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Wanda L. Harrell

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Books by Wanda L. Harrell
My Life as a Teenager in 1965-66
By Wanda L. Harrell
Monday, May 21, 2007

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2007, Wanda L. Harrell

 

 

 

It probably should be first noted, I was a very shy child, but finally emerged into a semi-confident teenager during my junior year of high school. When I was accepted into the honor society, Beta Club, that year, my confidence level improved considerably. I went from having only one friend to having many, both female and male. Also, during that same next to last year of high school, the entire class was tested for an accelerated program with East Tennessee State University. Much to my personal amazement, I was one of the five chosen to go directly from the eleventh grade to college. My parents left the final decision to me. After careful consideration, I decided I was too young for the transition, and I wanted to experience my senior year.

 

We had moved from Pennsylvania back to Tennessee the year before. In a new subdivision, Boone Trail, my parents had built a brand spanking-new, brick home, one with five bedrooms, three full baths, a large eat-in kitchen, living room, family room, and most importantly to a teenager, a 30-foot-long recreation room in the basement with a brick wall and fireplace on the far end.

 

The Harrell home on Choctaw Street wasn’t a typical one or two-story home. From the front, it appeared to be a one-story ranch with double car garage, but the house was built on a sloping corner lot. Thus, the basement, or downstairs, was exposed on two sides. That floor of the house, two bedrooms, a bathroom and the recreation room received plenty of light from large windows, and there was a door out onto a patio and a back driveway. The entire upstairs or first floor, with the exception of the kitchen and bathrooms, had wall-to-wall carpeting, and all the rooms on both floors had custom made draperies. Wall-to-wall carpet and custom drapes were two luxuries we’d never before enjoyed. Everything was new, except for some antique furnishings and the mantel of the fake fireplace in the living room, which was taken from our 18th century farmhouse in Pennsylvania.

 

In my bedroom, my pride and joy, there was gold, plush carpeting and Early American patterned draperies on brass rods. My furniture, an Early American style my parents had bought for me a few years earlier, was of solid maple, consisting of a triple dresser and landscape mirror, twin bed and one night table. The matching bed was in one of the guest rooms downstairs, but both had identical bedspreads, snow-white Morgan Jones hobnail style; there were no chenille bedspreads in our house. Most sheets were white, pastels or stripes at the time. I knew of no one else who had patterned sheets, but I was fortunate. My mother had found, on sale, a set with a gold heart pattern. I was so proud of those sheets. In our household, sitting on the bed was a big no-no, so there were two chairs in my room. One was a two hundred year old Windsor chair. The other, an upholstered, armless bedroom chair bought at auction, started out in my sister’s room, but wound up in mine.

 

A couple of my girlfriends had record players in their rooms, but what I had was an antiquated, clunky brown radio that had been handed down to me by my mother. Also, some of those same friends had posters or pictures on their walls of their teen idols or movie stars, but none were allowed on the walls of my room. However, I finally got brave one day and with a few straight pins secretly hung a small poster of my teenage idol, Johnny Tillotson, on the back of my bedroom door. I feared my mother would make me take it down, but much to my surprise and delight, she allowed it to hang, and there it was until the day I married and left home.

 

The telephone was an essential of life, even back then. Our single phone, a black wall model with a dial, was located in the kitchen at the end of the breakfast bar. One of my girlfriends had a phone in her bedroom, a luxury I envied immensely. Needless to say, there was absolutely no privacy with any phone conversation in the Harrell household, but at least we had a private line, and not the inconvenience of a party line like many people. I really didn’t complain about the lack of privacy. As a matter of fact, I felt lucky. There were many who didn’t even have that one phone.

 

My all-important notebook was the blue canvas sort. Names of friends or Boones Creek Bars were scribbled in black, red and blue ink all over it. There were no backpacks, so my arms were always loaded down with textbooks: English, Latin and American History were the three academic subjects my senior year, all of which required heavy textbooks. Most of the time, I studied in my room, sitting in the upholstered chair, and it was there that I daydreamed, while playing the radio at a very low volume. For important school papers, my mother allowed me to sit at her desk and use her portable typewriter, but that was only after I learned how to type. There was no hunt and peck typing allowed in our home. I loved using the typewriter, but my favorite writing instruments were pens. I didn’t really care for the ever popular ballpoint pen. I preferred ink pens that used small, replaceable cartridges of ink. I loved watching “real” ink flow onto the paper to create words that conveyed my thoughts.

