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Mary To The Contrary

Gordon Getty and My Red Skirt

To this very day I have no idea who was the first Getty, how many male Gettys there are in the world, how much money they have, and I really don’t care.  But once, a Getty wanted to meet me, all because of a red linen skirt and musical notes.

Several summers ago, my husband and I lived in Newport, Rhode Island, the site of the annual Newport Music Festival.  This particular festival was, at that time, held in several of the Newport mansions every summer, which attracted famous persons who enjoyed classical music.

Most of these visiting celebrities stayed for the duration of the festival at the homes of the more illustrious Newporters who occupied the many large mansions that dotted the Newport landscape.

We happened to have a friend, Carolyn Skelly, the mysteriously disfigured, often-robbed Skelly oil heiress who was wildly social and owned one of the smaller mansions.  

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One of very few images of Carolyn Skelly that you can find on the Internet. This one is of her and Mr. McMahon.

Carolyn invited Don and me to a dinner following a night of classical music where Carolyn was entertaining many of her society friends, one who was a man called Gordon Getty.  

Since we were not rich or famous (except my husband was more talented than anybody) to me, meeting a Getty sounded so exciting.  The problem was, I had nothing to wear! Plus, it was a last minute invitation, which was normal for summertime dinners back then.

After searching the few fashion stores in Newport, I hightailed it to Boston and to my favorite department store, Saks.

It was an exhaustive search, and I could not find a thing. On my way out I spotted some summer long skirts in the lingerie dept.  One was a ruby red linen, with white music notes all over it-beautiful..Next to the skirts were these filmy white peasant blouses-a perfect combination for a summer evening.

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My red skirt with musical notes looked almost exactly like this, except for the fact that it had musical notes on it.

Don and I joined the musical lovers at Carolyn’s house.  We are talking immense-including a gorgeous ballroom, complete with a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox and a diaz where all the important people sat.

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Our seats were right after the receiving line, far, far away from the VIPs.

When we were introduced to Carolyn’s guest, Mr. Getty, the gentleman made it a point to comment favorably on my ensemble, especially my skirt.  

We went to our seats in the nosebleed section.  After dinner, the jukebox was charged up, and everybody started to dance.  I noticed how intently Mr. Getty kept staring at our table. Slowly, Carolyn’s special friend inched his way toward us, moving slowly upward to the top of the ballroom.  He ended up at our table and sat across from us in one of the empty seats vacated by dancers. Then, little by little he started walking around the table toward me, until he was there, on my left asking me to dance.

My husband did not dance.  He liked to play jazz piano-he did not dance.  However, for the first time and almost last time, Don stood up on my right and announced that we would be dancing. Getty leaning over my left, Don pulling me up on the right, and I was shocked. My husband gave Getty such an impressive dismissal that Getty slunk back to his diaz seat, and I never saw him again.    

 

Gordon Getty

A Waltz In The Park

It was a sunny summer afternoon as a group of us walked through this gorgeous tree-lined park in the middle of a busy city.

We encountered a group of adults dancing, so we stopped to watch them as they gracefully glided to the Vienna Waltz. The music was coming from a boombox. As I was standing there tapping my feet, the lady who was in charge of this dancing group approached me. She asked if I would  like to join them and I eagerly accepted the invitation. A tall slender gentleman over 6 ft tall, approached and he offered to be my partner, and I accepted. Before I knew it, I was twirling round and round in the arms of a man who danced divinely to the Blue Danube, a Strauss waltz, one of my favorite.  It was a dance I would forever remember for many reasons.  

Although I never knew my partner’s name nor the name of the group, I did find out that the leader of the group was the only one of the dancers who spoke English. They spoke their language, Chinese, as were in Shanghai, China.       

 

 

Training A New Husband

My new husband and I had been married for 72 hrs. With no chance of a honeymoon for several weeks, Don and I were about to meet his new law partner.

We were in the elevator on the way up to his partner’s office, when a tall buxom blonde entered.

