Saturday, April 15, 2017

Junior Jitters and Heartbreak

Eleventh Grade, the Junior Jitters year.

Life after high school was unimaginable. I worried about finding a job, paying income taxes, getting married, having children, and washing and ironing and paying the bills. I wanted something more. I wanted to dream.
Me in 1968

I knew my grades wouldn't get me into college. "I don’t know anything except avoiding homework, loving people, chasing boys, and wants and hopes and dreams and music and writing and reading and beauty and needing friendship," I wrote.

When Nancy Ensminger and I were nine years old we had discussed what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wanted to be a writer because I believed writers had the power to change people's lives. At sixteen I hoped to "learn to write" and publish. I wondered if I could "take up writing in college." It seems "impossible & improbable & obscure & obscene, but in dreams I see it as reality." My second hope was to "be a friend to mankind" and "a help to people."

I wrote in my journal,

"Could N. Gochenour be transformed into a poet or short story writer?  This mass of misspelled words and incorrect grammar be shuffled around to form a tangible and solid author-type person?
Do I dare to satisfy my childhood dream?  Do I dare to step out?  Do I dare try my hand at being somebody?  Can I succeed?"

I was very internally focused in my scribbling.

"Have you ever stood quietly and felt your heart beating inside of you? Be very still and don’t move or breathe. If you listen, you’ll feel it there. So faintly..."

"Thin lined paper beckons me to write. It makes me want to mess up its unblemished surface. It makes me want to write nicely with round, even letters and long words. I find it hard to pass up thin-lined paper. I have this need to create and write. I love writing—writing anything, even if only the alphabet or a perfection of one work, with curly-cues in all the right places. And I want to write of how [the boys I liked] never come, but always just look at you with those heavy eyes, and it’s always [the unsuitable boys] who find you. And how you are flattered into it though you know such differences exist and they aren’t the ones, but the [boy you like] goes off with other girls."

1968. My 'at home' uniform: sweatshirt, jeans, and moccasins.
On October 1 I wrote, "What am I doing? Taking history, economics, chemistry, I'm in PAC, editor of "Our Paper" [a project of the senior high Sunday School class at St John's Episcopal Church]. I write poetry. I also participate in that All-American game--Boys."

Herald article on the Political Action Club
On October 2 Mr. Warner came into Mr. Perry's economics class and called out, "Debbie!" and I said, "No-Nancy." I wrote, "He informed me to take International Relations. With that, Perry, Burroughs & Arndt I'd be prepared for college. Before he left he gave my book a karate kick off the desk & exclaimed to Mr. P, "You've got some ugly girls, too, huh?" Mr. Perry shook his head as Mr. W left, and a girl asked, "Who WAS that man!"
Mr Warner in my International Relations classroom, 1969
At least one teacher was talking to me about college.

On October 3 I wrote that everyone was carrying transistor radios to hear the World Series with the Detroit Tigers vs. the Cardinals. On Oct 11 I wrote that the Tigers had won.

I went to the first football game wearing my navy coat, a skirt, and my hair pulled back under a black lambswool pill box hat I found at a garage sale. My hat was crazy and a hit. My teachers remarked on it, with my chemistry teacher Mr. Heald teasing and asking if it was bear fur.

I went campaigning door-to-door with the Political Action Club. I recall we were for Romney for governor.

I bought and read news magazines, then cut the ads out to adorn my bedroom walls and to use in collages to illustrate books I made of my poetry. I had several poems in The Herald--pretty awful, derivative stuff! Including this poem:

page from my poetry book
We are all one in our fight.
our strength is one strength in our strife;
our weaknesses merge into one weakness;
our ideas build like blocks
to form one universal conception.

But when strength is pitted against strength
in one being;
when ideas are kept apart;
building blocks are missing
and the conception falls
as we will fall
if we are not all one in our flight.
a collage I made for my poem Spring Fever

Herald Staff 1968-69. I am in the second row on the far left
wearing one of Mom's 1950s wool skirts which I shortened.
One of my first articles for the Herald

 I got my class ring in October. I wore it proudly.

