Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mother's Story, Chapter 7

Riding back to Friona, Texas from Hot Springs, New Mexico, in the back seat of Orville and Charlotte Putnam’s Model T, Willie Mae once more faced an uncertain future. She longed to see her parents, but didn’t want to move back home after tasting independence.
When they arrived at Ennis‘s, she felt delighted to see her parents’ car in front of the house. Orville carried her suitcase in while she told Charlotte goodbye. “I’m so glad the baths helped. You keep walking every day, and if I can help you while I’m here, please let me know.” Willie Mae opened the car door so she could give the older woman a hug.

“Thank you, Bill. I plan to go for a walk after breakfast and after supper every day. Join me any time you can.” Charlotte patted Willie Mae’s back.

Orville climbed back in the car. Willie Mae leaned across Charlotte and extended her hand. “Thank you, Orville. I’ll never forget this month with Charlotte.”

He shook her hand, tipped his hat and put the car in gear. “You’re welcome, Willie Mae - uh - Bill. Thanks for taking care of my dear wife. She is definitely stronger.”

As they drove off, Willie Mae turned and hurried to the house where everyone waited to exchange warm Cummings kisses. “I’m so glad to see you, Mama. You, too, Dad. What a wonderful surprise.”

Dad hugged her, then held her by the shoulders at arms length. “You’re looking fit, Daughter.”

Mama measured Willie Mae‘s upper arms with her fingers. “How much weight did you gain? You remind me of that Chesterfield radio ad: ‘so round, so firm, so fully packed.”

Willie Mae blushed and laughed. “Bathing in the hot springs with Charlotte every day gave me a big appetite. And the hotel provided a lot of food to satisfy it.”

Mama and Dad expected her to go home with them the next day, but she decided to accept Ennis and Jewell’s invitation to stay and help out on the farm. Mama teared up when she kissed Willie Mae goodbye. “All my little chicks are leaving home.”

Willie Mae felt a twinge of sadness, but smiled. “I’ll be home in a few weeks. You’re not rid of me yet.” Dad’s hug seemed a little fiercer and longer than usual. She buried her face in his neck, inhaling the familiar aroma of shaving soap and Prince Albert pipe tobacco. Tears welled up as she realized Mama was right. Willie Mae was determined to find her own way now. I’ll be home, but just for visits in the future.

* * *

She and Jewell harvested and canned green beans, sweet corn and tomatoes. The rows of green, yellow and red vegetables in glass jars on shelves in the cellar looked beautiful. The two women dug up potatoes and stored them in burlap bags.

Mornings, after Ennis milked their cow, Willie Mae helped him separate the cream from the milk. She used the cream to churn butter, packed the butter into a rectangular wooden form that made one-pound cubes. Wrapped in waxed paper, the butter and quart bottles of buttermilk were stored in the well house. Jewell’s neighbors came to the house to buy them, along with eggs. After Ennis milked in the evening, he brought the bucket of warm milk into the kitchen, where Willie Mae or Jewell strained it through cheesecloth, poured it into bottles and stored it in the ice box for the family.

“How do you manage all this work without help?” Willie Mae strained and bottled milk while Jewell cooked supper. Willie Mae remembered thinking that Jewell was gruff when they first met because her manner was so serious. She seldom smiled. Now Willie Mae knew Jewell had a heart of gold.

“I just work later at night,” Jewell shrugged. “I’m so glad you stayed to help. Tomorrow is Saturday. Let’s go to town. I made enough money this week to pay you a little. You can buy some material to make a new dress for fall.”

“Why, thank you, Jewell.” Willie Mae bent her knees, lowering herself to her sister-in-law’s height, put her arms around her and squeezed, pressing Jewell’s large bosom into her smaller one.

The next day, after shopping at the dry goods store, they took the children to the drug store for an ice cream soda at the fountain. While they waited for their drinks, they sat on wire chairs with wooden seats and admired the dark blue light-weight wool yardage and white braid trim Willie Mae had chosen.

Behind her, Willie Mae heard a woman’s voice, “Is that you, Bill Cummings? What are you doing here?”

Turning, Willie Mae recognized a stylishly dressed young woman with dark waves and a wide lip-sticked smile. “Hi, Ruby. Can you join us? Have you ordered? Oh, this is my sister-in-law Jewell, and her children Dorothy Sue and Doyle.”

As Ruby acknowledged the introductions, Willie Mae stood to pull over an extra chair from a nearby table, then explained to Jewell. “Ruby and Elma taught together two years ago.” Jewell nodded and looked pleased that Willie Mae had a friend near her age in town.