Don, my new husband who enjoyed several years of bachelorhood prior to our tying the knot, promptly glued his eyes to the lady’s bosoms, right in front of me, ogling her backside as she stepped off at the next floor.  I could not believe my eyes.

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We found our floor, and met the new partner, then I asked Don for the keys to our car without explaining why.  Assuming I would be going to the nearby shopping mall, he handed me the keys and I took off.

Several hours later, like four, Don began to worry. His new law partner told me later that he had noticed the look I gave my husband when I took the car keys, but he said nothing. When Don questioned my whereabouts he turned to him and said “What did you do? You did something wrong.”

The law firm was in Virginia we lived in Maryland, more than an hour’s drive, and I was now home.  The new partner brought Don home several hours later. I calmly sat him down, and let’s just say there was a very clear meeting of the minds and it never happened again.

The U.S.S. Enterprise

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In 1962 I was a First Lieutenant nurse in the United States Air Force, stationed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines — ninety percent of all Vietnam casualties came through Clark.

One day, a Second Lieutenant and I were ordered to transport four naval patients to Subic Naval Base.  Despite losing a motor on our twin-engine plane during flight, we accomplished our mission, then hailed a cab to the Officer’s Club.  On our way, it started to rain heavily and I noticed a soaking wet man in khakis sitting on the curb.  Feeling badly for this soggy man, I instructed the cabbie to give him a lift.  Filled with higher-rank-arrogance, I completely ignored the drenched passenger in the front seat, directing the driver to drop him off at the Enlisted Men’s Club.  Thinking back, I can remember sly looks exchanged between the cabbie and the wet passenger.

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Later, now stripped from our whites, we exited the ladies room bedecked in civilian clothes and heels.  Waiting for us was a naval officer with a big grin who called me by name and asked me to follow him to the banquet hall.  There, I was greeted with applause and wolf whistles by a room full of Officers yelling “Hey, Mary!”  At the very front of this crowd was the “enlisted man” I had “saved.”  Now fully dry, he was wearing a Captain’s uniform!  He introduced himself as the commanding pilot of this rowdy group.  He and his crew of chopper pilots had just finished a heavy assignment in Vietnam and had landed on the USS Enterprise.  As he was the commander, he got off first, which is why he was sitting on the curb.

I was mortified.  He had told everyone about me — the smart-ass Air Force lieutenant.

The commander and I became good friends, but it was the last time I ever pulled rank on anybody.

A Brush With Time

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It was January of 1962 and I was working at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Hollywood, having arrived just a few months earlier.  I was a nurse in the operating room assisting open heart and chest surgeons.

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The gift shop in the hospital was extraordinary.  We nurses who worked there received our paychecks weekly and spent them almost entirely in the hospital gift shop on souvenirs, clothes and jewelry.  I would get my paycheck in one hour and by the end of the day most of it was put right back into that gift shop. It was on one particular payday in January when I was busy looking for my next treasure that I bumped into a gentleman buying a get well card.  He was very tall and smoking a cigar, and I knew who he was. He started to chat with me and told me that his name was Ernie Kovacs and that his mother was a patient, and that she had run over herself with her car. This is Ernie Kovacs, the most celebrated comedian of the day, telling what comes out as a very funny story about his crazy Hungarian mother who had survived this terrible accident, and that he was here to visit her.  Her doctor was one of the two heart surgeons whom I assisted at the time. Even though I was awestruck, Ernie had me laughing about his mother’s antics as he animated the story, “She thinks she’s putting it in park,” he said “but she didn’t and she gets out and goes to the front of the car, and who knows why…” his arms up in the air as if searching for the answer, “and it rolls over her chest!”

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Ernie was a true comedian of the 60s, loved by everyone with his signature cigar and good looks.  He chatted me up for a while, and in a most friendly and gentlemanly manner, he then invited me to a party that evening.  I think he just wanted to show me around Hollywood, there was nothing uncomfortable about his invitation. However, I was new to the hospital and the area, and coming from a small town in Pennsylvania just a few months earlier, I was very naive.  His offer was a little overwhelming, thus I declined.

