STOMP! go the doors

I’d like to tell you I don’t know who this is, but I do! (circa 1985)

This essay is part of the Essays on a WV Childhood project.  Like any writer, I know that most of the best work is developed through several rounds of drafts and editing and more drafts.  Something about this subject matter, however, made me want to just write and not edit, to let the purity of an adolescent memory be uncontaminated by adult rules and regulations.  I hope you enjoy this reflection on one of the most important parts of my growing up, State 4-H Camp at Jackson’s Mill.  The pictures may be a little fuzzy, but the memories have a tight focus.

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I’m in a dance hall just outside Jackson’s Mill in Weston, West Virginia.  I remember just a few sights and sounds, but those recalled are so strong after all these years they appear in my mind as if they just walked in the door of my memory.

All of the tables and chairs are pushed against the walls or put away.  The space is filled with the throbbing life of young people in their late teens.  Boys and girls — or is it men and women? — vibrate with energy as they tap their feet and bounce up and down in anticipation of the most popular dance at camp.

It begins.

Kanawha County fellows danced to Morris Day and The Time

What’s funny is I don’t remember the song, or the tune.  I remember the Tyler boys, and Todd and Bryan and George.  I remember Lionel.  All but the younger Tyler boy had facial hair.  They wore cowboy boots and every girl in camp wanted to dance with them.

I remember the older Tyler boy was five years older than me.  I knew this because I first crushed on him when I was 15 years old, and he was…..twenty.  I knew he could never be interested in a little kid like me, but I would run the numbers in one year increments over and over again until I could imagine he might think I was a woman.  I figured I would have to be 19 and he would be 24 before there was even a prayer, but I had my “realistic” version too.  I would definitely have to be 21, and he would be 26.  That might work.  Only 6 years to go……

STOMP!

The music started.  How I wish I could remember the tune!  The guys picked partners and the couples swirled and kicked around the hardwoods, cowboy boots hitting the floor with such power and conviction it made me shake inside.  Our counselor chaperones just laughed and grinned as their wards thundered around the room.  They’d had their years of dancing in that room; it was now clearly their job to let us have fun but also to keep us from tearing down the building with our adolescent enthusiasm.

There was an older girl dancing with my Tyler boy.  I never knew how old she was.  I was convinced she had failed at least one grade.  She seemed very worn and tired, but she always chose very short skirts and purple high heeled shoes and tremendous amounts of pancake make up to cover the acne scars on her face.  Only now do I realize that she was very worn and tired, at less than 20 years old.  She and my older boy spent a lot of time together, but they never seemed close.  I suspected they had done things I could graph scientifically but lacked the poetry to describe in their entirety.

STOMP!

Sarah, Margaret, Kelley, me, Stacy

The couples turned to all face the same way.  Together in lines they lifted their feet and slammed the hard soles of their shoes into the floor…..ONE, TWO, ONE TWO THREE….kick!  They flowed seamlessly in their lines towards those of us who were not dancing.  They were like a wave you didn’t want to stop but weren’t sure what would happen when it reached your border.  Mercifully, they all knew how to put on the brakes before they ran over the wallflowers.

I never did this dance at camp.  It seemed like some kind of mysterious great rehearsal, and I desperately wanted to do it, but I knew I wasn’t ready.   Ready for what, I had no idea, but it just felt in my gut like a big step. My mother describes me as a kid who never wanted to been seen learning anything – I wanted to practice things that were important to me in private before anyone saw me trying them and making mistakes.  Obviously, this was a bit of a problem when it came to learning to dance with a partner.

There was a boy who crept increasingly closer to me over the week one summer.  First it was just, “Hi.”  Then, “Hi” followed by “What county are you from?”  By Wednesday it was , “Hi, Kanawha County!  Is this seat taken?”  I liked him.  He was handsome and nice and funny, but he made me nervous with his incremental growing closeness.

STOMP!

We were in the dance hall.  It was Friday night, the last night of camp.  The dance music started.  I saw my guy, Harrison County, walking towards me.  He reached out his hand.  I shook my head and shrank away, but I made sure to maintain eye contact and that he saw me smiling.

STOMP!

He smiled back and just stood where I was.  He didn’t ask another girl to dance, but sat that one out with me.  Something about that gesture lodged inside me, and I thankfully never once in the rest of my life so much as looked at any guy who didn’t have the “sit it out together” method down pat.

