In 1972 my house became very quiet. There was so much turmoil the year before, that the quiet soothed my soul. Dad had left – he psychologically forced my mom to divorce him. I was glad he left because he started drinking more and became more violent. He didn’t do anything to help around the house, so for me, it was like a black cloud had been lifted. My oldest brother moved in with Dad immediately, which was another black cloud leaving our home. Mom no longer had her best friend, because her best friend got a divorce and married my dad. She lost several of her friends due to the fact that they all hung out together, although a few stayed by her side during all of the trauma, especially her friend Else, who met her even before she married Dad. Shortly after the divorce, my mom’s mother committed suicide. Then my sister, Leslie, put her through hell for a year while she was grieving her losses, and she lost her daughter through the court system to go live with Dad. Once she was 13, Leslie could decide where she wanted to live. Mom knew that the living situation would not be a healthy one, but there was nothing she could do. Dad fought to have Leslie, and he probably pointed out that it would be too difficult for Mom to financially take care of all four kids.
She had been through so much loss and betrayal, yet she fought grief and depression with an indeterminable amount of will. Her mother had severe depression throughout her life and was committed a few times. One time when Mom and her brother went to visit my grandma, they saw her in her room just rocking back and forth for hours. She made a pact with her brother that they would never get that depressed, no matter what. I’m sure that had an influence on her fighting back her grief.
Back then (in 1972) women didn’t have credit cards, or even have the opportunity to prove they were credit worthy. So once my dad left, we had no income and no credit. My mom’s other best friend, Else, advised her to sell our home, but Dad had declared bankruptcy. So if she did get any money from the house, it was going to pay off Dad’s debts, and she didn’t want to have any part of that. Unfortunately, during the bankruptcy proceedings, the court asked her if she had inherited any money in the past 5 years. Else strongly advised that Mom lie about it, but she refused to lie in court. When her mother died, she was given $5,000.00 and she shared that with the court.
However, this money had already been spent. She bought clothing and food, and paid for overdue bills. Then she bought a riding lawn mower, so she could take care of the yard that was a full acre of grass (Dad never mowed the yard.) I suspect she paid for gymnastics class for my sister and brother with it, and that’s also why I was able to begin piano lessons. In any case, the money was no longer available. The court declared that she had it at some point, and she should have used it to pay for the debts incurred from the declared bankruptcy. She was fined $5,000.00 and told that she had to pay it back.
Dad’s alimony payment wasn’t much, and he refused to pay for John and I, since he already had two kids to take care of. Mom had not had any luck in court so far, so she was not going to try to make him pay the child support he was instructed to pay by law. She decided to use her best asset – her voice. She went back into the recording studio and was hired to sing a couple of Christmas songs. She enjoyed getting back into singing, and she sounded great. I loved hearing her practice for the recordings. It was nice to hear her singing in the house. (I still have a copy of those songs.) But the singing jobs were few and far between.
At a friend’s encouragement, she hired a photographer and put together a modeling and acting portfolio for both her and I. She knew someone in the advertising business, and he helped her get set up with a talent agency. She got a few jobs modeling, but it wasn’t enough to keep us afloat. I was hired to do a few commercials (one was for MasterCard) and did a couple of fashion shows for a chain called Boston Store that was downtown Milwaukee. I enjoyed the work, even though I was a little shy. I was wearing clothes that fit me like a glove, but we could never have afforded them. One of the events was working during the lunch hour and then for a big show at night. I’ll never forget it. My mom had to get some sort of eye surgery. She wouldn’t explain to me what the problem was, but she scheduled the surgery on the day of the fashion show. Before she scheduled it, she asked if my Dad’s mom could take me, which she was happy to do. I loved that my Grandma came with me, but I wanted my mom to be there. I never understood why she made it for that day.