After they all had their sodas, Ruby turned to Willie Mae. “Why don’t you stay in town with me tonight? I have a date, and I can call him to bring someone to go with you. We’re going to dance at the hotel over in Clovis.”

Raising her eyebrows, Willie Mae looked at Jewell hopefully.

“It’s fine with me and I’m sure Ennis won’t mind.” Turning to Ruby, Jewell asked, “Can you bring her to the Church of Christ for services tomorrow?”

Ruby clapped her hands. “Sure. It’s the church I grew up in, and I’ve been thinking I should start going there. Now I won’t have to walk in alone the first time.”

Willie Mae looked down at her clothes. “Is this all right to wear to the Clovis Hotel? It’s a long way out to the farm to change.”

“Don’t worry.” Ruby waved in a dismissive gesture. “We’re close to the same size. You can wear one of my dresses. Your shoes are perfect.”

Glad for the diversion, Willie Mae suspected Ennis and Jewell would be happy to have just their family in their tiny house for a change.

She and Ruby went to Ruby’s duplex apartment. Ruby called C.F. Brownlee, her date for the evening. “Hi, Honey. I ran into a girlfriend who’s visiting Friona. Can you bring a friend for her tonight?” After a pause, she added , “She’s beautiful, blonde and a lot of fun. He‘d better be handsome and well-mannered.” Willie Mae blushed, as Ruby laughed and hung up the phone.

The young women spent the afternoon exchanging facials and manicures. As they finished, another friend of Ruby’s, Nona, arrived. She came through the front door without knocking. Before Ruby had a chance to introduce her, she blurted, “I finally got a date for the dance in Clovis tonight.”

“Have a seat so I can introduce you to Bill Cummings.” Ruby indicated a burgundy velvet easy chair. “C.F.’s getting her a date for tonight as well.

“ I’ve never met a girl named Bill before.” She went on before Willie Mae could reply. “I don’t really care for my date.” She picked up a nail file and smoothed the edges of her fingernails. “There’s only one boy in this town I want to go with.”

Ruby looked quizzical. “Who’s that?”

Nona rolled her eyes dreamily and sighed, “Joe Hale.” She dropped the nail file back on the table and rose. “Nice to meet you, Bill. See you both later in Clovis.” She disappeared out the door as quickly as she’d appeared.

When Ruby’s date arrived, Ruby introduced him. He, in turn, introduced the good-looking man at his side as Joe Hale.

“Oh, la-de-da,” thought Willie Mae. “I guess I’ve hit the jackpot.”

Riding beside Joe in the back seat of C.F.’s Chevrolet, Willie Mae and Joe talked non-stop for the 30 miles from Friona, Texas, to Clovis, New Mexico. She had to explain one more time how she came to be called Bill. He in turn told her that he worked for his niece’s husband, the wholesale agent for Phillips Petroleum Company.

The life of the party that night, Joe told stories that kept the others laughing. “I was much younger than my sisters and brother. One time when I was three, I crawled into my mama’s quilt box and pretended to be a chicken. My mama and older sisters looked everywhere for me, calling frantically. They finally decided I that fell in the river and washed away. They were crying hysterically when I cackled from the quilt box. My sister Minnie grabbed me and shook me. ‘Why didn’t you answer us when we called you?‘ I said ‘Couldn’t. I was a chicken and I couldn’t cackle until I laid an egg.’”

On the dance floor, he made Willie Mae feel like she was a wonderful dancer and was meant to be his partner. By the time he walked her to Ruby’s door, Willie Mae was smitten. She dreamed that night of his face: laughing hazel eyes, high cheekbones, prominent nose, dark complexion contrasting with light brown hair. She’d indeed hit the jackpot with this blind date.

* * *

The rest of the summer was a whirlwind of work on the farm, including helping to hoe Ennis’s maize crop and to haul water to the plants. The small harvest was better than many Dust Bowl farms managed that year. One night a windstorm covered the fence to the cow’s pen with sand. Molly the cow walked over the fence and the family had to go looking for her in the neighboring fields the next morning.

One evening the week after their blind date, Joe visited Willie Mae. They sat on a bench under a cottonwood tree in the yard. Sharing stories of their families and growing up on Texas farms, they found similarities and differences in their lives.

“I grew up on a farm on the Salt Fork of the Brazos River, where my dad raised horses. Since this drought started, there’s no grass and he can’t afford to buy hay, even if you could find any. He’s practically giving away horses to whoever can afford to feed them.” Joe laughed. “Luckily, my niece’s husband could give me a job this summer, but looks like that might not last long. Farmers can’t pay for their gasoline until their crops come in, and the crops don’t look good. I’m warning you, Bill, I’m going to be poor for a few years.”

