The Childhood of Joanna

May 21, 2012
How did your movement from different places affect your speech, in terms of accent?

When I was a kid, my parents both came from New York, so my father had a New York accent, but my mother was originally from Ohio, so she didn’t have a New York accent. But at school a lot of kids had southern accents. And most of the people came from the south, including my principal, Dooly Smith. And Dolly Smith always talked in a southern accent. But my second grade teacher also talked with a southern accent, and we were learning to spell in second grade, and I couldn’t figure out how she spelled, “caint”, as she said for can’t, because it oughtta ‘ave been C-A-I-N-T, instead of C-A-N-apostrophe-T [laugh]. So that was my early experience with accents, but the I moved to Maryland, on the north side of D.C, and people had Baltimore accents. So some people said things like, “ouver” [over], or “Couca-Coula” [Coca-Cola]. Or, “Phoun cuall, did you get a phoun cuall?” I never spoke that way myself.

Who were your childhood friends? Where and what did you play with them?

I’ll mention a couple of friends in Virginia, which was up until I was eleven. One was a friend named Lindsey. The other was Margie. Lindsey was sort of a manipulator. She played with a lot of people a year younger, and she would sign them up to play with her, say on Monday, and somebody else on Tuesday. And she asked me what day I wanted to play, and I said, “I’m not going to sign up to play with you!” [laugh] The other friend was Margie, who my closest friend, and she lived in a big, old house. I lived in an apartment, and Margie lived in a big old house, with lots of nooks and crannies. And so we would run around the house and invented some games. We played a lot over there. But we also played outside, and I think we played the standard games you play when you’re little, like red rover and hopscotch.

In virginia there were people next door who had a daughter who was also named Joanna, which was a really uncommon name. She was five years older, and they got the first television in the neighborhood and we would go over and watch milton Berle. And then there was a kid Buzzy downstairs [in my apartment], and her father was at home and her mother worked. Her father had a disability. But one day a bunch of us were over there and we were spinning around in a chair, a desk chair that spun around, and then one kid fell off and broke a tooth. I’ll never forget that. I also started club. I was five and everybody was older, and I said, “I think we oughtta’ have a club.” And it was Buzzy who said, “What a good idea.” I said, “Who’ll be president of the club?”, and she said, “Why don’t you be president since its your idea.” Problem was, I had no idea how to get anything started. And I remember getting this feeling of mixture of this is something I want to do, but I don’t know how to do it. And it ultimately led to great embarrassment.

When I moved to Maryland in the sixth grade, it was a difficult time because there was a big increase of population. in the schools, and the school that I would’ve gone to in my neighborhood was overcrowded, so they decided to move a bunch of kids from my neighborhood to a brand new school. Well it wasn’t hat new, and there was already an established group of children there. So there was a lot of tension between my group and the already established group, and then I moved in, and I was caught in between. And that was a really hard time, but I made friends with this girl who was some trouble with the other girls because she was really unhappy. And it was a very sad situation; she was adopted and her adopted mother was dying, and she herself was in a very difficult situation, so she attacked this other child. My friend claimed that this other girl said something really nasty to her, and my friend kind of ruined the kids reputation. She was very troubled, and it was very confusing. My mother sort of took this girl under her wing for a little bit.

I had two really close high school friends. One of them ultimately introduced me to my husband, her name is Susan. She wasn’t very older than me, but New York had a really funny education system, where they took kids that did good on certain tests and put them through middle school in two years in instead of three years. It raced kids through the system, so a lot of kids ended up going to college when they were really too young. And my friend Susan was one of them. She got into that special program, and then her family moved to washington. She was six months older than me, but she was a senior when I was a sophomore. And I met her outside, she was playing guitar, and we had a lot of interests in common. She went to college the next year. She went to Antioch college, which was a good school. The other good friend was an art student in my year, and she also lives in New York State.

We didn’t have a city curfew. I didn’t really have a curfew, but I generally got back around 11:30 or 12:00 on the weekends. We had no cellphones, so it wasn’t like, “Where are you?” You couldn’t just call up a kid, you raise a kid to a point that they’d make intelligent decisions. But we would go on date, and go to the movies, and then a whole group of kids would go to hamburgers or pizza afterwards, and then go home. I earned money from babysitting, but I also got an allowance from my parents.

What were some popular music, clothing, and fads during your childhood?

In high school, we wore bobby socks and those white buck shoes. And I was still in middle school when I wore a poodle skirt. And we had a lot of formal dances, so I remember a lot of formals that I owned. Shoes. Clear plastic shoes that you see through were popular. We had saddle shoes, black and white saddle shoes. And then white bucks were sort of suede, and they were just white, And there were different ways to wear socks, up, down, and who can remember now? And there were sweater sets. Matching over-sweater and under-sweater. And then there were those silly collars that you attach to clothing. I can’t tell you what the boys wore, because I didn’t really think about it. I think they had these double belts in the back of their pants. The thing is, there were different styles for the different kids. Like when I was a senior, I wore a lot of tights. Oh one thing, the girls couldn’t wear jean pants to school. We had to wear skirts, and they were cold, and I was always cold. I remember wearing tights, and was slightly beat-neck, to tell you the truth. I was a little bit more up-beat, certainly by me senior year.

I was in Junior High when the first rock came out, there was Sh Boom Sh Boom, and then there was Billy Halley and the Comets, with rock around the clock. And then I was in High School when Elvis was a big hit. And I liked Elvis, but what I liked better was the blues that came from the African-American singers, so people like little Richard and Chuck Berry. And thats’ what I listened to a lot. But I also like folk music, and I got very interested int that when I was a junior or senior in High School.

