I am working on a novel, parts of which are based on my life at Mary Washington in the 60s. several of the passages in my story could provide you with the “feel” of our lives at Mary Washington. The scenes are based on fact; the names are of course changed…
We had no idea at that time what a critical, and transitional, period we were living in. We were the last of the “old school,” with all the rules and restrictions, and were pushing for the change which was just a few years off. We, along with the school, were trying to grow up and find our places in the world. I’m hoping that the passages will convey this feeling to you. And I hope you enjoy this peek into the past!
Excerpt from The Elderly Goddess
Copyright © 2012 by Ginny Brinkley
[she had just received a discouraging letter from her boyfriend]
All things considered, I found myself handling this latest bomb amazingly well. My premonition of doom had been realized (although not in the manner that I had anticipated), so in some weird way, it was almost a relief. I didn’t have to hold my breath any more; the worst had already happened. And as much as I still loved Ned, my thoughts of him were beginning to take on a new aspect. Resentments were beginning to creep in—he had chosen to leave me and go into the Army, which, in turn had caused me unbearable heartache. How could he have done that if he really loved me? And now, this. He was telling me not to wait for him. Perhaps he didn’t really love me. Maybe his mother was actually right—we had gotten too serious too soon.
These were my jumbled musings as we prepared for Thanksgiving break. The prospect of celebrating the holiday with the Reynolds family and enjoying four days of their hospitality provided a little ray of light in my future.
And then another “bomb” was dropped, this one on the national level. It happened the week before Thanksgiving. Every detail of that bizarre afternoon is as clear to me as if it happened yesterday. Dee and I were returning from lunch. We had gone off campus, walking to a to a sandwich shop across the highway from the college. Entering our dorm, we could hear yelling throughout the halls, our first sign that anything was wrong. Then Ringo appeared. She was screaming, “The President’s been shot!” I thought she was kidding until we got close enough to see the tears on her face.
“Come, listen,” she demanded, leading us to her room where a crowd was gathered around the radio. We joined the others, listening with disbelief, to the details of the shooting of President Kennedy.
Life at MWC was, for the most part, a sheltered experience. Other than for those who had boyfriends in Viet Nam, events in the outside world had little effect on our daily lives. On Nov. 22, 1963, that changed. Every person on campus seemed to be personally affected by Kennedy’s assassination. Most of us cried, all classes were canceled, and many students attended impromptu church services, not knowing what else to do with the feelings this horrible national crisis had evoked.
Dee, Ringo, Elaine and I walked over to the nearby Episcopal Church, where my math professor, Dr. Roberts [actually Dr. Robert Shaw], served as the presiding priest. More memorable than his service that day was the stark reminder of our own vulnerability and of how quickly everything can change. I think we each grew up a little from that experience.
Classes were canceled again the next day. Being so close to DC, many students chose to become a part of history, going to Washington to view the funeral procession in person. The four of us, however, all decided to remain on campus and mourn together, not just for the loss of our President, but for the loss of our innocence as well.
Excerpt from The Elderly Goddess
Copyright © 2012 by Ginny Brinkley
[Her boyfriend had joined the Army and had just left for boot camp.]
I spent the next two weeks getting ready for college. What should have been an exciting time for me—preparing to leave home for the first time, picking out all the items to decorate my dorm room, shopping for new clothes to last through the year—wasn’t. My mother was excited; I just went through the motions. I had an aching numbness. All I cared about was gone and I couldn’t even talk to him. I did write him letters every day, and put them in the mail, but I didn’t know when or if they were ever delivered to him. Ned had warned me that for his first six weeks of boot camp I probably wouldn’t hear from him much, if at all, and he was right. I tried to sound cheery in my notes to him, but I knew I was bordering on depression.
Finally, I was off to college. Freshman orientation was a welcome relief. The change of surroundings, alone, helped my state of mind, although in some ways I felt even more removed from Ned. I was now in a place where we had never been together and it was almost like he and I had existed in a previous lifetime, or maybe only in my dreams. Of course, as a new freshman, I was kept busy with numerous required meetings, lists to memorize, and a whole new set of friends.
