First Crush

A Reminiscence

One afternoon back in the summer of ’52, I got in such deep trouble with my mom and dad that I got spanked for it. The guy I got in trouble with was gorgeous: medium height, he had wavy black hair and intense blue eyes. He looked great in (and half out of) buckskins. And he had wonderfully toned pectorals.

I didn’t know that word yet. (I guess we’d call them his six-pack now.) So I thought of that part of his anatomy, and thought about it again, and drooled over the memory of seeing it on the screen during the next few days, as his chest. That guy had great chest, liberally displayed when the doctor dug the bullet (or was it an arrow?) out of the adjacent shoulder. The fellow bore the pain most manfully, albeit with the help of that frontier anesthetic, whiskey swigged from a jug.

The movie was The Big Sky, the actor was Dewey Martin, and I was in love, or really some sort of pre-pubescent lust. And I was so taken by his performance, well his chest primarily, that I sat through the whole movie a second time.

This was a major error of judgment because once I reeled out of the theater another two hours later, I knew I was in deep trouble. When I’d paid my thirty-five cents to the cashier and got my ticket four hours earlier, it had been bright and sunny outside. Now it was almost dark. Crying, I hurried toward the bus stop a half block down the avenue in front of the columned bank building.

Before I got to the corner, though, here came my dad bearing down on me with the yard-long engineer’s stride he trained himself to take back when he was a surveyor with the CCC. I could tell he was mad, mostly from worry I understand now that I’m a parent. Or maybe it was because we went home by cab which cost lots more than bus fare, probably to get there fast to relieve Mom of her worries. (We didn’t have a car or a phone yet.)

For supper I had cold boiled cabbage and ham. (Mom and Dad must have eaten all the onions and the potatoes she usually put in that dish.) But I was so hungry it tasted delicious. For dessert I got my licking. Dad spanked me with his bedroom slipper instead of the razor strop he used on my brother after Dale played hooky from school to go fishing down by the river when we lived in Garden Court in South Point, Ohio.

I guess the spanking hurt and I never again stayed out late without parental permission until I was in college and my parents were out of town. And Dad only spanked me the one time during my childhood and adolescence, though Mom took licks at me a couple of times, once with the bristle end of a broom for not coming right home from grade school and later on when I was in high school, with the soft side of a plumber’s friend for giving her lip.

The spanking Dad gave me didn’t stop me from thinking about Dewey Martin. I bought movie magazines like Photoplay and Modern Screen on the sly at Nick’s News downtown across the street from the library and scoured them for pictures of my favorite. One photo I found was tiny, but showed Martin bare-chested. Oh joy. I neatly cut it out with Mom’s sewing scissors and hid it in my dresser drawer among my underpants. Sometimes I’d pull the picture out and pet it.

The spanking my dad gave me also didn’t keep me from falling in love with a long series of men I’ve known only from the big or little screen. I can still list them in a long incantation of desire: Dewey Martin, Yul Brynner (another very manly chest) and . . . I’ll spare you the rest.

How about you? Who was the first star you had a crush on?

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Juliet Kincaid writes the Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mysteries for grown-ups and the calendar historical mystery series set in Kansas City around 1900. These stories and novels are available as trade paperbacks and Kindle eBooks from Amazon. com. (And they’re always free on Kindle Unlimited.)

Dress Shields and Other Devices of Torment

A Reminiscence

Around the age of fourteen I had my one growth-spurt of adolescence and reached my full height of five foot one and three quarters. I also attained the full maturity of my glands, including those I sweat with. Soon thereafter my mother decreed that in order to protect my good clothes, that is, any article of clothing I wore to church and many I wore to school, I had to wear dress shields.

In case you don’t know about these little monsters, let me describe them. About the size of a shoulder pad, but meant to fold into the armpit instead of over the shoulder, a dress shield is an oval of layered cloth and rubber.  Many come with little straps.

Back then dress shields didn’t come in disposable like they do now, and after I wore my dress shields a few times, even my mother, the power-laundress and detergent-maven, couldn’t get the smell of sweat out of them. So I’d end up embarrassed over my possible body odor and therefore inclined to keep my elbows locked into my ribs.