 

Rarely did I pack a lunch, so for the price of 25 cents, I typically bought lunch in the school cafeteria. For those twenty five pennies, five nickels, two dimes and nickel, or a quarter, a fairly nutritious meal with a half pint of milk was had. Although, I wasn’t always crazy about the food, the meals weren’t all that bad and they did have homemade hot rolls. The cafeteria at Boones Creek was noisy beyond belief, but that was fine with us. That halfway point of the day was an opportunity to talk and laugh with our friends.

 

My favorite teachers that year were Miss Amy Hamilton and Mr. Robert Snow. I had Miss Hamilton for English IV and Latin II. She was a lovely lady in every sense of the term, and no one could understand why she never married. The rumor was that her fiancée died during WWII. Miss Hamilton praised my writing skills, and always encouraged me to write more. Mr. Snow, a WWII veteran, was my American History teacher. I never made anything less than an A in his class, and adored the way he taught us by telling stories, making the characters come alive and the places more than just names in a book. It also helped that the town where I was born in Pennsylvania was between Gettysburg and Lancaster, and that my parents took us to see many historical sites when we went on vacation down south. When there was a photo of a historical site located in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia or Florida in our history book, I could often say, most proudly, “I’ve been there.”

 

The Senior Trip was planned for a week long trip to Washington, DC, our capitol and a place I hadn’t visited since I was a baby. For my birthday and Christmas that year, my gifts were mainly clothing to use on the trip.

 

Johnson City was a small town, and the hippie movement had not yet invaded our society. A girl wanted to become more than a woman; she wanted to become a lady. When we sat down in public, we were taught to sit up straight and hold our knees together, never crossing the legs, but positioning them slightly to one side or the other, and of course, have hands modestly folded in our laps. We dressed up for more than church. We tried to look our best for any social function. A trip to the market, shopping downtown, the movies, a visit to the dentist and ballgames all required dressing appropriately. One was expected to walk, not run. Never ever was a curse word acceptable. There was no excuse or reason for not saying please, thank you, excuse me or pardon me. A young person never questioned a parent in public. If any questions were to be made, it was to take place in private. Manners were important.

 

During the last couple years of high school, I frequently wore crisply ironed, white or colored blouses with a Peter Pan or pointed collar (Lady Manhattan was the brand of the day), a gold circle or monogram pin worn between the collars and over the top blouse button, a plaid or heather toned, stitched-down pleated or A-line skirt and a sweater. Speaking of which, A-line shirtwaist dresses were also in vogue. The most popular labels were Villager and Ladybug, but I didn’t have one of those. However, I did own a couple of imitations. I always wanted a real Villager or Ladybug, but my knock-offs that came from the JC Penney’s store downtown sufficed nicely. Of course, on my feet I wore a pair of penny loafers or saddle shoes. Some of the girls had white imitation leather go-go boots, but I thought them a bit tacky when worn with school clothes.

 

Slacks were popular during the winter, but only worn for very casual occasions, so I had very few pairs. I didn’t own a pair of jeans. During the summertime, to beat the heat, it was Bermuda shorts, or its slightly shorter cousin, Jamaicas. The button down blouse with the Peter Pan collar went with slacks or shorts. No one even thought of wearing a T-shirt. That was not outerwear, but something men wore under their shirts.

 

The trendy perfumes of the day were Ambush and Tabu. When I received Ambush cologne and lotion for my 17th birthday, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. My makeup was subtle even though the Cleopatra style was considered the in thing. My lipstick was always pink or clear, as was my nail polish. I took great care of my hands and nails. Many were the comments made about my pretty hands, and each time, I demurely blushed from the compliment. I wore two rings. On my left hand, I proudly wore my blue-stoned class ring, and on the right hand, I wore a heart-shaped birthstone ring. Other than my class ring, my favorite piece of jewelry was my sterling silver charm bracelet, and I wore it often.

 

Pantyhose became the rage during this time. Although there were many grimaces when pulling the often unyielding pantyhose on, it was worth the trouble and aggravation to avoid dealing with hose hooked to an uncomfortable garter belt or girdle.

 

The hairdos of the day were the lengthy flip and long, straight hair. I hated my naturally curly tresses. I wanted it to be smooth and easy to style, but that was not my lot in life, so my hairstyle was a short version of the flip. The way it was attained was no small feat. With thick hair that took forever to dry, I usually washed it once or twice a week. If it was on a midweek day, I washed my hair with Suave or Prell shampoo before going to bed. For the Saturday washing, I’d do it early in the morning so there would be time for my thick hair to air dry before doing something late Saturday afternoon.