Jim Morrison said, “There are things known, and things unknown, and in between them are the doors.”

STOMP! is the sound of the doors of my memories at Jackson’s Mill.

Photo credits: Elizabeth Gaucher

C’mon. Don’t Be a Hater.

Do you ever find yourself on the verge of a back and forth public comment exchange, and then decide to just drop it?  Well I did that yesterday. Except now I can’t drop it.

Stilletos are good.

I am amazed by the animosity people who claim to love West Virginia can muster for anyone who sees the world differently than they do.  There is a vibrant young woman who had her first op-ed in The Charleston Gazette Monday, and her topic was social media in politics.  Now here comes a fresh voice — a bit of an attitude, I’ll warrant, but that’s part of the freshness — and what kind of response does she get?  A very snarky put-down and dismissal as having nothing to offer.

Now, you can like it or not like it, but you have to be in some deep denial if you don’t understand that the first African-American to be elected leader of the free world did it with the brilliant use of social media.  That fact alone should wake you way, way up.

Flops are good, too.

Monday’s commentary, like it or not, has a great deal to offer.  It’s not about what you like, or what you wish were true.  It’s about what is, and from where the writer sits her job is to connect politicians with what is.

It’s also what was.  The writer was not comparing Carte Goodwin to JFK as a change agent.  She was saying that they both bask in the glow of a similar perception of savoir faire.  Yes, it’s shallow and goofy to think elected officials are “hot.”  As a friend of mine put it, “Whoa.  That’s a low bar, the U.S. Congress.”  I still crack up that JFK was considered yummy.  Maybe, maybe, next to a sweating Nixon.  But really?  Folks need to get out more.  The bar goes much lower when you limbo at the state level.  But I digress………….(and a little of my breakfast just came up).

The point is that public perception is a valid and important element of elected office, and social media is driving a great deal of public perception.  We can argue all day and all night about whether or not that ought to be true, but while we argue there are people who know how to take advantage of solid strategy who are getting elected, and re-elected, via their socially networked connections to a large proportion of their constituencies.

My hat’s off to this young lady.  True wisdom is not the hallmark of the young, but it’s not rare to have strong opinions and the courage to try to change the world, and to be crazy enough to think you can do it.  West Virginia is chock full of a bunch of old people.  How about we get clue and listen to the very few young people we have left who are still willing to participate in making a difference?

You’re Not Really Real Sometimes. Really.

Don’t overthink it – quick, what do Charlie Brown’s teacher, The Graduate, and Heavenly Creatures have in common?

Remember? It felt about as comfortable as this.

I bet you know in your gut, but if you’re like me you prefer not to think about it.  They are all connected because they portray — sometimes frighteningly and sometimes humorously — what it looks like and sounds like when young people don’t really see anyone older than themselves as real.

I first started thinking about this in an ongoing way after seeing Heavenly Creatures.  I was an adolescent girl once upon a time, and it was quite disturbing to evaluate my comprehension of what happened to the girls in the film.  In short, they become obsessed with one another and the world they create for themselves, and when their parents develop concern that their connection is unhealthy and try to separate them, one of the girls kills the other one’s mother.  The film is based on a true story.

As with any shocking tale, there were a lot of water cooler conversations about, “Can you believe that happened?”  But there were also a lot of private conversations between women who trusted each other about how, yes, they could believe it happened.  It opened up a whole dialogue about the dangerous capacity of adolescents to disconnect from adults, not just by going to their rooms and turning up the music, but by completely discounting the humanity and “realness” of those adults.

I had a lot of conversations with friends from my youth about our perceptions of the adults around us.  Unlike the movie – thank God – there was never any serious animosity toward anyone.  But there was this shared sense of not perceiving our parents and their friends as really inhabiting our world.  They were like satellites orbiting around us, and while we acknowledged them, accepted their offers of food and a ride to the mall, we didn’t really connect with them at all as truly part of our reality.

It’s very weird to reflect on that psychological place.  But you can experience it as an observer any time you are in a crowd of kids.  Notice how they make eye contact only with each other, how they seem to hear only each other, how you could swear if you didn’t make a fuss about it they would trample you flat as they walk in a group down the street……….

I love young people.  Remembering how I perceived the world then helps me not go bananas when they seem to not even see me, because in truth, they don’t.  And it’s not exactly a picnic for them either.  I think it just means we have to try harder to reach them on their terms, and to remember that we were young once too.