In Mexico, Missouri where Dad had gone to high school and Grandpa was a Friday regular at the Jefferson Hotel, I was an insider. Daddy knew everyone and, as far as I could tell, everyone loved him. My grandparent’s tumble-down farm was 10 miles out of town, but Grandma still wore pearls and a whalebone corset to go to town. I helped her tighten the laces to keep her ample belly from jiggling,
Now in a loose clothing world, I can only imagine the torture of wearing that garment with a garter belt and silk stockings in Missouri heat. Grandma was a Chicago lady who kept up appearances, no matter what.
When I walked to Daddy’s company after school, I was the princess of Mexico Building Supply. There were a dozen employees, more than half black men, and everyone beamed at me. I loved riding passenger on their trucks. Whig West who was in charge of getting trucks loaded gave me a wave across the dusty yard before I disappeared into the air conditioned building.
The office was small with a wide counter, but I was drawn to the Coke machine that hummed and sometimes clanked near the back door. If my mother wasn’t around, someone dropped a nickle or two in the machine and handed me an icy 7 ounce bottle of Coke. I rolled the glass bottle against my sweaty cheeks. On lucky days, Taylor Wilson who drove a cement truck bought me a PayDay candy bar—caramel, peanuts, and lots of salt. Mom didn’t approve of candy bars or soda, but I had accomplices
By 1957, Daddy was too sick to run his business and took a sales job in Detroit. A major lure was health insurance without a physical. Daddy had advanced kidney disease, so health insurance saved my family from going broke. My uncle took over Mexico Building Supply and we moved north.
In Southfield, Michigan, I was 12, lonely, and behind in school because Missouri schools were lousy even though I got all As. Even worse, I sounded like a country hick. I was an instant outsider and someone to tease. My only friend was my dog Amigo.
In the hall, a boy stuck his foot out to trip me and my blouse buttons popped open when I fell. It was humiliating enough to need a bra at 12, but to have the boys see it and laugh? My life was ruined.
In a few months, I caught up at school, fell in love with reading, and made friends. While Daddy grew weaker, I got stronger and learned to say fog instead of “fawg” and dog instead of “dawh.” I was an insider again.
Does every teenager feel like an outsider? I expect so, and it’s a hard time for a kid to move away from her hometown. It was especially hard because Daddy died two years after our move and we didn’t have close friends or local family for support. Did you have a similar experiences. Did you stay close to your family home while growing up?