My mother had other devices, too. Even now I have trouble keeping my bra straps on my narrow shoulders. So Mom came upon a solution when she discovered strap clips in a bin at Kresge’s Five and Dime close by the dreaded dress shields. This meant when gussied up for school or church in a bra, slip, and dress shields, I’d have wads of straps so thick and cumbersome that soon they slid off my shoulders and thus kept me from lifting my arms. What with the stinky dress shields under my arms and several straps across my biceps, no wonder I rarely raised my hand in high school.

The dress shields and clips weren’t the only devices of torment Mom hobbled me with. Though I never weighed more than one hundred and five pounds till I was past twenty and was, besides that, fit from twice weekly dance lessons and lots of walking, the conventional wisdom of the time said good girls wore panty girdles to hold up their stockings on Sundays and also to hold in the tummies they wouldn’t have until they got married and had a bunch of kids. Of course, a properly fitting panty girdle was guaranteed to dig grooves into the bottom of any girl as she sat through three hours of Sunday school and church.

My mom even managed to get my daddy in on the instruments of torture, for it was her contention that I was hard on shoes. Indeed, she believed this and kidded me about it until I was well into my fifties. So, to virtually every new pair of shoes, dress or casual, I got during my adolescence, Dad nailed heel taps, little pieces of metal shaped like flattened cashews. This meant, unless I wanted to make a clatter on wooden and tile floors, I had to tiptoe. On carpets, the taps tended to make me skid. Trying striding along confidently when you have taps on your shoes.

Now, to sum this whole torment up, picture me on a typical Easter Sunday when I was in my mid-teens. There I sit in the pew to which I tiptoed in my new shoes with the taps on the heels. On my little face I wear cat’s eye glasses that I push back up my narrow nose from time to time–when I’m not easing the clips that hold my straw boater firmly clamped to my aching temples like the claws of some vicious bird. Under my beige silk blouse and cashmere sweater with orange piping coordinated with a silk skirt, I wear slip, bra and dress shields into which I’m heartily sweating because of all the layers I wear including the panty girdle and hose.

From the perspective of several decades removed from that poor, challenged girl I was, I realize now that it was very hard for me to feel worshipful back then when I constantly fought my clothes. I’ve always thought going to college led me to rebel against church-going at age nineteen. But now I wonder if it was my dress shields instead.

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Juliet Kincaid writes the Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mysteries for grown-ups featuring a favorite fairy tale heroine and the calendar historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900 that tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond.

You can buy Juliet’s novels and stories at Amazon.com as trade paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. (They’re always free from Kindle Unlimited.)

Juliet’s most recent publication is “The Barn Door,” a prequel short story to her calendar mysteries that introduces her dashing detective Daniel Price. Click on this link to go to it: www.amazon.com/dp/B073G7ZXMP

 

 

 

 

First Love

A Reminiscence

It’s Sunday just past eight as we leave Mom behind at home. Dad wears the same dark gray suit he wears to work. His shirt is fresh and his tie knotted close to his Adam’s apple. My brother Dale, seven years older, wears a heavy, white sweater over his shirt, woolen knee pants, and Argyle knee socks. I’m in my new red coat with the matching red bonnet. Underneath I’m wearing the plaid cotton dress I had my first grade picture taken in. Dad tucks his bible under his left elbow and holds my left hand and Dale takes my right hand. We walk down the street past the other little houses on our cul de sac called Garden Court in South Point, Ohio. We stop at the highway and look both ways before we cross with care. As we wait for the bus that will take us part of the way to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Huntington, West Virginia, I start to pop up and down, toes to heels, heels to toes, rock back and forth with excitement.

Then here the bus comes up the road. As my breath comes faster and faster still, the bus slows and stops with a wheeze of its brakes. The doors fold open and there he is.

“Hi, Jesse,” I say, with bated breath as Dad and Dale swing me up the steep steps, and set me down on my feet next to the man in the broad leather-covered driver’s seat.

“Hi, Jet,” he says, calling me by my childhood nickname.

His name is Jesse Lemaster and I’ve been in love with him since the moment I first climbed onto his bus two years before.

I’ve rarely seen him standing, but I can tell from the way he fills the space at the front of the bus between the big wheel and the lever he uses to operate the doors, that he’s tall and lanky. He has blue eyes and wears his nondescript brown hair short and slicked back. He wears his usual gray, short-sleeved shirt and gray wash pants.

I pay no attention to Daddy, who probably puts money in the till for the three of us, and Dale, who obviously gets on the bus because he gets off with Dad and me in Huntington when we make our transfer to a city bus. I only have eyes for Jesse as I settle in the seat at the top of the steps.