I had chosen to attend MWC, an all girls school, which was actually a good thing for me at that time. Many of my new classmates were also missing their boyfriends, and they were eager to share their stories, which meant that they were then obligated to listen to mine. Additionally, because there were no males in residence, I was spared having to endure the sight of happy couples holding hands and strolling around campus each day.
Everyone has probably contemplated, at one time or another, just what would have been the consequences if a certain significant person had not come into their lives when they did. Two schools of thought address this issue: the first would have us believe that any meeting is simply a quirk of fate, that it is a “by chance” occurrence. If they hadn’t met when they did, their window of opportunity would be closed. The second explanation states that the two people were meant to cross paths, and if it hadn’t happened when it did, another opportunity would have been presented. Taken a step further, they were brought into each other’s lives for a reason.
I had always been inclined towards the latter theory, and, if I had any doubts about that, getting to know my college roommate certainly erased them. She was definitely brought into my life for a reason. I cannot now imagine what my life would have been like without her.
“Hi, you must be Annie. I’m Judy and this is my mom and dad,” she said to me when I arrived that first Sunday afternoon. “I’ve already put my things in this closet, but if you’d rather have it, I’ll be glad to switch to the other one.” The first of her many caring attempts to make my life easier.
We didn’t call her Judy for long. In true dorm fashion, each person soon earned her own nickname. In most cases that name stuck throughout college, and in many cases, throughout life, at least in certain circles. As soon our hall mates discovered that her middle name was Star, she became known as Ringo, after Ringo Starr of the Beatles, a new young rock group with whom we were all quite familiar. I don’t remember calling her Judy ever again. To this day, she is still my dear friend Ringo.
I must have spent an inordinate amount of time sharing my tragic love story because it wasn’t long before my dorm mates began referring to me as Romeo. I never could figure out why I wasn’t Juliet, but for some reason they decided Romeo fit me better. At any rate, I didn’t mind the name. I actually felt a little closer to Ned every time I heard it.
Each evening I made time to share my day’s activities with Ned, or at least I would write him and mail it to his Army address. Since I wasn’t hearing back from him, it was almost like writing in a diary. We didn’t have phones in our rooms, but a pay phone down the hall was available for our use. I repeatedly sent that number to Ned in hopes that some day he’d be able to call. I was counting the days till the end-of-boot-camp leave that he had promised. It was still over a month away.
On the third day of classes, Ringo and I decided to make our first trek to the library. My English prof had given an assignment requiring research, and Ringo said she’d come along to check out the facility. We stopped by on our way back from the dining hall. I soon learned that books, especially stacks of them, were one of Ringo’s passions. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself developing a new appreciation for the smell and feel of old bindings. We must have spent two hours in there, investigating the various sections.
Returning to our room, I could see a note taped to our door. It was from our standard message pad. It read “To: Annie; Caller: Ned Nash; Message: will call back soon; Call taken by: Dee Reynolds; Time of call: 8:53. I had missed him by five minutes.
Dee lived in the room next door. She and I were Calculus buddies, having both skipped freshman math. This analytical ability of hers seemed contradictory to her personality, not what one would expect from such a sweet and caring person. She had been a cheerleader and Homecoming queen in her high school, not the typical “brainy” student.
Dee was sitting on her bed painting her nails when I barged into her room demanding to know the details of Ned’s call.
“He said ’Hello, this is Ned Nash. May I please speak to Annie Barstow in room 125?’” she explained.
“Then what? Did he say anything else? Is he ok? Has he gotten my letters?” I could hardly get the questions out fast enough.
“He just said he’d try back soon,” Dee said. “That’s all. I’m sorry.”
I sighed. So close and yet so far. At least he’s thinking about me, I thought. I spent the rest of that evening, and, in fact most of the night, fluctuating between ecstasy that he had called and despair that I didn’t get to hear his voice. When I did drift off to sleep, I dreamed that Ned was there with me. He was looking at me with that sweet crooked smile, and I wanted so much for him to touch me. I knew that the tingling would begin as soon as our bodies made contact. I could almost feel it. But every time I tried to touch him, I couldn’t. He was just out of reach. Frustrated, I woke myself up in a sweat.