What TV shows did you watch, and who were some famous TV actors? When did you generally watch TV?

There were some really good theatrical television programs when I was a kid that were on weekends, and then there was Imogene Coco and Sid Ceasar, and they were really funny. They would do imitations and make up languages. So he’d be talking French, only it wasn’t really French, and he’d get sort of the sounds, and it would sound like French. They were really funny. When I got bigger I watched movies on television. There was “I Love Lucy” and others that were fun. When my parents went out and I was home alone, I would have a friend stay over, but sometimes I was by myself, and I would like to watch television then.

What types of books did you read as a kid? Who were some authors that you liked?

I like reading novels, and I loved fiction over non-fiction. I go very interested in american novels, John Daspassoos when I was a senior in high school. I also liked Thedore Dryser. My father was interested in labor; he was a lawyer. So I became interested in events around history dealing with the development of unions and stuff in the first half of the twentieth century.

How did you get to school everyday, and what was transportation like?

When I lived in Virginia, I walked to school, and it was at least a mile. One of the horrible times, I remember, was when a boy caught a snake and started to chase us, and since I’m a little phobic, it was really unpleasant. When i moved to Maryland, there was a big highway dividing the area that I lived and where the school was, so we had a school bus, but I think I started walking with a couple of new friends anyways. We did this because it wasn’t that far away, and it seemed silly to take a bus just because there was a highway. In high school, I didn’t live that far, it must have been a mile and a half or two away, and there was a school bus that picked us up and often I would walk home in the afternoon if i had an activity after school. That was a good time, it was probably a forty minute walk.

What extra-curricular things did your school offer, and what activities did you do?

Lots. I was always painting. When I was a senior, my art teacher thought I was really talented, which was really nice, so she put me on the art magazine. It was an art and literary magazine, which was an hour before my painting class, so I had two hours to paint. And mostly what you were supposed to do was to learn layout and all these things that were needed for making magazines, but I never learned any of it because she just said, “Oh, you just go paint.” I loved it, and all i had to do for the magazine was a page drawing, but I never learned the other skills that the other students learned. After school I was on the literary committee, selecting some of the stories that went into the magazine. But I also did decorating for events, that type of thing. Then i had an assignment for a while to draw a student of the month and I had to to portraits and interview them, and that was for maybe one semester. I was also in some discussion group that kids would get together and just talk about ideas. I tried out for the senior play, and I had a small part. We had rehearsals, and we would go out to pizza a lot afterwards [laugh].

Basketball and football were some sports in High School. They probably had track, but i didn’t pay much attention to it. They had cheerleading, and I tried out but didn’t make it. Sports were mostly boys, but I played tennis because my father really wanted me to play tennis; he was a real big tennis player. In my high school in Maryland, there was no swimming pool, so there was no swim team in High School. Anyways, my worst sport in high school was field hockey; I was afraid i would be hit by the hockey sticks. Gym was not something to look forward to. Though I always liked exercise, and I did a lot of ballet as a kid; I danced until I was thirteen. Oh, I loved basketball. I used to play that after school. I’d play with the boys, actually.

They had band and orchestra. The only instrument I played was piano, but I didn’t play it past middle school. Things weren’t structured much, unlike now. In this generation, kids would go out and just play, but nowadays, you just don’t do that, you sign up for activities, like soccer or basketball. There’s a different kind of pressure now; we had a lot more freedom, our parents didn’t walk us to school. By first grade I walked a mile to school with my friends. People are much more concerned with safety. Nobody was ever concerned with someone coming up to someone and putting a bomb in a school, because it didn’t happen. There was just much more freedom.

What are some differences in school back then compared to now?

We had one teacher and a class up until middle school, and in those days, middle school was 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. And you had a bunch of different teachers for different courses, but up until that time you only had one teacher. You had a desk, and you sat in that desk, usually in rows. I go into schools now and the setup is different; they put desks in groups.

Did you spend much time with family and who did you celebrate holidays with? Where did you celebrate them?

I am an only child, and my best times were being with my cousins, but they lived in another city. So int he summers I spent my time in up-state New York, and my aunt owned a place there. And it was very hot; we didn’t have air-conditioning. I went up there in the summer until was a junior. Then I just went up fore two to three weekends at the end of summer. My cousins would come down for Christmas, and sometimes we would go up to New York for Thanksgiving at a friend’s of my parents. But my favorite times were to be with cousins, not having other siblings, although I had loads of friends. We spend summers in this lake called Oskuwana and our parents gave us these life-belts, and they were made of this soft material, and they kept us up, but one summer they fell into the lake and sank. And our parents realized that we had learned to swim, but not only that, we also were holding these devices up. [laugh] It wasn’t really swimming, it was, doggy paddling, but we were only 5 years old. There was a float that we would go to and dive off of, and it was fun. My cousins and I would draw together, particularly with my cousin, Barbara.

What were some historical events in your childhood, and how did they affect you?

I was barely old enough to remember the end of World War II, and I rememberer going to a parade in Washington and having the flag, and my mother told me to not put he flag on the ground. I remember elections, and rooting for Stevenson over Eisenhower. I remember this kid was so politically interested; I was playing piano and he called me when Stalin, the dictator of Russia, died. The next really important one that affected me more deeply was when Kennedy was murdered. I heard the news, and just remember the absolute shock of all of the craziness, and the fear it put on the country, the different attitude.

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