Ann and I met in Junior High School. She was pretty, had a nice figure, and wore expensive cashmere sweaters with matching skirts, jackets with fur trim, and fine jewelry.
We hadn’t met in grade school because she lived in an affluent neighborhood and attended the nearby grade school where almost-all the students were popular, rich, and considered most-likely-to-succeed.
I don’t know about high schools today but, back then, students formed little cults-or groups- much like a “caste system” and students “hung out” with their specific group. Every morning and
lunch time, these groups gathered at different sections of the school property to talk, flirt, and gossip. It was a hurtful time for those who didn’t belong to a group.
Ann belonged to the number-one group….the one with the most-important, most-popular students, and the group that, for the most-part, consisted of mostly snobs. Looking back, few in the number-one group were able to maintain
their important/popular status after graduation.
Surprisingly, Ann and I attended the same women’s college in St. Charles, Missouri. And, even more surprising, we ended up
as roommates and, that’s where the surprises ended.
She spent every weekend off campus with her boyfriend, the one whose father worked for the railroad, like my father. But, rather
than take a chance on some poor boy marrying his daughter, Ann’s father paid for her current boyfriend to attend an expensive college, drive a fancy car, and live off-campus in a nice apartment. After all, Ann’s family had a reputation
to maintain. They weren’t going to jeopardize their “standing” in the Pine Bluff community by letting their daughter marry a nobody with no-future… or, heaven-forbid.....marry a nobody who worked for the railroad!
I well-remember the day I walked in our shared room and found Ann sitting at my desk, reading my letters. Rather than being humiliated, apologetic, or acting ashamed, Ann just looked at me and laughed.
She couldn’t believe I was corresponding with some lowly private in the Army, some poor guy from a hick town called Sherrill, who didn’t even know how to spell! I can still hear her words as she held up the small picture of my friend in his military
uniform. “My God Sally, you graduated prettiest in our class…. and you can’t do any better than this poor, skinny, uneducated loser?!?!?”
Those were the days
when manners defined us. Regardless of being rich or poor, all of us were expected to use our manners….not some of the time... but all of the time. From birth, I’d been taught to respect people, their privacy, and
their property. My grandmother, the church’s long-time Sunday school teacher, repeated her most valuable lesson year after year, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” and…. I never forgot.
I grabbed my friend’s photo, picked up my personal letters that Ann had rudely scattered acrossed my desk, and left the room. We never spoke of the incident after that day but, I never
trusted my roommate again. I hid my personal items and correspondence in an available locker in the music department. I remained cordial, polite, and managed to finish my freshman year at college without controversy but that year….I lost
a part of my innocence After sharing a room with Ann for nine months, I no-longer thought of Ann as pretty.
That summer, Ann and Harry married. Of course, she asked me to sing at
the wedding and--ever the pleaser-- I said “yes”. After the wedding, I remember standing at the back of the church, ready to leave, when Ann, seeing me, stopped hugging family and friends long-enough to hand me a clumsily-wrapped package. With
a quick "Thank You" followed by a fake, goodbye wave, the new bride hurried back to join her current group.
Later, in the parking lot, I un-wrapped Ann’s
thank you gift. I smiled when I saw the hand-written card from someone named James Winters, wishing Ann and Harry "Much Happiness" with their upcoming marriage. How typical of Ann to overlook the obvious. Someone had sent her
a wedding gift she didn't like or want so--she re-taped the paper around the gift----and passed it on to me. In her haste, she forgot to remove the name of the wedding gift's original sender.
Someone, probably her mother, told her to give me something for singing at the wedding but, like many with no class or integrity, Ann didn't valued me as a person. Why would she waste
time or money, thanking me with a meaningful gift?!?!?
That was sixty years ago and today, I still have the ugliest ashtray ever-created. It’s heavy, thick glass, and totally
lacking in beauty. I don't smoke but, I continue to keep the ashtray nobody wanted as a constant reminder:
"Looks--like people-- are superficial and, with time, fade
Real Beauty come from inside. Regardless of age and time, it only get better."