For the next six days, I hardly left the room. I didn’t want to chance missing another call. I’d go to classes, of course, but come straight back. Most days I’d skip lunch and have Ringo bring me something. Two evenings I even missed dinner, settling for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that Ringo made for me in the dining hall. On the seventh evening, one week after Ned’s phone message, I went to dinner early. I couldn’t keep missing meals, and who knew how long it would be till Ned had any free time, as well as access to a phone again. The dining hall opened at 5:00 and I was waiting at the door, practically the first in line.
Immediately after eating, I returned to the room, settled down on my bed and opened my books. At three minutes to 7:00, I heard the hall phone ring. I held my breath, hoping beyond hope. A frantic on my door brought the good news. “Romeo, are you in there? It’s an LD!” LD meant long distance and was always a big deal.
I was up like a flash and ran to the phone. “Hello?”
“Oh, Annie, it’s so good to hear your voice. I only have three minutes. We’ll have to talk fast.”
“Ned! I miss you so much! I want to see you.”
“You will, Annie. Soon. I get out of here in three weeks. I’ll come straight there. We should have several days together. I can’t wait to hold you in my arms again.”
The next two minutes were a blur. Then the operator was telling us our three minutes were up.
“I love you, Annie.”
“I love you….” Click. We were cut off.
That night Ned held me close and kissed me for hours—in my dreams. It was so real I could even feel the tingling. Around 4 am I was startled awake by a slamming door across the hall. I desperately tried to recapture the dream, but it was gone.
Ned was to be there in about three weeks, possibly on a Wednesday. My assignment in the meantime was clear—coming up with a place where we could go to be alone. This was more difficult than it might sound. My dorm room was definitely out. With the exception of an occasional maintenance man, males were forbidden from going any further than the lobby, a strictly enforced regulation.
Students were required to “sign-out” whenever leaving the campus. This entailed stating exactly where we were going and when we’d be back, at which time we had to “sign-in.” We had to return to our dorms no later than 11 pm. The outside door was then locked and a bed check done. We were allowed to sign-out over night only on Saturdays, and we were not allowed to stay in a local motel (that meant anything within a ten-mile radius) unless accompanied by our parents. Because Ned and I would not have the use of a car, our options were definitely limited.
Ringo kept reminding me that if Ned and I were going to have any privacy, it was obvious that I was going to have to break some rules. Because we were on the Honor System, breaking a rule was a serious offense. One of the crimes for which students could be expelled was lying, and I was pretty sure that signing out for one location and going to another would be considered lying. I did not want to be thrown out of college.
My dilemma was compounded by the fact that I didn’t know exactly when Ned would arrive. If he didn’t come till Saturday, I figured we could take a bus to a nearby town, like Franklin, which was about 20 miles away, and get a motel room there. We’d at least have a whole night together that way.
The problem would be if he came earlier, especially if he had to leave before Saturday. Of course I was anxious to see him as soon as possible. Two weeks passed and I still didn’t know how to plan. As it turned out, planning wouldn’t have helped. I continued to wait and wonder. Wednesday came and I hadn’t heard from him. Wednesday night at 10:02 I got a call.
“It’s not good news, Annie,” he began. “Some of the guys in my unit messed up, so we’re all being punished. I have to stay through Thursday and do some dirty work. I don’t even want to tell you about it. But I’d gladly do it all myself if it meant I’d get to see you sooner.”
“But you’ll be here on Friday, right?”
“Yes, I’ll be there Friday. But I can’t stay long. There’s worse news.” He paused. “I got my orders. I’m going to ‘Nam. I leave at 6:00 Saturday morning.”
I couldn’t speak for crying. My universe had collapsed.
