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A CHILDS LIFE

by David Westheimer

 

Even having known my wife Dody since she was a girl, I still relish the secrets of her checkered childhood she sometimes reveals in unguarded moments.

The time she ran away from home when she was eight, for example.

After a spat with her four-year-older sister, Cissy, she decided to shake the dust from her heels at the ancestral residence and flee to a more hospitable environment. She left abruptly, without packing even an extra pair of white socks, and fled for almost an entire city block before pausing in her headlong flight to rest under a tree and collect her thoughts. While she was collecting them, her parents discovered her absence and questioned her sister. Who admitted that she and Dody had quarreled. After berating her soundly, they sent her out to track down her headstrong sister. Which she did, being familiar with the neighborhood. By the time they had made the journey home they were friends again. Having taught them all a lesson, Dody never again ran away from home, although she did move out when she got married.

Both times.

And when she was 12 she embezzled family funds.

In those days, when girls were 11 or 12, they were allowed to go downtown alone in Houston (boys did it at seven). On Saturdays, when she received her weekly allowance of 25 cents ( a not insignificant sum in those days of the Great Depression), she would ride the streetcar to downtown, where the movies were, for five cents. For another nickel she bought a James Coney island ( a chili dog) and for another a Delaware Punch to wash it down. That left a dime for the movie. Which included a newsreel, a short subject, a feature film and a stage show (she still speaks fondly of the Weaver Brothers and Elvira). Then she would go next door to an ice-cream parlor named Darcys (we call it Dee-arcies) where they had a free scales, and weigh herself. (She doesnt remember what she weighed then, and doesnt much care.) Most of the time.

Some Saturdays she might go into stores to look around. Despite the abjuration she always got along with the her quarter. "Dont go in stores. Dont buy anything!" On one "shopping" trip she saw a designer dress, a Kate Greenaway dress with a gathered skirt, she just had to have. So she bought it. In those days, before credit cards, folks had charge accounts at stores and just had to give their name. Didnt even sign anything. Her designer dress cost $1.98.

Having blown all her cash on food and fripperies, she walked the two miles or so home. She ran into a fire storm when she got there, bearing the dress in a package.

"We told you not to buy anything! Why did you do it?"

"Because I wanted it," she explained.

And she kept the dress.

And at an even more tender age than when she ran away from home, she was a school drop-out. She dropped out of kindergarten.

When she entered kindergarten, the school was on a double-shift. Her class met in the afternoon. When she got to school at one, the teacher was putting the class down at one for their afternoon nap. Dody didnt want to take a nap. She had already had hers at home. But the teacher insisted and made her lie on the floor with the other tots. But Dody wouldnt put her head down. The teacher pushed it down for her. Dody got up and went home. She told her parents the teacher had banged her head down on the floor and she was never going back to that teachers class again.

And she didnt. And never got her kindergarten diploma.

Though she was a runaway, an embezzler, a school drop-out as well as imperious and demanding, she was generous with those who served her. In her childhood days, Milky Way bars were considered delicacies. And frozen Milky Way bars were the crme-de-la-crme. She and her sister used to order them by phone from the neighborhood drugstore, a block-and-a-half away. When it hadnt arrived after five minutes, they would call the drugstore and demand to know what had happened to their order. Assured it was on its way, they would go out on the front porch and wait. When the delivery boy arrived on his bicycle, they never fussed at him. They tipped him 20 per cent.

Two cents for the two Milky Ways. They were a nickel each.

She is nothing if not consistent. When she was a freshman at Rice Institute (Rice University now) she was flunking math. She says her teacher was a mean old lady. So she went to the registrar and got a new teacher, a nice young male.

And she passed the course.

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