 

Without a hairdryer or curling iron, my hairstyle was accomplished by skillfully using curlers (the largest net kind with a brush in the middle) after the shampoo. More times than I can recall, I’d go to bed with those things annoyingly poking at my scalp. Needless to say, it made for an uncomfortable night’s sleep, and that’s an understatement. In the morning, the hateful curlers were always askew, and were yanked out as quickly as possible. Then is when the teasing comb came out and the rake, rake, rake of each strand of hair continued until it looked like a wild sort of bush growing out of my head. A can of aerosol hairspray, usually Aqua Net, was the next weapon from the hairdo arsenal. After spraying heavily, and waving a hand frantically to clear the fumes, it was time to tame down my wild-looking head. That’s when the hairbrush served its purpose. Slowly, the wild hair was smoothed down, and when finished, the hair spray was spewed all over once again before getting dressed for school. I loathed doing my hair back then.

 

Since, my 16th birthday, in December of 1964, was spent moving into the new house, my parents allowed me to have a party, the first ever, to celebrate my 17th birthday the following December. The only catch was that I had to wax the vast recreation room floor before and after the party. I didn’t have to think very long about the demanding condition. To have a “real” party, I would have waxed it twice before and twice afterward, and stood on my head if my mother had asked.

 

For the occasion, my mother first bought a blah blue corduroy dress for me. I wasn’t exactly thrilled, but dare not say anything negative. Then, one day I came home from school to find another dress, something very different than anything I’d ever worn. It was a Courrèges-style, Kelly-green knit with a broad white stripe around the neckline and down each side. I was ecstatic.

 

All a dither in my stylish new dress, and feeling like a thoroughly modern Millie, I was delighted beyond words when my friends arrived. Every single time the doorbell rang, I wanted to jump for joy. Since it was only a few days until Christmas, the first thing my guests saw when they walked up the sidewalk to the front door was our Christmas tree. The sparkling aluminum tree with blue satin ornaments was something of which we were most proud. Its place of honor was in the living room, prominently displayed in front of the large picture window. But, there were no lights on it. When the tree was purchased a couple of years earlier, my mother had put lights on it, and they had caught fire, burning/melting a portion of one branch. Thereafter, that branch was placed where it would not be noticed, and a blue spotlight was used to make it glimmer and shine.

 

Our party fare consisted of sandwiches, ham salad and pimento cheese, cut into wedges, chips, Christmas cookies, Cokes (in bottles) and birthday cake set out on an antique drop-leaf table near the door to the huge rec room. The music was from 45s and LP albums (my small collection and some the other kids brought) played on the French provincial style entertainment center (black and white TV, radio and stereo), something not all that many people owned. Since I was not allowed to date until I was sixteen and I was the baby of my class, I had no boyfriend. All the boys worth having in my school were already going steady. But that was okay; I had a terrific time that night, and for the first time in my life, I felt somewhat popular.

 

For that birthday, my dad gave me a 1963 Ford Falcon Futura. It was an automatic, but didn’t have an automatic choke. If I wanted my car to sound powerful, I’d pull out the choke for a few seconds. I thought the turquoise vehicle was the prettiest car around, except for Ford Mustangs.

 

My senior year was busy, and I was loving life. A week or so before my birthday party, there was a Christmas dance at school. Boones Creek had been around for over a hundred years, originally called Boones Creek Seminary, a church funded institution long before the days of public schools. So, that dance in December of 1965 was the first ever held at the school. Since I didn’t have a boyfriend, my second cousin, Warren Love, was my escort. I wore a lovely white satin brocade dress with an olive green velvet ribbon on the back. We did the twist, the mashed potatoes, the jerk and a few slow dances to the sounds of a live band. To say the least, it was an exciting experience.

 

My parents allowed me to have more parties, but I wised up. Not wanting to get down on my hands and knees to wax that huge floor every single time, my parties evolved into sock hops. Before any dancing, we removed our shoes, giving me freedom from the waxing chore. I think I was the only kid in my class who had parties for no reason, so they were quite popular. To make it easier on my mom, we decided to have covered dish fare, and called the parties a smorgasbord, a word that sounded very exotic to us.

 

That school year was interspersed with movies with friends on weekends, church on Sunday morning and evening and Wednesday night at Union Baptist Church, and of course, shopping trips downtown. That winter, I worked in the concession stand during our basketball season. Four seniors, Jess Miller (captain of the football team), Nancy Hodges (my best girlfriend), Jack Burress (my male best friend) and I, were chosen for that duty, something we considered an honor. Nancy’s boyfriend, Omar Bradley, a previous graduate of Boones Creek helped out.