Willie Mae snuggled as close to his broad shoulder as she could get. “Don’t worry, Joe. I think you’re going to do just fine.” It was true. Something about being with him made her feel secure. “Tell me about your niece and her family. What‘s her name?”

“Eula Mae. Her mother, my oldest sister, died when she was four. She’s just six months younger than me. My mother took her to raise until Mama died when we were 16. Eula Mae’s father had the neighboring farm, so she was back and forth between the two places. Since I’m a lot younger than my brother and sisters, she’s the one I grew up with.”

“I like her middle name,” Willie Mae joked. “How about her husband? Is he good to work for?”

Joe smiled “Yeah, he is. Last week, Eula Mae got mad at me and said I was fired. She has quite a hot temper. I said something she didn’t like when I was home for lunch. I didn’t go back to work, and her husband, Tiny Magness, came to find out why. I said, ‘Your wife fired me.’ He said, ‘I do the hiring and firing for my business. Now get back to work.’” Joe laughed.

* * *

Ruby told Willie Mae that Joe had gone with Tiny’s sister Marie for a time. “C.F. thinks she broke up with him because he wouldn’t go to the Baptist church with her.” Ruby paused. “He is a little wild, isn’t he?”

“I guess he is, but I really like him. He seems honest and I’ve never had so much fun in my life. He actually told me about Marie, after I met her. He took me to Eula Mae and Tiny’s house for supper last week, and Marie was there. She’s awfully pretty.”

“Well, Joe seems crazy about you, now. You two look great on the dance floor.”

They’d returned to the Clovis Hotel to dance several more Saturday evenings. One night, Jewell and Ennis left the children with neighbors and went along. That was the night that Joe drank enough to slur his words when he talked. When Ennis and Jewell left the dance, Jewell stood next to Joe’s chair, shook her finger close to his face and said, “Joe Hale, you’d better take care of this girl,” indicating Willie Mae. Joe laughed, but later said, “Your sister-in-law doesn’t think I’m good enough for you.”

Willie Mae denied it, but had an uneasy feeling it might be true.

Nevertheless, she was in love with Joe and believed, based on his attentiveness toward her, that he returned her love.

* * *

When Doyle started to school and the harvest was in, Willie Mae knew it was time for her to leave. They hadn’t said anything, but Ennis and Jewell didn’t need another mouth to feed in such hard times. She made the decision early in September and let them know she‘d need a ride to the bus on Saturday.

That night, Joe looked gloomy as he got out of the car. Willie Mae dreaded telling him she was leaving, and when she saw his face, her dread deepened. Was he going to break up with her?

She went to meet him.

“Hi, Bill.” He bent to kiss her lightly on the lips. “Tiny finally had to lay me off. There‘s just not enough money coming in for him to pay me.”

“Oh, no.” Willie Mae cupped his face in her hands. “I hate for you to look so sad. What will you do?”

“I’ll go live with Pop in Sagerton. I’ll write you, and come to get you as soon as I can so we can get married.”

Willie Mae’s heart leapt to her throat. “I’m going home, too. I’ll write you every day, Joe.” She kissed him tenderly. “I’ll be waiting. Impatiently.” She laughed.

“You know we’re going to be poor, don’t you? I just hope I can find some kind of job by Christmas. I want us to be married by then.”

Never had Willie Mae felt so happy and sad at the same moment. She finally knew what Shakespeare meant by “sweet sorrow.”

* * *

Back in Floydada, Willie Mae spent time every day writing letters to Joe. He answered with interesting letters telling her the news of his dad, Wiley Hale, whom the family called Pop, and his sister Juanita, called Nit, who lived near them.

In November, he wrote, “I still can only find odd jobs, but we‘re getting by. This week I’m unloading coal from the train. I want to come get you on December 20th. We’ll drive to New Mexico and get married. We can live with Pop until I find something more. I hope you’ll say yes, Bill. I miss you so much.”

Willie Mae replied by return mail, filling two sheets of paper with the word “yes”.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mother's Story, Chapter 6

In June of 1932, a few days before her 20th birthday, Willie Mae’s north-bound bus stopped in Hart, Texas Her sister Aileene farmed near there with her husband, Jack Smitherman. Four months earlier, Willie Mae stayed for two weeks to help Aileene when her baby girl, Patsy, was born. She took care of Patsy’s two-year-old sister, Polly. She’d love to see the babies today and always enjoyed visiting her adored older sister. Nevertheless, she decided to go directly to Friona to start her new job assisting Charlotte Putnam.