I returned to my apartment in Hollywood, and relayed my hard-to-believe story to my 2 roomates, about Ernie Kovacs inviting me for a night on the town.  The girls were all a giggle, the room filled with OOOHs and AAHHs – everyone was impressed. We had a such a fun time over this; imagine Ernie Kovacs asking me to a party!

I had purchased a green Ford for $150 in downtown LA when I first arrived to town.  I was using it to get around, but also to teach my two roomies how to drive. It had bald tires, and a rusty exterior, but it ran.  So after supper on my Ernie Kovacs story day, I took them up to Griffith Park for some driving lessons, and when it was dark, and when the park lights came on, we drove up through “the hills” to see the beautiful Hollywood lights.  

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On our way back we took Santa Monica Blvd. to our apartment and it had just started to rain, a typical California rainstorm.  As I approached the Santa Monica Blvd when it split into Santa Monica and Beverly Glen, the bald tires spun on the rainy pavement and my car screeched and slipped.  Fortunately, the old rusty Ford stayed on the road and we got home safely.

Early the next morning, I picked up the newspaper outside the apartment door and the headline read “CRASH KILLS ERNIE KOVACS.”  He was driving alone on Santa Monica Blvd. the night before, and at the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd. and Beverly Glen he slid and hit a telephone pole where the streets split.  He died instantly. He had come to this intersection just a few hours after we did and had been driving in a brand new Chevrolet Corvair. I had been in a $150 Ford with bald tires in the same rainstorm, at the same intersection, and also slipped, and  yet not a scratch on me or my roomies.

I have had many skirts with death, but none compared to this brush with time.  I wanted very much to say “yes” to Ernie Kovacs’s invitation for a night on the town, but I was so young, starstruck and unsure of myself that I declined.  And thank God I did.

Kovacsonthecorner

A Special White House Memory: The Seat Of Power

A Memory By Mary Wenger

Nixon White House

It was November 8, 1972, the evening of President Richard Nixon’s re election. My husband was head of Nixon’s news summary staff –  Pat Buchanan was his boss. In the future I would be working for two other presidents, but for now, I was a ‘go to’ gal for the Republicans, and I was about to have a singular adventure in The White House.

On this evening, I was alone in the Old Executive Office Building, running back and forth to the main white house all night, carrying papers and messages to the employees who would later be bussed to the Shoreham Hotel. There, in front of his family and loyal staff, The President would accept his second term, a landslide victory against George McGovern.

The White House was deserted, except for a lone guard who stood outside the President’s office. He was a young man, and he looked quite tired like me, having been there all night, like me. I asked him if I could look inside.  He said yes.  I asked him if I could go inside, and he just turned his back and yawned. So in I went.

The room was large and beautifully furnished.  On one side stood an enormous desk with nothing on top except one book, “The Winds Of War “by Herman Wouk, a famous writer of the times.  

Across the President’s desk was a huge color television set.  There I was, sitting in the President’s chair, casually dressed in slacks and loafers, watching him once again accept the position of President of the United States, and in color! A color TV was not all as ubiquitous as it is today. I was also sitting where few (if any) females had sat before, much less anyone other than the President himself.  This moment was special.

I stayed there as long as I could – the guard left his post for a snack – which was more than an hour.  The bus was bringing everybody back – it’s now nearing 1 AM on November 8th – and Mrs. Nixon had invited all of us to a celebration in the White House’s family rooms, but I did not go. My night of wonder was complete.  

I have many special memories to recall when I am down or unhappy, or ill or lonely. This is one of them.

NIXON

Hershey’s Chocolate Town USA

Checking into this spectacular moment in my past is like opening a box of fresh chocolates.

My all time fondest childhood memories were the visits to the Hershey Chocolate Factory.

