E is for an Explanation

Well, they say that confession is good for the soul, so here I come with a confession! I started out my new blog with an alphabet approach to posts. I intended to participate in the Blogging April Challenge. I believe I completed the project in two previous years and really wanted to do it this year, too; however, my energy level for anything, including writing, has been somewhat low since March 8, when I had a total knee replacement.

So here’s my explanation. For years, I have said that I’d write a memoir about being an only child. I even had a title — Growing Up Only. If you’ve read my first three posts on this blog, you’ve seen a bit about growing up as the only child in my family. After trying to think of several things to write about, I’ve decided that my only-child life wasn’t interesting enough to write a whole book about. So . . . I may continue to write alphabetically; however, I won’t be straining to think of childhood memories to put here.

I hate to be a quitter, but in this case, I am, and I really don’t feel too bad about it. I’ll continue to try to wrap my brain about another book that I REALLY want to write . . . one about our son Jay, who died in 1992, when he was only 24. That title will be My Mom’s Always Hot. Strange, you say? You’ll have to read it to get the significance. Here’s a funny photo of Jay and me.

Pinchy Jay

D is for Dogs

When I was a child, I was terrified of dogs. I blame my mother for this and also my dad. I don’t know why they were both so opposed to my having anything to do with these four-legged friends, but what I remember is my mother saying every time a dog was near, “Don’t go near that dog. He’ll bite you!” Hence, my fear. This only child believed everything her parents said, so my mother’s admonition was enough to keep me away from dogs.

I have one specific memory of a dog in our neighborhood. It was a shaggy, dirty mutt, but I approached him anyway and was just about to pet him when Mother shouted her admonition, “He’ll bite you!” I quickly got away. This was in New Orleans, where I grew up from 1945 – 1952.

In 1952, we moved to Pensacola, and one Sunday afternoon after I had gotten my driver’s license in 1956, my best friend Sharon Downing and I were driving around the city, just checking things out . . . something that many people, both young and old, were wont to do on Sunday afternoons. We were riding through a neighborhood and noticed a sign and puppies, “Short-Haired Collies for sale — $10). We stopped, and I immediately fell in love with one of the pups. I called my parents and asked if I could buy one. I’m sure that my mother tried to talk me out of it, but I was insistent. I’d take care of him, and neither Mother nor Daddy would have to do one thing for him. SOLD! So Ruff, named after Dennis the Menace’s dog, went home with me.

I don’t really remember being the one in charge, but I hope I was. Ruff was such a cute, mischievous puppy. My dad especially loved him. I do remember a couple of things that happened with him. When I was a senior, I tried out for our senior play and got a menial part. My home was always a place for parties for young people, so nothing would do, but I had to have the cast party at our house. My mother and I made all the refreshments, and before our final performance, we put everything out on the dining room table with Mother’s best tablecloth on it. Mother and I set off for the performance. Daddy stayed at home with Ruff.

But Daddy wasn’t a very good puppy sitter. He was probably watching Gunsmoke when Ruff took hold of the corner of the tablecloth and pulled everything off the table. By the time that Mother and the cast arrived, Daddy had done his best to get everything back in order, and I doubt that anyone knew the difference.

Then . . . while I was at college, Ruff got into more mischief. He had lots of toys, mainly balls. Daddy took great delight in telling how Ruff dug up the septic tank and threw his balls in it. Even though Daddy had a mess to clean up, he laughed because he dearly loved this dog.

My first dog died during my freshman year at Mississippi College. I believe my parents called to tell me, and I remember being heartbroken. I still had one pet at home, Joe the smartest parakeet in the world, but I still missed Ruff.

I’ll write about other pets in my childhood in a later post, but I must identify the beautiful dog in this post’s photo. She’s not from my childhood; in fact, she didn’t enter our lived until we moved to Cerrillos, NM, in 2003. She and Frank fell in love at the Espanola Animal Shelter, and Maize became a member of our family. She was the sweetest dog, and we loved on her for 11 years. Frank finally had to have her put down because of a terrible tumor. I cried for days.

Now we have Runaway Joe. He spent the night somewhere last night, but he’s home now, thank goodness!

