Chances are…

Chances are you have had a seemingly random encounter or two in your life that you long remember. Someone, sometimes even a stranger, makes a random comment that strikes a nerve and stays with you.  I had such an encounter back in 1970.

I was an awkward, restless sophomore in high school, trying hard to be “cool” and trying to find my place in small town, Midwestern teenage wasteland.  Somehow, one fall afternoon I ended up in an empty school hallway while classes were in session with one other person, one of the truly popular girls. We had a brief conversation that stayed with me over 50 years. In her mini skirt and groovy sweater with her amazing long dark hair looking like she had just stepped out of a shampoo commercial, Barb could have graced the front cover of Teen Magazine. She was a senior and the epitome of cool in my eyes.  That day Barb shared that she was on her way to deliver a note declining the Letterman Club’s nomination for homecoming queen.  She felt a little weird turning them down and didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but she didn’t believe in beauty contests.  I couldn’t believe my ears!  Had she lost her mind???  How could she not want to be paraded out in front of the student body on the arm of a letterman?  How could she not want the sash, the flowers, the crown??? At least that is how I remember it…

Downtown Rolling Prairie, Indiana

Fifty years later, I came across Barb’s name on a Facebook group from our old stomping grounds, Rolling Prairie, Indiana. I decided to send her a message and thank her for our encounter that day which planted a seed of feminism in me.  She quickly responded and we commenced on a fascinating exchange that I will long treasure.

 Barb doesn’t remember our interaction, but she does remember going to deliver that message to the Letterman Club.  She suspects she didn’t refer to beauty contests, but to popularity contests, because of something niggling at her.  During her junior year, her mother had initiated a conversation with her about popularity, with her mother going so far as to inquire, “Why don’t you let somebody else have a chance to be a cheerleader?”  Barb had been a varsity cheerleader since her freshman year.  That had put her on the “popular” track, and in a small town like ours, it became part of your definition.   In addition to the status that came with cheerleading, she loved the athleticism and choreography. Our country was on cusp of Title IX, but it would be years before young women in small town Indiana had many choices.  Her mother’s words stuck with her and she opted out of cheering her senior year.  However, that didn’t stop the Letterman Club from nominating her for homecoming queen, the nomination that she declined. By the way, the Letterman simply nominated another girl in Barb’s place and that young woman went on to be crowned homecoming queen.  Oh, the power of the Letterman Club!

Much like Barb’s discussion with her mother planted a seed that stayed with her, Barb’s words and deed that fateful day planted a seed in me.  It broadened my viewpoint and raised my conciseness a level or two. I will always be grateful.  Through our exchanges following my initial contact, Barb shared that she thought her rejection of popularity contests was more of a justice issue than a feminism issue, but we decided that justice is feminism and feminism is justice!  

During a particularly reflective moment, we may wonder if our life has touched or influenced anyone else’s.  Reminiscing about this long-ago encounter reminded me that even the briefest of exchanges may be meaningful to someone else.  Chances are we will never know if we have made an impression on someone.  So, it’s pretty darn cool when you can let them know and thank them – even if it is fifty years later.

C’est la vie.

12 thoughts on “Chances are…

  1. Well done, girlfriend!! I had so much fun with you in our exchanges about your high school hallway memory. It took me aback! That conversation with my mother had a lasting impact on me, evolving and expanding into broader issues of “social justice” over the years. That I was rolling it over in my mind as I walked to decline the Letterman nomination – and discussed it with you! – came as a complete and delightful surprise. Seeing your wedding pictures today, I remember you well. Reading your other posts, I find them comforting and quite easy to visualize because of our common RP roots. I “see” your father relaxing on the sofa reading “A Woman Named Storm.” AND THEN NAMING YOU STORMY!! COOL!! Have you had a chance to read it? After engaging with you, it’s on my “must read” list. Thanks for being a fabulous, reflective listener – a valuable skill on top of being a skilled writer. Here’s a memory for you, something else to think about. I’m friends with scads of people from Rolling on FB and I’ve noticed something: we all communicate fairly well in writing and we all share a similar style. I blame Nedra Dudley (said tongue in cheek). Seventh and eighth grade English!! I feared her! I did my homework!! I memorized poems (Abu Ben Adam, May his tribe increase, Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace, And saw within the moonlight in his room…I bet YOU can finish that!!) and stood to recite them when called on to do so, praying I didn’t get a stanza with the word “breast” or “bosom” in it. That woman taught us ALL to write. Was she still teaching when you reached 7th grade? She was pretty old when I was in “junior high.” I think we all received a very solid, basic education in good old RP. And our teachers either lived next door (Mrs. Sellars, Mrs. Corbin) or we knew where they lived. My brother and his wife, btw, live in the house I grew up in so I can go there anytime. Do you ever visit? Thanks for the fun!!

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    • Thanks! I hadn’t thought of the poem in years, but yes, it’s in my head. I did have Mrs. Dudley. What I remember most from her class was her telling us when she played basketball in junior high, a reporter had referred to her as corpulent. She was very excited until she learned the meaning of the word. She was illustrating the importance of vocabulary!
      I’m still on the search for a copy of A Woman Named Storm. Thanks to my niece, I now know the author is Hector Chevigny.
      Thanks so much for all you shared. It was a fun post to write!

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      • What a great – and perfect! – memory of Mrs. Dudley. Grrrr that the reporter called her corpulent but YAY that she was playing basketball waaaay back in the day! Hope you find the book; if you do, let me know!!

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  2. Btw, I was an awkward, restless Senior girl trying to look cool – SO glad you “bought it!” And now I’ve come full circle, again an awkward, restless Senior. 🙂

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  3. If you’re ever restless enough to get all the way to the west coast (this wouldn’t surprise me from what I’ve read), I’m in Monterey. Not so great right now as the sun is covered by smoke and it’s raining ash, but otherwise it’s a jewel if you haven’t been here! You have a son in the west, you said but you didn’t say how far west. Fingers crossed that 2021 is a better year for wanderers!!

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    • Fingers are certainly crossed. I don’t actually have a son in the west, we were going to travel west and take my grandsons to several different national parks. That son lives in the D.C. area, another is just outside of Chicago and the youngest is in State College, PA. I do have a niece and two nephews in California, LA and San Diego area. It’s on my bucket list…

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      • Got it! It was a Camp Grandma goes “road trip” plan. I hope your boys have a chance to see those parks!! We’re going to start all over, hopefully, in 2021!!

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  4. Thank you Stormy for the great story of one of those chance meetings that impact us so much! Plus, I’ve heard of her cheerleading prowess, but never saw her photos before. Love them. 6 years after your chance meeting, I had a chance meeting with Barb too, in Santa Cruz California. I was looking to rent a room in a house with 3 other women…two of them interviewed me, and knew I would get along with the third woman…Barbara Crum, who was in Indiana at the time, visiting. That was 1976, and here in 2020 we are still best friends! 44 years and counting…. Cheers, Coleen Douglas

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    • Hello! Chance meetings/encounters are a curious and interesting part of life. How wonderful to have a friendship that has lasted 44 years and is still going strong. People grow and change so much through the years, not all friendships can survive so kudos to you two! Thanks so much for reading…

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