Living only 10 miles away from chocolate heaven, we local kids from the surrounding townships  would make a yearly pilgrimage to what we thought of as our Disneyworld, Universal Studios, and the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory all rolled into one.

We were bused each Spring in big tin school buses, the smell of plastic leather and dirty floors surrounded us, but as I thought about what was ahead all I could smell was chocolate. The moment we saw the street lights dressed as silver covered chocolate kisses, our hearts thumped with anticipation.

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Before we could go in, however, we would dine al fresco with the teachers on extra long picnic tables in the park adjacent to the candy factory.   Sitting outside with the smell of chocolate in the air, we shoved our little hands into our worn-torn paper lunch bags. We would wolf down thick Lebanon baloney sandwiches, and maybe an apple. The faster we ate, the sooner we were in the chocolate factory.  After lunch, mouths watering for chocolate, we marched two by two alongside other kids from nearby schools to the doors of nirvana. 

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Walking through the main entrance of the Hershey chocolate factory, our eyes were filled with over-sized images of chocolate bars, the sweet smell of chocolate, and the noise from the machines was overwhelming our senses.  There were vats and vats filled with a constant stirring of  melted chocolate, with enormous rollers that rolled the thick gooey chocolate back and forth. We buzzed around those machines, dreaming of dipping fingers and hands into the chocolate, which of course we would never do. But in those days you would walk through the factory and could get close to everything. 

All of the build up was finally paying off.  We could hang around the shiny silver vats, smell the thick chocolate in the air, and all we wanted was for it to last forever. Then, at end of the tour, in a straight, single line, we would get our special gift.  We would extend our hands and the chocolate representative would hand each of us a little plastic cup which contained about 3 tablespoons of cold chocolate milk – one gulp and it was down. This, and a handful (3-5 small pieces) of chocolate candies.  By the time we got to our buses, everything was gone.  It was never enough and we would go home with our tummies grumbling for more.

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Presently, to visit the Hershey factory, you can’t walk through the factory like we did in the early 50’s. The tour now consists of a narrated ride in the form of a continuous chain of theme park-style cars (like at Disney World) with a  manufactured feel; an education on where chocolate comes from, how the cocoa beans are selected and cured, the importance of milk in the process, and how chocolate is transformed from the cocoa beans to the chocolate we buy and enjoy every day. The conveyor belts and whirring machines are fake, and there are no people making or packaging chocolate; it’s organized fun, processed and not personal.  In many ways, I think Mr. Hershey’s people goofed with these changes.  That personal touch, literally, and wholesome family feeling is absent from the sterile upgrade.  Yet, I hold on to my chocolate memories as delightful postcards from my past.

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Hershey’s meant even more than this one day a year to the chocolate factory.  Listening to our elders at the family dinner table, we knew that anyone who could get a job at The Hershey Chocolate Factory was set for life.  Free medical and paid vacations were part of the employee package.  This was before unions made their way to Hershey, Pa. As kids, we would dream about being employed in the Hershey Chocolate Factory, and tell ourselves that we would work for free.

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Since I now live far from the Hershey Chocolate Factory and the great state of Pennsylvania,  I have no idea what is happening in Hershey, a town originated on the heels of chocolate bars, except that the town boasts a top of the trees amusement park, a beautiful and first class medical center, and forever in my heart, a chocolate factory built by a good man named Milton Hershey.   

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Hershey Chocolate World Theme Song circa 1981

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCUZbyOtNh0

Hershey Radio Jingle 2002

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_0qG9cfT6M

My Pets Are “My People” Too

Do you remember the name of the person who sat opposite you at your brother/sister/cousin’s wedding dinner?  Or the name of the salesman who sold you your first car? Or when you lost your first molar?  No, you likely can’t. Because these people were not all that important in our lives.

However, I would bet a dollar to a doughnut that you can remember practically all of your pets, if indeed you were lucky enough, like me, to grow up having animals in your life.