I wonder now why this seat was always empty when I got on the bus. Perhaps Jesse shooed other riders out of it just so I could have it on Sundays. I watch him pull the lever to shut the door, release the brake, and engage the clutch with one big foot. The bus eases back into traffic as I lean forward and start to talk.

I tell Jesse what’s happening at home with Mom and our cocker spaniel Donny Boy that Daddy had since before I was born and Jersey Bird, the parakeet I picked out from among a hundred birds raised by Mom’s friend after he lost his feet in an automobile accident in New Brunswick, New Jersey. We brought Jersey Bird home on the train in a shoe box with holes in the top to live in a metal cage in the living room close to the furnace.

I’ve already told Jesse about getting spanked in first grade for asking a kid across the aisle if I could borrow his red crayon, so I’m spoiled on the subject of school for a while.

Jesse listens. Sometimes he smiles and glances my way as he drives the bus into town on Sunday morning so long ago.

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Twenty years later, after I got my Master’s from the University of Colorado and returned to Huntington to teach at Marshall University, I called the bus company to find out if Jesse still worked for them. He did. In fact he drove the route in town I used to take to go to my dance classes. So I caught the bus one afternoon, climbed on, said, “Hello, Jesse, remember me?”

He did. And he reminisced. He said that when I was four, I was small and looked two. “But you spoke as clearly as you do now,” Jesse said, a man cooler and more remote than the man I loved when I was a little girl.

Back then I knew absolutely that the attraction was mutual. For after all, Jesse gave me gifts.

One Easter he was off-duty, so he sent an emissary. The guy who drove his route that day came up to our house with a basket wrapped with crinkly paper and filled with candy my mom must have parceled out to me stingily.

But the Christmas I was six, Jesse came to the house himself to give me a big blue rag doll dog with floppy ears. I hugged it to my chest and dubbed it “Blue Doggy.” The next time we rode the bus, I clutched my new doll and sighed, “Well, Jesse, I guess I’ll just have to marry you now.”

I didn’t, of course, but I think it’s absolutely no accident that throughout my adult life I’ve been attracted to tall, lean men with light eyes. (Hey, Clint Eastwood still works for me!

And I named my daughter Jessica. (I never told her father why I chose that name.)

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Juliet Kincaid writes the calendar mystery series, set in Kansas City about a hundred years ago, and the Cinderella, P. I. mysteries that feature Cinderella, twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball. All her stories and novels are available as Kindle eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon.com.

My Father, the Story Thief

With stories, my dad was like a magpie. Anything flashy he took. Often he polished them to his own particular shine, too.

For example, if you climb up our family tree on Daddy’s side far enough, way back to the 1760’s and then hop over to a stubby branch that started in 1763 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and ended in 1808 in Natchez, Mississippi, you’ve found Lewis Wetzel.

My dad freely made his own the stories about Wetzel that author Zane Grey told in his novel Betty Zane, first published in 1903, the year of my father’s birth. (Dad’s mustache looked like a white caterpillar wiggled whenever he bragged that he “was born in the year of Kitty Hawk, but I lived to see men on the moon.”) Grey based his book on family stories about his ancestor—the brave, young Betty Zane. She saved the day for settlers sheltered at Fort Henry, close to present-day Wheeling, West Virginia, when she slipped through the enemy forces, ran home and fetched gunpowder and ammunition back in her apron. Both Grey and my dad described Wetzel as the heroic Indian fighter who helped turn the tide against the British armies and their Indian allies. Thus, he won the gratitude of American settlers near the Ohio River.

In my dad’s version of the biography, Wetzel became an Indian fighter after some Indians ambushed and murdered all of his family but him. According to other sources, real events didn’t fall out quite that way. Indians did indeed kill Lew Wetzel’s father, but Wetzel had become an Indian fighter several years before that. When he was just thirteen, some Indian scouts wounded and then captured him along with his younger brother near the family farm. The boys escaped, but this event turned Wetzel into a stone-cold Indian killer.

Events of my life have brought me close to Lewis Wetzel twice. For a few weeks in the autumn of 1971, with my husband and my infant daughter, I lived in the Western Panhandle of West Virginia a mile or two from Big Wheeling Creek. Two hundred years, before the Wetzel family farmed land along the same creek. The man who rented us half a nineteenth-century farmhouse ten miles east of Wheeling let us store David’s bicycle in the original house on the property, a long, low, stone building with a dirt-floored room on either side of a fireplace.