Frank and Joe






C is for Cheatham

C is for Cheatham

I know you must be thinking, “What in the world is ‘Cheatham’?” My name that I had for twenty-one years, of course. I’m writing about it today because it’s a rather different name, one not owned by nearly so many people as “Smith” or “Jones” is.

The correct pronunciation of Cheatham is “Cheetum.” However, during my lifetime, people pronounced it “Chee-thum,” “Chat-um,” and other mispronunciations, but I first said that my name was “Sanny Kay Arlie Cheet-a-mum” or something like that. I loved my daddy so much that I incorporated his name, Arlie, in my own. He liked that.

I grew up during the ’40s, and Tarzan was very popular in movies. So . . . I was sometimes called “Cheetah, the monkey,” after Tarzan’s sidekick or child. I never could really decide the relationship between the man and the animal. Some kids even called me “Cheater,” which I definitely was NOT. I didn’t really like to be called these nicknames, but I knew that my friends were only teasing me. Besides, the names were attention, and I liked that. As an only child, I was always eager to fit in, and in childhood, nicknames allow that fitting in.

I don’t remember any references to my last name when I was in junior high and high school. I guess we were too busy growing up and trying to act a little more adult. I do remember a boy at McMain Junior High who took great delight in saying what I thought were ugly things about my mother, though. I can’t remember exactly what he’d say, but it was something about her hair and a lovely gray steak that she had in it. I think he said something about her dying her hair. To me, that was a grave insult, and I remember threatening to beat him up if he said that again. Ha! Me beating up anyone, even if he was a head shorter than I was? Very funny.

The next time I remember a reference to my name was when I was registering for my first college courses. My cousin Marilyn had told me that I just had to take my Bible courses from Dr. Ernest Pinson. She said that he was the hardest professor in the Bible Department but that I’d learn the most from him. As I handed him my registration card that day, he looked at it, smiled, and told me that the only other time he had seem the name Cheatham was in Laurel, Mississippi, that there was a law firm there called “Lide and Cheatham.” We both got a chuckle out of that, and though it was fifty-eight years ago when my precious Dr. Pinson told me that, I have never forgotten it. I think I took about ten courses from this wonderful, demanding professor.

And then, about three years later, I met my husband-to-be, Frank, whose last name was Young. Back in 1961, when we married, a woman always took the man’s last name as hers. So my legal name became Sandy (really Sandra, but I hate that name, so I never use it) Cheatham Young. If you say all three names together, you’ll know why I never use my maiden name with my married name verbally . . . or in writing, for that matter. Sandy Cheatham Young . . . as opposed to cheating them old?

B is for Betty

I remember very few specific names of friends in elementary school; however, I do remember two friends named Betty. One was Betty Milan, and she was in my grade. Another was Betty Sue Price.

I grew up in New Orleans in what would be termed a project today. All of the apartment houses looked exactly the same. Since we lived only a few blocks from the school that I attended, Judah P. Benjamin Grammar School, I walked to school every day, with several kids joining me as we meandered along, across the railroad track, under the bridge where Airline Highway roared across. Betty Milan wasn’t from my neighborhood, though. In fact, I don’t think I really knew where she lived. The main thing that I remember about her is that she was tall, like me, and that our mothers let us ride the streetcar down to Canal Street a few times by ourselves on Saturday, when we were in the sixth grade.

I’m sure that we ate lunch somewhere, but that’s not what I remember the most. Many of the store windows had signs in them that read “Habla Espanol.” We knew just enough Spanish to know that someone in the store spoke that language. So . . . what did we creative little girls do? We spoke Spanish, too. We’d walk along just chatting away in what we pretended was Spanish, people looking us in the strangest ways. I don’t even know how to write what we spoke . . . just gobbledegook. I’m not sure you’d call us creative. Surely do wish I knew how to get in touch with Betty to see if she remembers our adventures!

The other Betty, Betty Sue, was a bit younger than I was, but we were friends really through our mothers. Betty, like me, was an only child. But she lost this status earlier in life than I did. When she was about ten, her mother became pregnant, and little Rhonda was born in the middle of the night in our car. Betty’s mother, whose name I can’t remember right now, called one night almost delirious. My mother went to take her to the hospital, but she waited too long, and the baby came before Mother could get out of the driveway.