Me with red hair
My hair had become dark golden brown and Mom suggested I lighten it as I was born blond. Instead, I became a redhead! It took three generations to accomplish it, with my mom and grandmother helping. My Grandmother and Mother also encouraged me to try contact lens and helped me earn the $200 to buy them. They were green, to enhance my hazel eyes.

On October 20 my family went to Tonawanda. I wrote,

"We went to visit the Kuhns last night; called Nancy Ensminger. Saw the Randall’s today. V. N.! [Very nice] Mike R. is tall--And very cute. Quiet. I got in my 2 cents of mouth flapping. Amused him, too. Very Outgoing: in other words, NOISY, when I could be. Nice time, had coffee & pet their dog, who’s getting bald, and their gray cat, who has a fluorescent orange ball. Razing between Uncle Ken & I. Says I’m a hippie ‘cause I got de long hair."

Mike R. and I had played make believe about space aliens as kids. He grew up to become an actor and television weather reporter.
Nancy Ensminger and me, age 16, October 1968
"Oct. 21 Wore my contacts 5 ½ hrs. today. Yesterday I saw Nancy E. We talked, had our pics taken in a booth (25 cents) at Niesner’s, ate spaghetti, talked, said 'hi' to Bruce [Nancy's brother], and talked. Today we went to the store & I gypped Mom outta $1.99 for a shirt, $1.00 for pantyhose, and $1.00 for 4 scarves. We went to see a certain Louise Cole & mom got her wig fixed & we had pheasant & rabbit (and woodcock) sumpthin' or other that wasn’t half bad at all. I hardly—didn’t even—recognize my “old friend” --ha, ha-- Allan (Al.)  Dark hair and cute. He smiled when I got my mouth moving (same as with Mike) and got, in the end, so we could talk & joke & without bein’ scared of scaring one another or something & all. Showed me his pigeons & rabbits & chickens." [Louise Cole had been our hairdresser when we lived in Tonawanda. Her son was Allan.]
Nancy Ensminger, 1968
Nancy 1968
"Oct 24 We went to the Waterson’s [Doris Waterson was Mom's best friend from high school].  Eric [her youngest son] is lovable. Tom [her older son] there—shot a pheasant. Eric wanted to know what I was giving him this time!  I said, “A kiss!” No! But wait—this time you’re supposed to give ME a present! (Mr. Waterson said to say I wanted “Bunnie”) No—I couldn’t have him! I could have the black-nosed bunny—No. A Tiger?  No—send me your picture. (Eric had his school picture taken that day.)

"Yesterday Debbie [Becker] thought I had a beautiful voice when I played my guitar. Went to Guenther’s. I hardly recognized Stevie—er, Steve! Yipes! I didn’t let him be shy. I teased him. He needed a specific screw for his gun. Linda, Elaine, me, Deb & Steve all piled into the car & took off to about 50 billion stores looking for it. That’s about the extent of it. Tomorrow we’ll return, and then Monday—back to the rat race."
I was still doing art

My art reflecting the social times and psychedelic style

my poster, a typical 60s motif
My junior year classes included Chemistry with Mr. Heald, Herald Staff with Mr. Rosen, Economics with Mr. Perry, International Relations with Mr. Warner, Speech, American Lit, and US History.

I read the 1958 poem Univac to Univac by Louis B. Salomon in Speech class. Hear it here. It is about computers wondering if humans might take over the world. I also read my poem about the Christmas tree under the pen name Stephanie Valentine.

My Chemistry class was in the early afternoon. Mr. Heald would kick the metal trash can to get our attention when we drifted off. Sometimes my hand would keep writing as I nodded off and I woke up with my page all scribbled over. (In college I avoided early afternoon classes because I was still falling asleep at 2 pm!) I did not do well, but learned something because I wrote,

if only out of all this confusion
things could fall into an order--
any kind of order--
so i could observe the situation
and make decisions
but, no, it is as unstable
as an ozone atom.