 

Much to my dismay, and the other seniors who had planned on the trip to Washington, DC, there was a horrid change of plans. Several boys decided it would be funny to let the air out of the tires on Mr. Livaditis’ car. The entire class was punished for their misdeed. The trip to DC was cancelled, replaced with a day trip over to Asheville, NC for a visit to Biltmore House, one of the largest homes in America, and built by George Vanderbilt back in the late 19th century.

 

Later on in the school year, there was the Glee Club trip to Chattanooga, TN and the Beta Club trip to Nashville, TN. The Beta Club trip was exciting beyond belief. Not only was I going out of town without my parents for the first time in my life, the trip was all about Beta, the honor society. One of our members, a girl from the junior class, Becky Miller, was running for a state office. I loved Nashville, and shed some tears when we had to leave for home.

 

By the time I boarded the bus for the Glee Club trip, I felt like I was becoming a “real” grown up. We stopped at several schools to sing, always wearing our red wool blazers for each performance. But when we arrived at the school in Chattanooga, the kids there made us feel as though we were country bumpkins, teasing us unmercifully about our school’s name. Their smirks and lack of enthusiasm changed when they heard us sing. The applause was deafening.

 

Class Night was a very important event. Miss Hamilton chose me to write the 1966 Class Poem, my first published writing. I was so very honored until I found out that I would have to recite it in front of my entire class, and the parents, siblings and dates. Writing the poem wasn’t a problem, but the date for me was a slight difficulty. So, off we went to Bristol, Virginia (40 miles away) one weekend so I could ask my 7th grade sweetheart, Wayne Cumbow, to be my escort. Although encouraged by another friend, Carol Gibson, I was so nervous I actually thought I’d faint, but Wayne came to my rescue with a very polite acceptance of my invitation.

 

For the occasion, I wore the same white satin brocade dress I’d worn to the Christmas dance, but had a pink ribbon to replace the green velvet. While I was primping for the big night, I was so excited I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. I sprayed hairspray directly in my right eye. Trying to get myself back together before he arrived, after that most painful accident, was not an easy task, but I somehow accomplished it. When we entered the gym that night, I was so proud to be on Wayne’s arm. The entire event was named after my poem, Paths to the Future. Hanging high over the center of the gym, hung a huge globe made of chicken wire and green and blue tissue paper to represent land and sea by the art department students. On it was written, Paths to the Future. I felt a sort of pride combined with humbleness that I’d never before experienced.

 

When the moment arrived for me to take center stage (actually center gym floor), I thought I’d surely fall down walking into the spotlight. I made it without a fall, but the place was so quiet, each click, click, click of my pink satin heels reverberated throughout the gym as I walked my seat. When I finally got to the spotlight, I know my face was beet red, but I somehow managed the recitation. Then, by no small miracle, I controlled my embarrassment once again as my heels clicked walking back to my seat. Afterward, there was a small reception and a party at Carolyn Hall’s for the seniors. Wayne wanted to look at new cars, so we left the party and drove by some of the new car lots in Johnson City. Wayne took me home by curfew. We remained close friends that summer.

 

Boones Creek had always had the Junior-Senior Banquet, instead of proms. But, our class broke with tradition, once again, by having the first prom ever. Actually, it was a combination banquet and prom, but there was music and dancing, and it was wonderful. I still didn’t have a boyfriend, so my escort was one of my best friends, Jack Burress. I wore an A-line gown of white we’d bought at an after Christmas sale in St. Petersburg, Florida two years earlier, gold heels and a rhinestone tiara in my hair. Jack gave me a beautiful carnation corsage, and I felt really pretty, probably for the first time in my seventeen years.

 

When we were fitted for our caps and gowns, I was appalled when my head was measured and I discovered my head was the largest of all the girls. My skull was the size of most of the boys. To make matters worse, the white nylon graduation gowns were horrid. They didn’t hang neatly. Instead, they floated about like some strange sort of slick cloud.

 

Graduation day finally arrived, but there was a catch. We had missed more snow days than was allowed, so when we were handed the black leatherette covers for our diplomas the actual diploma was missing. We had to attend school for two more days before we could receive them. Despite that, I was proud and happy. The beautiful gold HONOR stole I wore around my neck on the 23rd of May, 1966, made everything, the empty diploma cover, the two extra days of school, the big cap and billowing graduation gown, acceptable. A very small group of the seniors were chosen to sing at graduation, and I was honored to be one of them. My parents' gift to me was a complete set of white Lady Baltimore luggage. And that evening, after graduation, my parents allowed me to drive my mom’s new Plymouth Sport Fury convertible to Kingsport, taking along my closest friends to Shoney’s for supper.

