Dreams of Growing up
My mother gasped and collapsed on our living room sofa clutching her chest. “My heart, my heart,” she complained, her voice breathy. I had just told her that I wanted to go to Dallas, Texas, two hundred miles from my home in Waurika, Oklahoma, to work during the summer. High school was over and my red-bordered diploma, representing years of struggling achievement was now hanging on the flower-sprigged wallpaper of my bedroom.
My father was a preacher. We moved whenever Daddy felt a call from God...and God called every two years or so. Changing schools so often ws very difficult for me. As a result I fell behind in my school-work. Any real education I was ever to get came from my own desire to learn. And I did have that longing. Oh, how I wanted to know all sorts of things, especially, right now as a high school graduate at sixteen, how be to a model.
My boyfriend Tom put the idea in my head. “You're so nice and tall, Patsy,” he said, “you should be a model.” Then he gave me a book titled How to Be a Model and now modeling was all I could think about. It takes only the tiniest bit of encouragement to galvanize me into action. That book held the key to my dreams to what I wanted to be when I grew up; a glamorous woman swathed in finery. A MODEL! I studied the information in that tome as if it held magical words to a treasure.
“How to Do a Model's Pivot
Place your left foot in back of you at right angles to your body. Bring your right foot in front so the heel of your right shoe touches the toe of your left. Bend the knee of your right leg. Now come up on your toes and turn smoothly.”
I stood like a statue in my cluttered bedroom, one hand delicately indicating the collar on my make-believe Dior suit. Turning on an imaginary runway, I imagined I heard appreciative murmurs from a distinguished audience and then loud applause. I imagined my picture on the cover of True Story or Redbook or Screen Gems, Life (my only literary references except for the bible and Mary Magdalene). A model! Oh, how I wanted to be one! The exotic vision of my future lasted until I fell in an awkward tangle on the bedroom floor. Over and over again I practiced with no less determination than an athlete trying for an Olympic gold medal.
And now I had a real chance. Louise, Tom’s older sister had invited me to “The Big D”, Dallas, Texas, for the summer. Dallas! Louise said I could stay with her until I got a room at the YWCA. And now Tom was due any minute to take me to the train, the Rock Island Rocket, no less.
Mama was sighing and fanning herself with a copy of the Herald of Holiness. She said I was not to go to Dallas but an unexpected streak of stubbornness had surfaced in me and I said I was going anyway. We had quarreled for hours.
“You never let me do anything, Mama. Don't you trust me?” I stood with my hands on my hips trying to act mature. Inside, I was quaking. Confronting my mother was like standing up to the Holy Ghost.
“How can I trust a girl who burned the house down, brought evil playing cards into her own home and ev--"
“I didn't burn the house down on purpose. The kerosene tank for the heater exploded and you know it! You make me sound like an arsonist.”
“Don't you dare dispute my word young lady. You hear me? You go to your room this minute and put your things away. You’re not leaving these premises.”
“I'm going to Dallas and you can't stop me!”
“You think I can't call the sheriff? You just try me, young lady. Don’t think you're something special just because some old alley cat boys look at you and go moon-eyed.”
“I’m not special, Mama, but I want to make something of myself. Please, please let me go to Dallas.”
My mother closed her eyes and inclined her head toward heaven. “Oh dear Jesus,” she prayed, “have mercy on my wicked daughter who openly defies her widowed mother. Oh Lord, you know I have strived to do the right thing. I have lived by the Golden Rule . . .”
I began tiptoeing toward the door.
Mama’s eyes clicked opened faster than a lizard snags a fly. “You come right back here, Patsy Lou.”
“Lord help me” she said. “I hope some day you have a child who gives you as much heartache as you’ve given me.” Mama gasped for breath. “I don't feel at all well,” she said, her voice suddenly softening. “You'd best run next door and get Dr. Dillard.” Mama fluttered her eyes.
“Jimmy you go,” I said sourly to my kid brother. Dr. Dillard had made the trip across our lawn many times, usually to help Mama cope with migraine headaches.
Mama slid off the couch to her knees. “Oh Lord,” she intoned. “I've done the best I know how and now look at the sorry pass my daughter has come to.” She had just gotten started praying when Dr. Dillard arrived.
My' face burned with shame. What if her Mama really was dying? Maybe I should stay.
Doctor Dillard gave mother a shot of morphine and said she'd be all right after she slept awhile. Mother lay stretched out dramatically on the sofa dozing, a bathrobe covering her, when Tom arrived to take me to the train station.
“Come on Patsy Lou or you'll miss the Rock Island Rocket,” he said peering in from the porch.
I couldn't bring myself to leave. “Mama...I'm ... leaving now,” I said, tentatively.
Suddenly wide awake, Mama sat up, her eyes blazing, anger cutting a swath through her voice.
“Young lady, remember ‘what ye sow, so shall ye reap.’ Tom,” she yelled, “you're a good Christian boy. See to it that Patsy Lou don't do anything she shouldn't.”
All the way to Dallas, I kept worrying that God might strike me dead for disobeying my mother.
Dallas was as near to heaven as I could imagine. Instead of hearing a choir of angels sing I thrilled to the early morning sounds of the city; the clink of milk bottles hitting together in the delivery man's basket, streetcars humming busily along the tracks, traffic lights clicking from red to green and back to red, and the solid thud of the Dallas Morning News hitting the front door.
I would lie between cool crisp sheets and stretch all the way to the foot of the bed, luxuriating in the smoothness of the covers. In life.
Tom's sister helped me get a room at the Y, the YWCA, for twenty-dollars a month plus board. I had been hired by Tiche-Goettinger department store as a salesgirl. But I had not given up my dream of being a model. Every lunch hour and on my day off I would haunt the places that used models; the wholesale dress manufacturers, Neiman-Marcus, Sanger's department store. Some said they would call me if they had an opening and politely took down my phone number at the Y. Every day I would plunk a nickel in a pay phone, listen to its metallic gurgle until it connected with Janie the operator at the Y switchboard, to find out if I had a message. “You're goofy,” my pimply faced roommate allowed when I told her I was going to be a model.
One morning the rotund manager of the blouse department, a smile playing across thin lips, came striding over to my counter. “Patsy,” he said, “we’re issuing cash today.” He gave me fifteen dollars with which to make change. A metal drawer was slipped into a cash register and I was charged with a brass key with which to lock it after each transaction. Counting the crisp bills and placing them by denomination into my very own cash register I felt as important as a banker must feel.
When it was time for my morning break I made my usual phone call to Janie.
“Surprise, Patsy, you have a message,” Janie said.
I held my breath.
“Neiman’s called. They want you to come over right away. Their junior model got sick and they need a model today. If you do okay they’ll hire you for the summer.”
“Oh golly, Janie.” I said. “Oh, golly.”
“Get goin’, Patsy, you’ll do good, Sugar.”
My new responsibilities; the cash drawer and its key were forgotten. I ran all the way to Neiman-Marcus.
“You did fine today, Patsy,” said a woman in a black suit and wearing an acre of pearls around her neck. “We’ll be able to use you all summer. But please don't wear so much makeup in the future.”
That night, as I fell asleep in a room permeated by my roommates Prince Match-a-belly (Matchabelli) perfume, I dreamed I was wearing a low cut black satin evening gown with a field of pearls around my neck.
And so, it came to pass.
Causes Pat Montandon Supports
PETA, Women for Women, Amnesty International, Children as the Peacemakers, Peace to The Planet