I wrote that my Economics teacher "Mr. Perry spent the hour pointing out all the reasons why we should commit suicide or something because of the world (U.S.) situation." And I also wrote that I was tired of memorizing tariffs and laws and 'every darn thing.' I passed the class because I grasped the theory, but was inept at the application. My conversation starter became, "And what do you think of the national debt?" 50 years later it is still a relevant question!

I was in Girl's Choir for the second year. I had been in choir with many of these girls for two years now and had many friends. I have the best memories of these girls. We learned the Hallelujah Chorus that year and I would sing it walking through the hallways at school. (I still sing when walking, in the car, feeding the doggies, often making up songs. Still weird after all these years!) I also made new friends, Alta and Carol, who were a year older. 

We participated in the All-City Secondary Vocal Festival on Friday, April 25, 1969, at the Kimball High School Gymnasium. The Combined High School Girls’ Choirs performed:
     Gloria (from “Twelfth Mass”) —Mozart
     Go Not Far From Me, O God—Zingarelli
     Say It With Music—Berlin
     The Wizard of Oz Selections—Arlen

Girl's Choir 1968-69. I am in the third row, fifth from the right end.
Once night Dad drove Alta and me home from a football game. The radio was on and Alta and I sang along to Hey, Jude.

Alta introduced me to a boy who liked me. He took me to his church youth group, which was fun, but the church was very conservative. I remember seeing piles of books about the threat of Communism. The church was against dancing, smoking, drinking, etc. He stood me up one night when we were to go Christmas caroling so to cheer me up Alta took me to a party she was going to. Later one of the boys at the party told Alta he'd like to date me. She didn't think we were each other's type.

My friends Dorothy and Kathy bought me a Christmas present from Jacobson's, a tiger stripe fur hat from Jacobson's! I was very moved. The hat was weird enough to be just my style!

In January I was getting to know the boy from the Christmas party. He was a year older and not typically 'my type.' He was complicated with a difficult home life. And he wasn't interested any more in poetry or books than the other boys who wanted to date me. He got along with my folks and was at my house frequently. I really liked him. I fell into the trap many young girls fall into, thinking that we can solve a boy's problems. He warned that he knew he would "blow our relationship."

We went to the French Club Dance, meeting up with my friends and their beaus. Mom took my photo. It became a family legend! Mr. Warner, my International Relations teacher, made fun of it saying, “St. Nancy of Gochenspeil—This is your airline stewardess.” He kept it to share with his other classes.
Me before the 1969 French Club Dance.
That eagle is still in the family. It is not attached to my head.
Before the prom my relationship with my boyfriend had mutually ended. It broke my heart, yet I was determined to remain a friend because I knew my mom was a good support to him. Later I realized our break up was wise and right. But at the time I wrote a lot of bad poetry over it and it took many months to move beyond the pain.

May 9, 1968, a week before the anniversary of Joe Boten's death, I was feeling very low. I wrote that Mom gave me a Librium and drove me to school. It shocks me now to know Mom was on Librium and even more shocked that had given it to me. Because her psoriasis was believed to be made worse by stress, perhaps her doctor believed the Librium was good for her. There was a lot of bad medication going on back then, and Mom was desperate enough to try anything. Her neck, hands, and major joints were deformed by psoriatic arthritis. Winter found her crippled and bedridden. Neighbors came over during the day to help her out of bed.

Every week, I would put olive oil or a tar ointment in her hair at night. She wrapped her head and let the ointment loosen the psoriasis plaque overnight. A stint in the hospital involved a treatment where tar ointment was applied on her entire body, then she wrapped up in Saran wrap and let it soak overnight. Another treatment involved UV light therapy, but it was stopped when she developed pre-cancerous lesions. She was on and off Cortisone, which made her swell up and thinned her skin.

