to the left towards the concrete pad where the rope jumping began immediately….single and even attempts at double-dutch. The boys ran, whooping and hollering towards the ball-field for a lively game of kickball. I stood at the edge of the concrete, refusing to jump rope….longing to join in on the game across the field.

I don’t want to be a boy I remember telling my mother…I just want to do everything they do. She thought she had a budding feminist…but what she had was a baby dyke. Looking back now it was great of her to engage in the conversation, to embrace a kid that was clearly different. She told me I didn’t have to play with the girls, but I should see what the teacher said about joining the boys. My mother told me all girls were different and that comparing me to the other girls was like comparing “apples to oranges.” I didn’t get that then…so she said it another way….she said, “Julie, different doesn’t mean wrong.”

That idiom is often criticized by “scholars” because both apples and oranges are fruits (insert joke), but it actually is spot on. We were all just little girls, but there were far more differences with me and the jumpers than similarities.

I was crying, overcome with remorse, as my mother and I stood in Robbie’s bedroom. The poor kid had four stitches over his eye, was laying in his bed, sucking on a popsicle. I confessed my sin to Rita and asked her if big Rob, the detective was going to take me to jail? The moms laughed and that made me feel a little better. My penance was raking the leaves in Robbie’s backyard that afternoon,…a job he had been scheduled to do..a job I gladly took over.

You just don’t think about cause and effect when you are a kid…but you do when you become an adult reflecting on childhood memories. The horse apple, or the cause, sure did have an effect on little Robbie. And that “apples and oranges” comment left a lasting mark on me as well. My mother isn’t around to give her input here, but I doubt she would recall saying it to me. I think it would surprise her to know how many times I thought of the comment throughout my “growing up queer” years.

I knew I wasn’t meant to be a cookie-cutter, a girly-girl jumping rope after that, and it was okay. It didn’t solve all my problems or future heartaches, but it was just okay after that. I was like any other kid…I could be rotten as hell one day and cause another kid a trip to the hospital, but I could also become the only girl on Mrs. Brown’s 1st grade, kickball team. Soon thereafter, a classmate, Susan mocked me one day in recess and yelled out, “Julya is a boy!” I pretended the ball was her head the next time it was my turn at the plate…”apples to oranges” I thought….as I rounded the bases smiling.

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.