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There are those of you who, like my sister, do not like animals. Or, you are unlucky to have allergies out the kazoo to fur or feathers of any kind. Or, you have not had the privilege to have a friend-to-the-end pet in your life.  I have had many pets who helped to make my life more enjoyable, more interesting, and just happier because they were there. My friends. To the end.

I would like to share a few of my friends from my past, and in my present, who traveled along my life’s highway.

“Peso”, a German Shepard, stood guard at the family compound when I was growing up. Nobody, but nobody crossed his path who was not a familiar face.  I can’t say it was “Gunfight At The O.K. Corral” (a famous movie from 1957 starring Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, and Dennis Hopper, among others) in my neighborhood, but close enough. Peso protected my family and my home. His loyalty to us was second only to his love for us and us of him.  The pictures are long gone of me as a child, standing next to this loyal friend as I hung on to his thick furry body, me smiling, and Peso looking happy, with his tongue hanging out; my love for him remains forever in my heart.

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I don’t remember the names of all of the goldfish I had, but I do remember how happy they made me just watching them do their swimming thing.

I remember the kitten I rescued who had fallen into a hole in the ground. He was huddled on a little ledge.  I climbed in halfway and, with my 12-year-old feet digging into the seat (it was an outhouse), I grabbed the crap-covered, wet cat and pulled him out. Both he and I were hosed down by the neighbors who later helped me bathe our furry friend.

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I remember my brother’s rabbits, especially “Big Pat”-one huge, big-eared, friendly bunny who lived for years with us.  We could take the rabbits out of their pens and let them graze in the yard.

I remember “Holly”, a black lab who, like Peso, kept the family safe, as one teenager found out. This teen was looking for drug money and tried to enter our house through the patio doors only to be greeted by a very angry Holly who took a bite out of crime (the kid’s leg)…

Holly decided she was my private friend.  Each night she would sit down right next to me in bed and I would pet her good night. Holly lived a long life.  When she left us, for many nights afterwards, I would put my hand down to pet my dear friend who was not there.

I remember “Inky”.  My daughter wanted a pet of her own, and finally my husband relented to her having a cat, to which I mean we returned home with a beautiful little black dog — it was Inky. My husband was not talking to us for a day. A few days later and many years later, Inky was carried around in my husband’s arms, or he was on his lap in his office.

Inky became Don’s dog, and remained his dog until the end. Many weeks before my husband’s death, Inky stayed on Don’s bed next to him.  For many weeks afterwards, he was still on his bed.

I remember when I first moved to my present home, I took a walk to a dog park a few blocks away, feeling unusually low.  I met a small  brown and white Beagle named “Nimbus”.  He took one look at me across the park, strode across to say hello as if we were the best of friends.  Nimbus introduced me to all the “park regulars”,   the hidden ‘ole swimmin’ hole, the fountains for dogs and people, and you think i’m crazy now, but it happened…I discovered quickly that Nimbus was the King of the park

Nimbus eventually introduced me to his family and they too became my close friends. One day years later, Nimbus did not come when I called him from across the park.  I knew what this meant and said goodbye to him at the park. He died a few weeks later.

“Marley”, named after Bob Marley, comes from Turks & Caicos and was carried home in my daughter’s purse. He was found, tiny, half starved,walking down the middle of a one lane dirt highway.  That was 11 years ago.  Marley is over 60 lbs., my main squeeze. There is no room in this story to tell you about Marley.

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And then there’s “Will”.

Will is a little white dog; a member of the Coton de Tulear family. He is a ball of fluff who puts a smile on my face the minute I hear his yap yap yapping as he drives up in his Toyota to visit.  He is accompanied by another friend, a female human. Will, named after William Shakespeare, has all knowing marble black eyes.  He has conversations with me on a dog-to-human level, always happy conversations.

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I’ve had conversations with many exciting people, and not so exciting people, but my conversations with Will are always more interesting.  And anyway, would you rather talk with Will or with the IRS?  I thought so.