 

I attended those last two days of school, and spent most of the time getting and giving autographs in my last yearbook. When I got my diploma into my hands, I promptly went home to position it in its rightful place.

 

That summer, I had two impacted wisdom teeth removed, and passed out when I got home; got my first contact lenses and could lay aside my glasses; went away to Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly in North Carolina with my Sunday School class; spent a week in Bristol with my friend, Carol, and went swimming and gadding about with her and Wayne; was a bridesmaid in Nancy’s wedding to Omar; and went to Atlanta with my parents to check out a finishing school. When they didn’t approve of the school’s hectic urban location, I came back home disappointed, but prepared for college at ETSU that fall. After a lengthy personal debate, I decided to forego journalism in favor of a double major in art and interior design.

 

I dropped out of college after one year, and married Roger Wilson, a young man from North Carolina, that following June. He and I bought my mom’s convertible later, but held onto the Falcon. Our daughter, Julia, was brought home from the hospital in the convertible. After four years of marriage, we divorced, at which time I sold my Falcon to buy a candy apple red 1968 Mustang.

 

Boones Creek became a middle school in the early 70s.  I married a second time in 1973 to Jim Stalnaker, a young man just out of the Army and from Florida. From that time, except for these past three years, I resided in NE Florida. Jim adopted Julie, and we had two boys, Jimmy, Jr. and Jeffrey. Jim and I remained married for almost 25 years, divorcing in July of 1998. Several years after marrying in Union Baptist Church, the building was bought an individual, moved elsewhere and burned to the ground. My parents sold the house on Choctaw Street and moved to Bristol in 1974.  My dad passed away in 1977. I kept in touch with Nancy, but have lost track of the others, except for Wayne. He’s a minister of music with a lovely family in Tennessee.

 

Time has altered life in general, in some ways it’s for the better and some for the worse. In my opinion, young people all too frequently complain loudly and disrespectfully to their parents, and other adults, if something doesn’t please them. School lunches are nothing like the real meals we had, and all though the years my children were in public schools, I never saw one single homemade roll. Modern parents would never allow the actions of a few to change the plans of the entire class. There are now no-wax floors. Wall-to-wall carpet and custom made draperies are commonplace. Downtown shopping has been replaced by malls and super stores. Aluminum Christmas trees with blue satin ornaments have been packed away in basements, attics or garages, long ago found their way to a trash dump, or sold as a vintage oddity. Everyone has a private phone line and more than one phone in every style imaginable; Mickey Mouse, football helmets and phones that look like red high heels. They are available in every color in the rainbow, cordless and cellular. Radios are almost obsolete and records are, replaced by MP3 players and CDs. T-shirts of every possible variation are ordinary. There are now blow dryers, so everyone washes their hair at least once a day. Curling irons and electric rollers replaced those prickly hair curlers. Becoming a lady does not seem to be a goal of most young girls. Manners seem to be a lost art. Most women sit any old way and wear any old thing anywhere they choose, and many have foul mouths. People of all ages play music so loud it can reverberate inside homes a block away.

 

When my daughter was in high school, we (my husband, daughter, the boys and I) went by to visit Miss Hamilton on one of our trips back home. She was still the lovely, brilliant lady I’d known in high school. After my second divorce, I called her to tell her of my decision to write. She recognized my voice immediately, and was very pleased with my decision. Sadly, she died a few years later. I called Mr. Snow once to thank him for being such a good teacher. He remembered me, but his voice seemed frail, and his ability to tell stories was only a memory.

 

Without any discussion on the subject, time has its way of marching on. The people and most aspects of daily living have changed over these past 41 years. That is, except for five very small things. I still loathe doing my hair, even though it is now thinner and less curly. My passion for "real" ink pens has never waned. Recitations or readings in front of large group continue to make me nervous, and my diploma remains in its leatherette folder. I found the fifth thing in early 1999, when I had the opportunity to take a trip down Memory Lane by visiting our old home while in transition of one owner to another. When I went into the room where I had been the first inhabitant, where I'd once done my homework, daydreamed about the future, listened to the outdated radio and restlessly slept in curlers, there was different carpeting and no draperies on the windows. But when I checked the back of the door, there still remained the minuscule holes where the Johnny Tillotson poster had once proudly been displayed. So it is, over all these years, only five very small things have remained the same.

 

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