Thanks to everyone who reached out to me this week. I have been moving around the the USA since I was 6 and it still discombobulates me. I am in southern Florida now. Clearwater is a big and busy place. Not the bucolic (hey, they used that word on Revolution last night) beach town I had imagined. It is busy with people of all ages but mostly people older than I am, so there is that.
Back to St. Anne's where 90+ girls in various stages of pregnancy live together, eat together, go to school together, work together, and get into as much mischief as possible, together. Was this a happy community where we "all just got along"? Heck, no. We came from all over California and from all different economic and cultural backgrounds. We were like a family, though. Remember, we were living in Southeast L.A. barely ten years after the riots. It was still a volatile place to be. So, we tended to hang out in packs and whoever was in that pack had the back, and sides of whoever else was in that pack. Literally, because at 8 and 9 months pregnant it is hard to get a 360 view. You are pretty much limited to looking at what is right in front of you. turning around was a process. As my grandfather said of his car once, "you gotta swing that baby wide." So, having a pod or a pack of girls allowed each of us to get a piece of the bigger picture. We never had any trouble. The residents were most likely used to seeing herds of girls doggedly walking around the neighborhood trying to do what we were always trying to do, induce labor.
As I mentioned above we worked and went to school. Whatever course of study we chose came with credits that were accepted at any high school in California. Our choices were PBX Operator and Grocery Store Cashier. I chose PBX Operator because of Geraldine on The Laugh-In show. For those of you to young to know what Laugh-In was, I think they still show reruns on Nick at Night. Geraldine was a character created by Lily Tomlin. I provided a link to a You Tube clip for you. It is hilarious. Geraldine was a "potent with omni in front of it." switchboard operator who would pretty much connect the two ends of the telephone cord wherever she felt like it. She was my hero. I know this is pre-history to some of you, so you are going to have to Google "PBX switchboard", while your'e at it Google Lily Tomlin, who is brilliant. Of course, the world went digital almost immediately and the phone company probably stopped using PBX before I even delivered my son! The Grocery Store Clerks learned how to use a cash register that did not tell you how much change the shopper was owed. They were more like big calculators that showed the numbers that you punched in and a total, but the Cashier had to do the math to figure out if any change was due and how much. Many of the girls who trained on those older cash machines got jobs that provided them training as the technology changed in grocery stores. They got the good jobs.
We also worked. Two hours a week in the laundry was mandatory for every girl, unless the Doc put you on bed rest. You could pick your two hours or have the Nuns pick them for you. I did Saturday mornings and I loved it. I still love doing laundry. There is something comfortingly finite about it. The washing machine starts and stops at preset times that I can choose and so does the dryer. That wasn't true of the industrial size washers and dryers at St. Anne's. Those had to be waited on but early on Saturday mornings before the smog rolled in and the air got stale and humid, it was just lovely in that basement laundry room. I would stand, there were no chairs just big washers and dryers and long folding tables, and look out the window feeling good about myself. Pregnancy agreed with me. I was always oddly pleasant and content, considering the circumstances, but those hormones were working for me and I felt good about myself for the first time in my life. As I said, we moved a lot. Every two years I was the new kid in school. One year I actually attended three different schools in two different states. I was not a happy camper. But, standing under those windows looking out at the dying grass that edged the broken sidewalk, littered with broken glass and cigarette butts, and the small horizon of sky that fit in the frame of the window, I was good and life was gonna be good.
Another interesting aspect of St. Anne's is that the girls who lived there, over the decade of the 1970s were used to make the laughter you hear on old television shows. They would pack us up in a bus and drive us over to Burbank or Culver City or Hollywood and we would make up the live audience whose responses to the show we were watching were recorded separately from the way the actors were recorded or filmed, and then it would be edited all together and put on television. I know that the "canned" laughter or "laugh track" as it is called was recorded separately and used for a number of shows because I remember sitting in the audience for a sitcom that was not long lived and one of us said, "oh no" and started to laugh. I cannot tell you how many shows from the 1970s and 80s have used that laugh. Every time I hear it I remember sitting in this big room with all the seats crowded together. There were usually 25-30 of us and we sat in the dark, freezing to death while the actors said their lines and cameras were repositioned; then actors would say their lines again and the cameras would have to be moved again. It was exhausting. I have never since had to work that hard to make myself laugh.
I also remember that we were taken to see Cathy Rigby, at that time a fairly recent winner of the Olympic Gold medal in Gymnastics, play Peter Pan. As I stood at the basement laundry room window I would imagine myself being drawn out through the window by sturdy theatrical wires to Catalina Island where I would live forever in peace and quiet. Yeah, my imagination has always served the pragmatic. I had never been to Catalina, so it was a magical place to me and I knew I would never fly like Cathy Rigby but those heavy duty wires we weren't supposed to be able to see could take my weight for a quick trip over the Pacific to, the unknown to me and therefore magical, Catalina Island, where living was something that came naturally; not necessarily easy but open and accepting.