In case you missed my article in the last issue of The Senior Voice, I wrote about my mother’s letters to my father in the days when their relationship first blossomed. It was 1939. My mother was 17 years old, a recent graduate of Arlington Hall in Virginia, and in the midst of the Cincinnati debutante season. My father worked in Washington D.C. at the time, so letters, telegrams and a few expensive telephone calls were how they kept in touch.
When the deb parties ended in early January 1940, my grandparents traveled to California for the winter with my mother, Betsy, and her older sister, Mur, in tow. My grandfather traded his Ford in for a new “Chev” roadster. The family trip would take a week by car, through St. Louis (Hotel Chase), Little Rock (Hotel McGehee – Mom thought the place was “cheesy”), Dallas (Baker Hotel), Bisbee (Copper Queen Hotel) and, finally, Beverly Hills, California.
Upon reaching Beverly Hills, they rented Apartment B, 9949 Durant Drive – no zip code, of course – from January until early April, 1940. Their telephone: Crestview 6-5946.
What do teenagers do for fun in California? They look for movie stars, attend “double feature” movies and find other friends with whom to hang out. Downstairs in apartment A were four young bachelors, one of whom became a very good friend. He was a 22 year old pianist with Skinnay Ennis’ band named “Skitch” Henderson, who would later become the orchestra leader for the Johnny Carson Show. In 1940, he was just a young, struggling musician who liked to play cards and have fun with the girls from Cincinnati. He got them backstage passes to many of the entertainment venues in the city and accompanied the family on trips to the beach.
Meanwhile, my mother and Mur cleaned the apartment and learned to cook. Mom’s letters to Dad often informed him how much she was learning about household management and her efforts in the kitchen. In the evening, if there were two card players, it was gin rummy; if there were three, it was hearts; if there were four people, it was bridge. On rainy days, my mother knitted and worked on needlepoint by the radio. She sent my father two pairs of wool socks with stretchers, and emphasized that he must use the stretchers or the socks would shrink!
My mother celebrated her 18th birthday while in Beverly Hills. Dad sent her roses, a package and a telegram. Already madly in love with my father, I’m sure the roses melted her heart even more. I sense from the letters that passing her 18th birthday was a milestone – it meant that she was officially a grown woman now, and ready to take on the responsibilities of this role. Not really “your little girl” anymore.
This trip was the first vacation my mother had taken with her family outside of Cincinnati, Arlington Hall or their Michigan cottage. It was her discovery of the wider world. She left a teenager and came back a young woman, confident and ready to take her life to the next level.