Betty Sue was a sad little girl. Her parents were always on the verge of divorce, and I believe that later they did part. Her dad was the manager of a downtown cafeteria, and her mother was a beautiful lady. It just makes me so angry that I’ve waited so long to write stories because I know that there were so many happenings that I can’t remember.

Anyway, every time I meet a new Betty, I think of these two from my childhood.


A is for Almost an Only


JoAnn        Almost an Only

I remember the place, but the exact date and weather conditions, two things that some people can recall vividly about childhood experiences, escape me. My mother and I were in the new A&P grocery store on Carrollton Avenue in the Mid-City area of New Orleans. Right there in front of the meat counter, where the butcher was probably cutting a roast for her, Mother announced, “I think you may get a little brother or sister.” That’s all she said, no details about what made her think that or when the little one might arrive. She just made the simple announcement to me.

We finished shopping and left the store, walking through those magic eyes that were so new in the late 1940s, the ones that somehow opened the doors for us. I’m sure that we walked the three or four blocks back to our apartment, both of us carrying bags of groceries, not talking much. I’m positive that the little brother or sister was never mentioned again, leaving me to wonder what might have happened to my sibling. No, I never asked because I wouldn’t have known how to ask. You see, I hadn’t a clue about where babies come from.

In those days, or at least in my tiny family, we didn’t talk about such things. Shortly after my little brother or sister disappeared, Mother bought me a book called Growing Up. It had a picture, not a drawing, of a naked child on the cover, and I read through it quickly because Mother told me I had to; however, I remember thinking that it was a nasty book, not so much because of the contents (I really didn’t understand what the author was talking about) but because of that picture.

That little book was my education about “the birds and the bees” until I was a young woman getting ready for married life. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true. The next time that Mother mentioned anything having to do with sex was on my wedding day, when she casually mentioned, as we were sitting on the side of the bed having one last little mother-daughter chat, that she hoped Frank and I were planning to use some form of birth control and that she wanted me to know about douching. Throughout my life, she had always said that she knew she must be Irish because whenever she tried to teach me something, my reply was always, “O’Mother,” with a roll of the eyes. She heard that expression from me again that day, this being the last time that I said it as a single girl.

I know for sure, having talked to Frank about having brothers, that I wouldn’t have grown up so ignorant if I hadn’t been an only child. And I’m sure that there are lots of only children who are either more curious than I was or who had friends with whom they talked about sex; however, I just lived my life in my little world: an only child who wished for siblings but who remained “only” until she was 14, when her status changed.

Fast forward to 1954. School had just started, and I was in the ninth grade, just as happy as I could be. I arrived at home one afternoon in early September and was once again greeted with the sibling news. This time, though, it was different. A little family background is needed here.

My mother’s sister that she was closest to died in February 1954, and her husband died in May. Their deaths left two daughters on their own, the older being 19 and a college student and the younger being 13, just finishing the seventh grade. The summer after my aunt and uncle died, JoAnn, the younger sister came to spend her vacation time with us in Pensacola. In August, she went to live with our aunt and uncle in Texas. Uncle Ty was the oldest of my mother’s brothers and sisters, and he and his wife, Aunt Davy, had been married for many years but had no children. JoAnn had always been their favorite niece, and we all knew that; therefore, no one was surprised that they wanted to complete JoAnn’s “bringing up” in their childless home, a home in which the child would have more creature comforts than she had ever known before. No one in my mother’s family was what you’d call wealthy, but Uncle Ty and Aunt Davy came close to it.

JoAnn was not happy with our aunt and uncle. In fact, she was miserable. Our Texas relatives lived away from town; they had been together, just the two of them, for so long that they were what we call in the South “set in their ways”; my cousin just didn’t think that she could ever fit in. So . . . she began to cry most of the time and to tell Uncle Ty and Aunt Davy that she wanted to go live with Auntie, my mother. Unbeknownst to me, my parents had had conversations with my aunt and uncle, and probably with JoAnn, and had agreed for her to come to live with us. When I look back on it now, I think it rather strange that I wasn’t consulted at all, just told that I was getting a sister.

Sixty years ago is a long time, and, though I can picture once again exactly where we were when my mother broke the news to me (we were standing next to the dining room table in our garage apartment on “Q” Street), I can’t remember too much about the way I felt when Mother dropped the bomb. I think that the minute that she told me, I immediately pictured a little baby; however, when she told me that it was JoAnn, my first reaction was one of disappointment. A little baby would have been so sweet. But then, when I thought of how much fun she and I had had during the summer, I was elated!

