Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania in the 1950’s. We were a suburb of Pittsburgh, but had a very fancy golf club to distinguish our borough from all others—The Oakmont Country Club. Membership in this much sought after institution was costly as well as tricky to obtain. The members generally lived on top of the hill, near the club, in the neighborhoods developed for them. I lived near the Oakmont Country Club but my parents did not play golf or care about the snob appeal. This infuriated me because rather than walk to the swimming pool I had to wait for a ride to the Alcoma Country Club where our family belonged. Alcoma was less expensive, but still had all the country club trimmings. I was invited frequently to the Oakmont club pool with my member friends and neighbors, and never lost my desire to join. I believe I was absorbing not so subtle messages about social and financial status. I would have said it was because I wanted to walk to the pool, but I am sure I also desired the status that accompanied belonging to the fancier of the two country clubs. Today I have chosen the fancy, clean, multi functional Tucson JCC over the Tucson Racquet Club, even though Silver Sneakers provides free membership in both for me now. I do always prefer an upgrade if I can afford one. Perhaps it is all because of my upbringing.
Our town was on a hill, with a steel mill and barges full of coal floating down the Allegheny River at the bottom. The area by the river was dedicated to industry and commerce, with small working class homes scattered into the mix. Ascending the hill, the houses became larger and more elaborate. The streets were numbered from 1 to 14 climbing the hill. I lived on Tenth Street. One could almost tell by the address in our town how much money the family had. I lived in the upper middle category of housing, but very close to my home was a row of mansions belonging to robber barons. These super wealthy neighbors provided all manner of recreation for the kids in the area, including a trampoline, a very large field for sledding, and some woods for exploring. The mansion kids all went to public school and were part of our regular play group as youngsters. Still, we were aware that their parents were not in the same financial league with ours.
My parents put their own status emphasis on appearances. The wardrobe and/or landscaping needs of those two consumed most of their free time. They spared no expense on the clothes they wore and their precious yard. My mom was active in a garden club, and my dad just naturally loved to mow his lawn in his coveralls. They were a 50’s cartoon of suburban pride of ownership. I had to play along, helping with the yard work and dressing up to go to the country club, the University Club downtown, their friends’ homes, or to travel. I was also costumed to the hilt for the many parties they held at our house. I was fine with it up to a point, or up until I decided to have my own taste in fashion. When I was over the white gloves and the little white ankle socks I waged a war on fascist control over my wardrobe. My parents bemoaned my fate and warned against a hellish life ahead unless I started to want to dress more like they did. Life would never smile on me again without those white ankle socks. This was the beginning of our political differences. They were appalled to think I did not want a life like their life. How silly of them. I could not have a life like theirs because I was born in another generation with another set of circumstances, yet to be discovered. All we knew was that my white ankle socks would not be part of that future reality.
Today I am pleased to say that I understand that attachment or revulsion to any kind of status can only end in heartache. Possessions, titles, offices, locations, are just data dust in the true meaning of life. If we come to identify too greatly on the situation, how will we cope when the situation changes? My parents had their own giant cultural revolutions to endure. They came from the south, but spent many years freezing their bones in Pennsylvania because it furthered my father’s career with Gulf Oil Corporation. I learned by direct experience to stay aloof from judging circumstances. Nothing is ever a simple as it seems. There are generations of beliefs and traditions at play in every moment. Learning to define one’s own status rules and symbols is perhaps our essential role on earth.
I watch the political scene today go wildly off the rails with wonder. The United States has become very distracted by our own self image. The will to shun has outweighed the will to live in this country in peace. The electorate is behaving badly. Law and order is threatened. The fabric of society is frayed and damaged. Public faith in institutions is understandably at an all time low. As a nation divided we stand ready to implode if we can’t get a grip on the difference between rhetorical status and reality. Politics maintains status …quo or otherwise. Mother Nature maintains reality…harmonious or otherwise. It is time to strip away the political aims of these two parties and look directly into the soul of the tax paying nation. What did you learn from your childhood that influences your views today, gentle reader? Were they positive or negative? Do you belong to the same party as your parents?
When I returned to Oakmont, PA this year to see my old friends from childhood I was not thinking about politics or history. I was intrigued to find out what my old home and school looked like, and how my old friends are today. The reunion was a resounding success and a big memory jog. We toured the school where I attended grades K-4, then returned for 7-8th grades. I left after the 8th grade to live in Venezuela as a petroleum princess. This week as we watch the footage and remember where we were when we heard the news JFK had been shot I can clearly picture it. We were in the gym, which had a large dividing wall between the girls and boys for the hour. When we finished the wall was always removed at the end of the school day. On that day when the wall was parted and we saw they boys we were also listening to the loudspeaker system announce to use that the president had been shot in Dallas. It was surreal and many of us started to cry. I am not sure if I cried or not, but I remember being in shock. We talked about it when we were on tour of the school and I had almost a flashback of the feeling on that day. We went home and learned that he had died. My parents did not vote for him but they were very upset about the assassination. After 50 years we all have a chance to process what happened to us and to the world on that day in Dallas. We may have been 8th graders but we all had mature feelings about the frightful news about our country.
I was surprised to find my old school friend, Marcia Irwin, in her glass studio in Oakmont, PA, the Glass Kaleidoscope. She has become a skilled master of stained glass art. I bought out the earrings an found a nice gift for our hostess of the weekend reunion party. I did not know who the glass artist was when I decided to check out the shop. It was really fun to see her as well as her art. She does custom work and has all kinds of beautiful pieces on hand at her shop for gifting or treating yourself..I enjoyed both.