Mom relied on me to help her in the kitchen. I mashed potatoes and opened jars or cans because her hands were so crippled. I went shopping with her to help carry the bags. I did the Pepsi runs to keep her supplied so she didn't have to get up. Mom thought I would make a good physical therapist since I already was a home care health aide in training.

Also on May 9 I obtained an application for my family to host a foreign exchange student the next school year. A family friend was involved with Youth for Understanding and we had hosted an exchange student for a weekend.

Dad wrote in his memoirs, "We got to know one of Joyce's parent's neighbors in Berkeley, whose name was Anita. She was involved with a student exchange program called Youth for Understanding. She asked us to take a temporary exchange student. Joyce, Nancy, Tom and I talked it over and we decided we would like to get involved with the program."

I wonder if Mom thought it would get my mind off 'boy trouble' to have a sister.
Here I am with the exchange student we hosted for a week.
I already had a prom dress and, boyfriend or not, Mom was determined I would still go to the prom. I personally didn't care.

A neighbor boy had returned from Vietnam and his mom and my mom arranged for him to take me to the prom. Again, we joined up with my friends and their beaus for dinner. My date was nice, but we had nothing in common. He was very old fashioned and didn't believe in women going to college. I had to see my old beau with his new girl. I got to wear the dress but I did not truly enjoy myself.
Ready for the prom, 1968
I was determined not to fall into the depression I had suffered the previous year. My mantra became Resurgam-- I shall rise again. I believe I heard the term from Jane Eyre for it is on the tombstone of Jane's Lowood friend Helen.

I collected sayings to support me.
Jeremiah 8:4
“You shall say to them, thus says the Lord;
When men fall, do they not rise again?
If one turns away, does he not return?”
"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
This may have been the summer when I met a church challenge to attend every Sunday all summer long. I won a copper metal bookmark.

I was awfully tired of growing up. I wrote a short poem,

When do the lessons end?
Is there so much to learn
to comprehend
that the lessons must go on forever,
no holiday, no end?

Summer came. I took Student Drivers Ed in summer school. Learning that alcohol kills brain cells I vowed to not drink. I figured I needed all the brain cells I had! And I did not drink until I was in my late twenties and my husband and I ordered a glass of wine at dinner.

In July I turned seventeen. I wrote that I had been naive and now I was 'corrupted' and looked with old eyes. ("The delicate core of my mind/is made of hopes and dreams/corrupted and destroyed/by harsh reality," I wrote in one poem).

I was truly concerned with the future, thinking more seriously about college, but I had no clue about how to get into college. My folks assumed I'd get married and that my brother would go to college. I was never pushed to improve my grades or rewarded for doing well. Although my orphaned grandfather Ramer had put himself through Susquehanna College and seminary and Columbia teacher's college in the 1920s, and supported my interests, he never said anything about my going to college either. And I still had never talked about it with my folks.

I had changed a lot during the year. I knew I was going to survive seventeen, and not only would I grow up--I finally wanted to.

On July 20, 1969, America landed men on the moon. Alta asked me to write a poem about it.

On the Virgin Soil, Touched

black, endless
rhinestone-set velvet
by a small silver needle
traveling by stitches
through space.

finite, three lives
to carry out an excursion
in the name of mankind.

one foot
the sterile
that now knows man.

millions afar--
eyes turned upward--
no words to form
speech taken away
by wonder
by fear
by sense of man's potential power
in awe
of one foot
and the moon
the friction, touch
coming between.

Around fifteen years ago I made my quilt When Dreams Came True to celebrate the Apollo 11 mission. I used copyright free NASA photographs, fusible applique, commercial fabrics, and machine thread work and machine quilting.
When Dreams Came True by Nancy A. Bekofske

detail from When Dreams Came True by Nancy A. Bekofske

detail from When Dreams Came True by Nancy A. Bekofske

detail of When Dreams Came True by Nancy A. Bekofske

detail from When Dreams Came True by Nancy A. Bekofske

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