I was two years away from getting my driver’s license, and Jo was three; therefore, we were relegated to finding activities to do at home or to having my parents drive us to parties and other activities. At home, we still played dolls (I know that sounds strange) and pantomimed to popular songs like “Hearts of Stone,” “Earth Angel,” and “Make Yourself Comfortable.” We were perfectly happy to entertain ourselves. Of course, we talked about boys after we went to bed in the same room. I must admit that it was strange to have someone else in the house permanently, but I loved this instant sister.

She was much braver than I was in many respects. For instance, I walked into the bathroom one time when she was taking a bath and discovered that she was shaving her legs! Oh, my . . . if my mother found out, she’d really be in trouble. No, I didn’t tell. I never have enjoyed suffering, especially for someone else. And then there was the time when she was in love with Billy while we were still in junior high school. I found out after the fact that she had been to his house to check on him when he was sick. What! Didn’t she know the wrath of Auntie? No decent girl would go to a boy’s house and especially not to his bedroom! I kept her secret.

My cousin was a beauty! She really was. She had beautiful hazel eyes and big dimples. Her hair was lovely, and she almost always wore it in a pony tail, looking so cute. A popular song of our teen years was “Chantilly Lace,” sung by the Big Bopper. Just in case you don’t know the song or in case you’ve forgotten the words, check out the following: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfkvdlBz62k

It’s a true picture of JoAnn. She really was just so cute. I was a studious stringbean, and she was a shapely little girl who attracted lots of attention.

But when Jo went to Pensacola High School, one year behind me, she really fell in love . . . well, fell in love as only a sixteen-year-old can do. She had eyes only for a boy with a double name, Joe Allen. He meant everything to her. She stayed on the phone for what seemed like hours, talking and chewing gum, until my mother told her to hang up. Mother probably had to tell her a few times before the message got through. I just smiled and rolled my eyes. She was very brave.

Jo and Joe Allen’s problem was that Mother wouldn’t let her go out on dates with any boy yet, so they always had to double date. Nothing would do one week, when she couldn’t find anyone else, but she and Joe Allen got me a blind date with his best friend, Bobby. I wasn’t one bit happy about the date, and when Bobby arrived with Joe Allen, I was mortified! He must have been six inches shorter than I was, and I had no way of backing out. This was a blind date, but I just wished that all of the kids at the football game that night could be blind, at least to being able to see Bobby and me. I think I kept my head down the whole evening, in hopes that no one that I knew would see me. Soon after that date, Bobby met Shirley, the love of his life. I saw both of them at Shirley’s and my fifty-fifth class reunion in April, and I couldn’t resist reminding Bobby of that awful evening. He hadn’t even noticed the height difference. That’s a boy for you! He’s still about six inches shorter than I am, but I loved visiting with him and Shirley at the reunion.

We differed not only in looks and interest in boys and bravery; we also differed in what we were drawn to in school subjects. Jo went toward business subjects, and I believe she did very well in subjects like shorthand and typing and accounting. My interests we in anything literary. In fact, in my senior year, I took two full-year English courses: composition and British lit. Both of us went on to use what we had studied in high school in our vocations.

Jo and I have not always been super close in our adult years because she lived in the West and I lived in the South; however, almost twenty years ago, she and her husband moved back to Pensacola so that Fred could help his mother in her last years. Soon after they moved, I began to work for McDougal Littell Publishing Company and traveled almost all the time. We really didn’t see each other much during the years before Frank and I retired to New Mexico. Would you believe that we probably see each other more now that I’ve moved than we did when we lived in the same city? Well . . . almost more. I love visiting with her, and we reminisce a lot.

Jo has never been to one of our cousins’ reunions because of something that someone did to her at some time. I can’t get her to tell me what it is. I asked her not too long ago if I was the one who did something. Did I treat her poorly when she came to live with us? She paused for just a second before she said, “There’s not another only child in the world who would accept someone the way you did.” And that is one of the best compliments I have ever had, given the reputation that “only children” have. The best compliment. I love my ready-made sister.