I spent the next day in bed. Not really sleeping, but not awake either. They told me later that I appeared to be in a trance-like state where nothing or no one could touch me. Apparently this was my survival mechanism, creating an escape to keep me from slashing my wrists. I probably would not have even been aware of the disastrous shape I was in if it hadn’t been for Ringo. It must have been pretty bad because she refused to leave my side all day, cutting her classes to stay with me. Since we were only allowed three absences per class each semester, this was a true sacrifice.
Ringo kept my forehead supplied with wet compresses and brought me sips of chicken broth which she’d heated on our hot plate. She was talking a lot too, but none of it made much sense at the time. By evening, when I began coming to my senses, I realized she was planning my meeting with Ned for the next day. She had arranged everything for our upcoming rendez-vous, down to the last detail. Bless her.
It turned out that Ringo had a classmate who was a townie—that is, someone who actually lived at a residence in town. There weren’t many townies at our school because most locals chose to go as far away as possible for college. But Tina was married to a guy who worked for the local newspaper. She and Ringo had met in Spanish class. Ringo had actually been to her house a couple of times to study. [Any student who was married had to live off campus, not in the dorms.] At some point during my bizarre avoidance episode, Ringo had called Tina, and they arranged that Ned and I would go to her house Friday night. We would be able to stay there together until whatever time Ned had to leave on Saturday morning. Since off-campus overnights were only allowed on Saturdays, I would have to leave campus without signing out, and the others would cover for me. We could all have gotten into serious trouble for breaking the rules, but none of that mattered at the time. It was the only way that Ned and I would be able to spend any time together.
By Friday morning my thoughts of Ned were all consuming. We had never been apart for that long before, and I began to wonder how much he’d changed. I knew he’d lost weight, and lost some hair too. Would he still act the same? Would he still love me? Would the tingling still be there?
I made it to my morning classes, and even to the dining hall for lunch. When I got back to the dorm, there was a phone message. He’d called at 12:30. The message read Ned to arrive by 6 pm–will come to the dorm.
My last class ended at 5:00. I figured that if I showered and got ready before the class, I’d still have time to come back, change clothes, and freshen up before his arrival. World History was never one of my favorite subjects, and concentrating was particularly difficult that day. When the instructor dismissed us, I was the first one to the door, virtually flying out of the building and back to the dorm. I was huffing and puffing as I burst through the lobby and headed towards the stairs.
“Where’s the fire?” I heard in a familiar voice behind me.
Spinning around, I verified the source of what I’d heard. I dropped my books and rushed into Ned’s waiting arms. My body relaxed into his and we stood there holding each other for what must have been several minutes, neither of us speaking. His touch and smell were just as I remembered. I knew immediately, the love was still there. The tingling was still there too. For that moment, everything was ok. I was right where I belonged. If only we could have made the moment last.
Ned spoke first. “I love you, Annie. I’ve missed you so much.” Then he kissed me. And I began to cry.
Finally we found a nearby couch and sat down. Ned explained that he had until about 5 am. He had to be on a bus by 6 that would take him to his flight. He’d fly to California where they’d keep him for several days before sending him to Viet Nam.
I couldn’t think about that then. I described Ringo’s plan for our evening and he smiled.
“I need to meet her so I can thank her personally,” he said.
“Oh, they all want to meet you. They’ve heard enough about you. And of course I’m anxious to prove to them that you really do exist.”
The plan included Ringo and several others accompanying us for a burger at the campus snack shop. We’d all walk there together, then, after dark, Ned and I would walk to a drug store off campus where we could call for a taxi to take us to Tina’s house.
I went up to the room and announced Ned’s arrival. Ringo and three others were available to join us. Soon the six of us were off to the snack shop, laughing and chatting like we were all old friends. For a brief time, Ned and I seemed like normal people—people whose lives were not on the verge of devastation.
Neither Ned nor I had much appetite for dinner. It wasn’t long before we excused ourselves and executed our escape from campus. At the drug store we made two phone calls, the first to Tina to make sure she was ready for us, and the second, for a cab. At any other time, I would have felt like a criminal under those circumstances, being off campus “illegally.” But at that time all I felt was a desperate need to be alone with Ned as soon as possible for as long as possible.