I do not need to shop again for the rest of my life, but there are times that I am inspired to do so. While visiting my childhood home town of Oakmont, PA I found not only the inspiration, but also very high quality goods at rock bottom prices. Ambiance Boutique is run for the benefit of an organization called Bethlehem Haven. The upscale consignment retail store carefully selects and curates a collection of very high-end clothing and household goods. The system in place progressively discounts the item as it stays on the rack or shelf, so if it does not sell it becomes more affordable. I went in out of curiosity and was hooked. I scored such fabulous deals the first day, and was given a coupon for 10% off my next purchase. When I returned with the coupon and found the 75% off rack the next day, they almost paid me to take two stylin’ blouses off their hands. I thought I was done until I saw that black purse that was just too much of a bargain to leave on the mannequin.
If you live in Pittsburgh, and particularly if you have not been thrift shopping in the past, I urge you to go to Ambiance. The store is elegant, the staff is much more professional than the other retail stores I visited here. This is the kind of town where good customer service is reserved for people who live here, and the stranger is treated as an annoyance. This will NOT happen in Ambiance. You will be greeted and served as if you are the most important shopper on earth. Alexandra acts like a personal shopper at Nordstrom, but she is working for the betterment of homeless women in the Pittsburgh area. If I were ever going to use the phrase win-win, it would be to convince you to try Ambiance. Since I don’t use that phrase let me just encourage you to see if there might be something very special and very well priced in this store for you. Tell them Pam sent you and you want to see the 75% off rack.
I spent my school career through the 8th grade in the small town of Oakmont, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh. This tiny, close knit (nosey) community was about the Oakmont Country Club and Edgewater Steel, and some other stuff. For kids it was paradise with millionaire robber baron neighbors providing lavish recreational opportunities. My parents were Republicans who disliked JFK and did not play golf. On one hand they were non conformist, and on the other, very concerned with image. I had a running battle with my mother for my entire grade school career about bangs, permanent waves, and white socks. These symbols of culture and control were so important to my mother that my wishes were never considered. She stuck my hair in the sink and put stinky stuff and curlers in it against my will, and with loud protest. She always cut my bangs off, mullet style. The most important symbol to Ruby Morse was the little girl’s need to wear white anklet socks. This was truly the most hated of all conditions, the white sock purgatory. Ruby Morse believed that wearing stockings was a sign of loose morals. I believed she inflicted the white socks as a crazed statement of micro management. We had deep, basic irreconcilable fashion differences.
Management of any kind was about to fly out the window when the family moved to San Tomé, Venezuela in 1963. My father became the general manager for Mene Grande ( Gulf Oil) for eastern Venezuela. This meant that I lived in a big house with servants and my father was the boss of everyone in the town where I lived. My teachers in school worked for my father, as did all my friends’ parents. Strangers constantly gave me lovely gifts, and it was obviously too hot to wear white socks. I was the lucky imperialist 13-year-old with everything. I lived in a remote place so radio was a lot less available than it had been in Pittsburgh. The strongest reliable signal came from Radio Havana. Fidel would hold forth for hours and then they played some music. Live music was everywhere. I had a harp serenade at my window by a guy who wrote the song for me. This could not have happened in Pennsylvania. Although San Tomé had a golf course, there was no other commonality with Oakmont, PA. Nothing could have been more drastic, really. I loved it, but when given the chance to choose where I would go abroad for 10th grade, I chose PA because I still thought of it as my US home. I have not visited Oakmont since 1964.
I will return to Oakmont to see some of my school friends in a couple of months. We have all traveled different paths, but mine diverged drastically and forever. I am bringing back memories and enjoying the stories that my classmates remember. Some scenes are vivid as I think of them, and some are gone. I hardly remember any of the parents. Our personalities are in tact, from what I can detect on our Facebook page. We will go and physically be in the building where we went to elementary grades together. I think it will be amazing..our own versions of what we remember. I look forward to it with great anticipation.
I have been found by a group of people I would never have guessed were looking for me. My classmates from elementary and junior high have tracked me down to invite me to the reunion of the graduation I would have had with them had I not moved. I am blown away in many ways. First, I always admire good detective work. Second, I am touched and pleased and thrilled to be remembered for so long. Third, in am in flashback mode, laughing hysterically. Stories and pictures have been produced that take me back to Oakmont, PA in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. These were very fun, if somewhat unfashionable, times. In the above picture I am in the front row with jazz hands crossed on lap at the left end. Nobody remembers what kind of handicrafts we made. Another sexist ploy like home ec, where I received the one and only D of my academic career for stabbing the seam ripper through the pocket of my apron sewing project. Mrs. Gallashun, you can shove your apron….because I still have it for some perverse reason.
In the photo above I am seated in my Oaks sweater, which was green and white. I am third from the left, leaning conspicuously to the left in some body language clue about my feelings about my fellow cheerleaders. This one is very funny to me because it brings on total recall of the games and the cheers and getting my collar bone broken playing tackle football with the high school boys when my parents were out of town. In fact it brings back floods of nostalgia and appreciation for the really excellent place we had to live as kids. We had Roberto Clemente, and life was very easy.
These are the people with whom I built snow forts, went sledding, ice skated, sang, baton twirled, and played dodge ball. These are the people who taught me to speak with a very heavy accent I no longer have, but do enjoy hearing. I am into the Amish Mafia on TV because I like to hear them talk. I can’t believe they have changed so much, but still sound the same. The Oakmonters are having a party which includes a tour of the high school, which happens to be the same building where I went to elementary school, two blocks from my house. I think I have to go. I think the past is calling loudly, and I have to answer. It is just too funny.