I was 9 years old. I was given several outfits to change into. I was instructed to take the outfit and the number and walk around all the tables where women were enjoying a luncheon. They had a program on their tables, and they could look up the number to see what the outfit was and how much it cost. In the dressing room, I noticed another girl my age who was getting help with her outfits, and a woman gave her a new hairstyle each time she went out. Then I realized it was a mother and daughter. I ached for my mom to be there. My Grandma didn’t participate in the luncheon, so she just waited for me somewhere else in the store. I felt so alone. By the time I dressed into the last outfit, the woman started talking with me and noticed that I had no one with me. She asked if she could do my hair, and I was so grateful. She pulled it into 2 cute pigtails, and curled my hair expertly with the curling iron. I smiled a lot bigger when I modeled that outfit. It was a navy blue sleeveless dress, with two thin white lines around the bottom. Just above the lines were 6 colored partridges – the same cartoon drawings used for the Partridge Family TV show logo. I carried a matching white handbag over my shoulder with the same birds on it. With the extra attention from the other mother, and an outfit representing one of my favorite TV shows, I felt like a million bucks.
That night we had different outfits again, but this time it was a big stage with people of all ages. After the luncheon, we had a mini dress rehearsal on how to walk out on stage. We were also given various props to carry. The mother and daughter were there again, but she was too busy with her own daughter to help me this time. For the grand finale, several of us children walked out on the stage holding toys. I had a big blue ball. A boy who was younger than me saw that ball and cried and cried. He wanted it, but the people in charge were afraid he was going to drop it. Finally they succumbed and asked if I would please exchange toys with him. He got the ball (and did very well with it) and I carried a puppet that was Snoopy from Charlie Brown. They were so appreciative of me cooperating, they let me keep the puppet.
When I finally returned home, anxious to tell Mom all about it, she was in her bedroom in the dark with a huge patch over her eye. She was not up for being with me. It’s surprising how much the fun was taken out of it when I had no one to share it with.
My mom let me keep all the money I earned – which eventually helped me to buy my first car when I was 18. But the modeling jobs and TV commercials were short lived.
One of the negative aspects of getting those modeling jobs was how the kids at school responded. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing them. I wasn’t proud of the fact that I had been asked by my mom to work, even though I was told I could keep the money. In the back of my mind, it felt like I was a back-up financial plan. I knew we needed the money, and I thought that this was the only way I was going to get money for my college education. However, my secret was not safe. Mom told the teacher what I was doing because there were days I had to miss school in order to work. One day out of the blue, Mrs. Larson, my 3rd grade teacher, asked me to tell the class where I was when I missed school. (The kids assumed I was sick, which was fine with me.) I remember being shocked by the request, and did not want to say what I had been doing.
“Why?” I boldly asked, realizing that all eyes were on me. I was so uncomfortable with this situation.
“Because I think the kids will find it very interesting. It’s not everyone who gets the opportunity to do what you’ve been doing.”
She had the kindest heart, and her intentions were genuine. She thought the other kids would love to hear about my experiences. I couldn’t refuse her because now I knew where she was coming from. And the idea about us not having any money, wasn’t going to have to be revealed.
“I did a fashion show at Boston Store yesterday,” I said quietly.
“Can you explain to everyone what that is?”
I dutifully started to tell the class about it, when she had me stand up in front of the room. This was very awkward for me, but the kids seemed interested enough, and when I was finished, I figured that was the end of it.
Lunchtime came and then we had recess. I had my best friend Karen with me and we took off running onto the playground like we always did. Suddenly I found myself flying in the air, and landed hard on the pavement of the playground. My knees were badly scraped due to my momentum and the dress that I was wearing that exposed them. Oh did that hurt! My friend Karen came running up to me.
“Are you okay?”
“What happened?” I said in a daze, unable to move.
“Can you get up?”
“I don’t know. It really hurts.” I started to cry, and Karen helped me up and back into the school to take me to the school nurse. My knees and hands were badly scraped up.
As we walked back into the school, I saw two boys from our class staring at us, smiling. I asked Karen again what had happened, and she reluctantly told me that one of the boys tripped me as I ran past. I never would have guessed that’s what happened, because I didn’t even feel his foot when I fell, it was so subtle. And it never occurred to me that someone would do that. “Why?” I asked. “Why would he do that?” I knew these boys and they had been kind to us in the past. Also, I had never been picked on physically at school before this instance. She said she didn’t know, but she would try to find out. Later she overheard them talking, and realized it was because they thought I was showing off talking about the fashion show.
I never spoke about it again. (Note to self – don’t tell people what you’re doing – you could get hurt.)