Lew Wetzel might have visited that very house, backed into a narrow valley with a clearing in front of it. So, primed by my father’s stories, I created a mental picture of him there. Wetzel wore buckskins and hid his long, blond braids out of sight under his hat, so “the Indians wouldn’t see his hair and go after him,” Dad said. (Indians longed to take that fair-haired scalp in revenge for his taking so many of their black-haired scalps, but none of them ever managed it.) My dad said Lewis Wetzel never learned to speak English well, but spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. Probably Wetzel didn’t say much at all as he leaned in a corner of that crude house. He squinted his eyes against the smoke from the fireplace and relished the hard cider the settler’s wife handed him in a pewter mug. Dogs lay at ease at his feet and the children stared at him, open-mouthed in awe from all the stories their fathers had told them about the legendary Lewis Wetzel. Maybe a brave lad sneaked up to touch the long rifle he reloaded and used with deadly accuracy, even while he ran, or his tomahawk that had killed countless Indians, or his scalping knife. The women in the house mostly stayed away from him at least until someone thought to loan him a violin. He was a famous fiddler, his reels and jigs speaking to pioneer folk in ways he couldn’t through words.

Regardless, he wouldn’t stay long in that low, two-roomed house before he took off running east through Big Wheeling Creek, that rushed then, as it did when I lived near it two hundred years later, clear and cold over rounded stones.

The other time I came close to Lewis Wetzel was downright eerie. Some friends of mine threw a costume party with instructions to come as “our favorite Revolutionary.” Naturally, because of Dad’s stories, I instantly thought of Lewis Wetzel. So I made myself some fake buckskins, bought a black felt hat and a blond wig for a few bucks at a local five and dime (gone now). I also donned moccasin-style bedroom slippers and a rabbit fur vest I happened to own. I stuck a rubber tomahawk in a hand-woven belt and went off to my party. Later, as I danced in that costume with that blond hair swinging over my face, I felt as if Lewis Wetzel was inside me looking out through my eyes, searching for Indians to scalp. It creeped me so much I broke into a cold sweat and I ripped the hat and wig off my head fast.

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As I said, Dad mostly stole his stories of Lewis Wetzel from Zane Grey, but some of his tales Dad acquired honestly. One of my favorites comes from the 1930’s when Dad was a surveyor up in the mountains of West Virginia. Dad is the short guy in the middle.

(From those days living in a two-story wooden dormitory at the camp, Dad got his insistence that the only proper surface for cards and poker chips was an army blanket, on a cot or on the kitchen table, depending on the circumstance.)

One time as Dad’s crew surveyed the routes for fire roads in the national parks up in those steep West Virginian hills, they found some old stone markers, leaning every which way, set by a surveyor who came through there in the 1760’s, back along those ancient pathways through the river gaps in the Allegheny Mountains, first laid down by deer. The Indians followed these tracks. Settlers in their lumbering wagons, pulled by oxen, called one of them the National Road. (Dad said that some of our ancestors–the Wetzels? I sometimes wonder–made the arduous journey from Long Swamp, Pennsylvania, across those mountains, probably on one of those roads, to settle in Clarion County near the western border of the state.) Nowadays eighteen-wheelers and automobiles hurtle east and west along the interstates built on these ancient routes.

Looking at those old stone mile markers, one of Dad’s buddies said, “This fellow sure was a lousy surveyor. Look how crooked these markers are. And they don’t line up at all.”

“Well, sir, you’re wrong about that,” my dad said. “He was a great surveyor. You’ve got to take into account the way creeks have eroded the land hereabouts and the hills have slumped in the past hundred and fifty years. When you do, you’ll see that surveyor had a true eye and did wonderful work, especially considering the equipment he used.”

Then Dad would briefly pause for effect before he delivered the kicker to this story. “That surveyor was George Washington, you know.” (Chill bumps would rise all up and down my arms whenever Dad told me this story.)

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But I know for a fact that Dad stole one of his best stories. Before I tell it, though, I have to lay in some background.