YOU ARE NOT A MOVIE STAR!

How CLEARASIL And I Met When I Was 13

It was 1951, I was 13 and Clearasil was new to the market. It was invented in 1950 to fight pimples, a powerful medicine which gave hope to millions of teens around the world, and it was very popular in my little corner of the world, the small town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

Clearasil was “skin-colored to hide pimples and end embarrassment”, and it could be bought on the relative cheap (.59 cents). It supposedly would rid us of the dreaded scourge-the pimple, which every teenage boy and girl worried over, cried over, wanted to commit harakiri over.

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In those days of no computers and mobile phones – to name a few hundred astounding inventions – soap and water scrubbings, or a visit to the doctor, were the choices we had to rid the blackheads, or the red, raw eruptions.  Neither of these methods were usually successful. So we, the future of the present old people, “went bananas” as they say, when we discovered Clearasil.

I broke into my piggy-bank one morning and bought a tube of Clearasil from the local five-and-dime, a luncheonette store called Kresge’s. The next day, I smeared some of this pinkish-white stuff all over my face. I had to do this at school, and way under my parents’ radar, as any teenager to this day would understand.

In those days, that miracle medicine, when on the skin, looked like Michael Jackson’s face when he was performing in the early 2000’s; white-white and theatrical. When it dried, I kind of got the feeling that I was wearing a white mask, and the longer I wore it, the stiffer it got.  But then again, I was pimple-free.  The stiffer it looked, the better I thought I looked. But you know the saying, “when something is too good to be true.”

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My school was an old, old, broken down McMansion, run by old, old (plus two young) nuns who barely spoke English.  They were well educated ladies, but they lapsed into Slovak whenever they spoke to each other.  They took no nonsense and they showed no mercy.  If you have ever been schooled by nuns you will understand.  And woe to the boys.  Rulers on knuckles were the order of almost every day, the nuns rarely cracked a smile, and the boys would have to kneel on stones when they were bad.

We had no cafeteria, and no hot water  Our lavatories were converted stables, OUTSIDE! (though luckily they were segregated for the boys and the girls), and we could only flush on the third rotation and had to count to know whose turn it was to flush. There were no mirrors in the restrooms, we didn’t have hallways (because it was a house), and for 8 years, I only had seven other classmates.  And like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classroom’s in Little House On The Prairie, there were two grades to a room.  And can you believe that my parents were paying for this? Yep, it was a private school! I would longingly look out the window of this dark, cold McMansion and dream of attending the big, brick public school across the road. However, at graduation, I was the student with the highest average, among all eight of us…I know, wow!

Being a fairly new teenager to the school at the time of this Clearasil story, how proud I was of me. I was sporting this pasty white, pimple-free face.  So there I was, preening, smiling like a jackass eating bumblebees, so sure I looked lovely.  And then, from on high I hear the fateful words from Sister Cornelius.

“Mary!  What on earth did you put on your face? Go out to the lavatory [she would be referring to that nasty stable that I would be hiking to a mile away] and wash that makeup off.  YOU ARE NOT A MOVIE STAR!!”

As I said, there was no hot water, and if you did not bring your own hanky, you were out of luck; the McMansion was not stocked with towels, and we did not have paper towels at this time.   I tried to wash off my masque, but it refused to come off, except in streaks.  It also dried in streaks, thick, pasty race tracks down my face.  If I looked outrageous before with my white masque, I could looked far worse now, and there was nothing I could do, I had nothing to wipe my face with.

I walked the mile hike back to my classroom, red from embarrassment seeping through the thick white streaks on my face, red-white-red-white, where I had to take my seat among my classmates.

And then, as I sat shivering in embarrassment, as gently as a kitten, one of my classmates, a boy named named Leonard, turned to me and said, in a soft voice “Mary, you really did look nice.”  And those five words saved my day.

Doris Day

 

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