In 1936, Dad was still a surveyor, only for the water company instead of the CCC, when a pretty young nurse and her friend came down from New Jersey to the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia for a vacation. An old snapshot labeled “July 19, 1936, Mingo Mountain” in my mother’s small, neat handwriting shows Mom and Dad leaning against a waist-high tree stump.

They married almost exactly a year later on “Seven Eleven Thirty-seven,” which Dad, into numerology in his seventies, always declared his lucky day and a truly lucky number.

Sometime in the fifties, perhaps after a visit to a museum in New Jersey, Dad stole the story of Miles Smith and Sir Digby Legard’s two beautiful daughters from Mom’s side of the family tree. Of course, he proceeded to make this story so thoroughly his own that my daughter grew up thinking it came from his side of the family instead of her grandmother’s.

My cousin, Sarah Faye Meurer, our mothers’ family genealogist, and I have speculated about this yarn back and forth by e-mail and I’ve decided that the way my dad tells the story and the way it happened were quite different. My cousin discovered information about Miles Smith, Esquire, in a book called Journal of the Tour in the United States of America 1794-1795 by William Strickland who traveled with Miles Smith and his family from Britain to America aboard The Fair American in 1794. The Smith family’s departure from England seems motivated partly by Miles’ troubled relationship with his father-in-law, Sir Digby Legard. (The spelling of the last name, sometimes with two d’s and sometimes with only one, varies from place to place on the family tree.) Miles’ family included his wife Jane Legard, who’d recently given birth to a baby boy that died and was buried at sea on August 24, 1794, and five or six other children. (The records are unclear on that score.) In the fall of 1794, soon after their arrival, Miles traveled with Strickland who described him as “an interesting companion, whose good humour alleviated the fatigues of a journey.” But Smith had to return to his family “who under the new circumstances of a new country, might want his assistance,” a bit of an understatement, I think.

In fact, Jane died on September 11, 1795, a little over a year after coming to America. (Quite possibly, life here or caring for her kids that Strickland described as “Savages” was too much for her.) After Jane’s death, Strickland arranged Miles’ marriage to Sir Digby’s younger daughter, Henrietta Charlotte. Though she was thirty-eight, she and Miles had a daughter and a son together. Henrietta died before Miles, who didn’t marry a third time, maybe because Sir Digby was fresh out of daughters.

Of course, the way my dad told this story was a lot different. His Miles Smith, far from being a lawyer, family man, and gentleman sheep farmer, greatly resembled Sir Walter Scott’s young Lochinvar, come riding out of the West. As my dad told the tale (and I pictured it), Miles Smith, dashingly dressed, drop-dead handsome, his hair long and blond and flowing, sailed to Britain from a savage new world where single-handedly he’d fought off hordes of Indians and hacked a homestead from the wilderness. After Miles landed in England, he laid eyes on Sir Digby Legard’s beautiful older daughter, in a virginally white gown with a Juliet cap on her dark tresses, as she stood on a moonlit balcony of a grand mansion. Instantly he fell in love with her. Once he’d climbed up the rose vines to her, she fell in love with him. So he swept her up in his arms, carried her down the vines and set her in front of him on his horse. Embracing her with his brawny arms, he galloped away with her to the ship that sailed off into the sunset. When Jane died tragically (with no mention of the five or six savage children), Miles Smith sailed back to England to make off with Jane’s equally beautiful younger sister Henrietta (replay of virginally white gown, Juliet cap, moonlit balcony, etc.) much to Sir Digby Legard’s anger and dismay.

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Not at all surprisingly, my father and parts of his stories appear in my stories and novels. For example, Cinderella’s dad in my Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mysteries for grown-up is a civil engineer like my father and physically greatly resembles my father. Ambrose Gibbs, a Kansas City police officer who appears in January Jinx, the first novel in my calendar historical mystery series, and Mischief in March, the third, looks like my daddy, too. It’s not at all by accident that the garment factory in Fatal February, the second book of the calendar mysteries, is named Digby, Ledgard, and Smith. In“The Barn Door,” a forthcoming prequel short story to the calendar mysteries, a character has a wiggly white mustache like my dad’s. Finally, and in a very real way, almost every time I write dialogue for the characters in my calendar mysteries, I hear the story-telling voice of my father, Homer Dale Willman, Sr., who was  born on November 27, 1903, and who died on June 19, 1991.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy

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The Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mystery novels and story collections and calendar historical mystery novels are available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon.com. Here’s the link to my Amazon Author Central page:

https://www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1