Hurt by her involvement with Fred Jenkins, this was the first time since then that Willie Mae anticipated her future. Excited and nervous, Willie Mae doubted she’d ever live with her parents again. After watching six siblings leave home and make their way in the world as adults, her time had come.

Elma, the fun-loving brother nearest her age, was just 19 when Dad signed papers allowing him to marry Vivian Sterling, who was not yet 18. Elma finished an accounting course and now lived in Canyon with Vivian and their two-year-old daughter, Elma Lynn.

Willie Mae’s brother A.D., who taught her world history in high school, was now superintendent of schools in Floydada. He and his wife, Rose Stewart, expected their first child soon. They were in Illinois, where A.D. was finishing a Masters Degree in education.

Willie Mae put the depression of her high school years and the heartbreak of Fred Jenkins behind her. She was at last on her own path.

The flat fields she watched from her bus window seemed alarmingly dry and dusty. She couldn’t remember when it had last rained. She picked up the newspaper Dad handed her as she got on the bus. Skipping the news of the presidential campaign, Willie Mae read about seventeen-thousand unemployed ex-servicemen who were living in tents near the White House. They had bonus certificates from World War I, and were trying to get a law passed forcing the government to cash them. More interesting to Willie Mae was the story of Amelia Earhart’s solo flight across the Atlantic. Most electrifying was that Jackie Mitchell, a 17-year-old girl, signed as a pitcher for the Memphis Lookouts, a minor league men‘s team. Jackie struck out the great Babe Ruth in four pitches and Lou Gehrig in three, in an exhibition game. Willie Mae felt optimistic. Women could do things they’d never been able to do before.

She folded the paper, thinking of her future. She’d asked Dad and Mama to send her to nursing school last year, but Mama said no, explaining, “I can’t stand to think of my daughter giving men baths.” Her new job helping Mrs. Putnam would be a little like nursing. Maybe it would lead to other opportunities.

* * *

“Give me a Cummings Kiss,” her brother Ennis held his arms out as Willie Mae stepped down from the bus. Behind him, his wife Jewell held Dorothy Sue, who was almost 4, in her arms. Doyle, 8, waited beside his mother. Willie Mae stooped to hug her sister-in-law, who was much shorter but able to extend an infinitely warm embrace. Her arms enfolded Willie Mae along with the little girl she carried on her left hip.

“Hi, Dorothy Sue. Look how you’ve grown!” Willie Mae kissed the soft cheek the child offered. Turning to Doyle, Willie Mae hugged him and they exchanged kisses on both cheeks. Warm happy greetings were a Cummings tradition.

They all drove the ten miles to Ennis and Jewell’s farm over a bumpy caliche road, leaving a trail of white dust hanging in the air behind the car. Willie Mae was again struck by the dryness of the fields surrounding them.

“When do Mr. and Mrs. Putnam want to leave for New Mexico?” Willie Mae was anxious to know more about the couple she’d be working for.

“I’m not sure. After supper, we’ll go over to their house and find out their plans.” Ennis turned into a lane bordered by small juniper trees Jewell had planted. Willie Mae was impressed at how hard her sister-in-law must’ve worked for that bit of beauty in the flat landscape. The long lane led to a tiny house the couple had built on this homesteaded land.

The house had just two large rooms. Half of the front room held the kitchen stove, ice box, pie safe, a small section of cabinets, a counter top with a sink and a homemade table with six chairs. The front door led to the “parlor” quarter of the room. Two easy chairs flanked a wind-up record player. Farther back were two beds and a chest of drawers. Both beds were cot-sized with cotton mattresses folded in half over flat metal springs. When more sleeping space was needed, the springs could be extended and the mattresses unfolded to make double beds. One of them had been folded out and fitted with fresh, ironed white sheets. Ennis and Jewell’s bedroom was in back.

“Bill, you’ll share Dorothy Sue’s bed.” Ennis put her suitcase on top of the dresser that stood between the two beds.

“Oh, good. I get to sleep with the prettiest girl in the world,” Willie Mae gave the child a hug.

Dorothy Sue blushed and smiled. “Will you sing to me?” The nephews and nieces seemed to love hearing Willie Mae’s large repertoire of songs and dramatic readings.

“I sure will. Here’s a chair where we can sing together.” Willie Mae touched a rocker near the children’s beds.

The delicious aroma of beans with ham hock simmering on the coal stove greeted them. Willie Mae set the table while Jewell made cornbread and opened a jar of chow-chow, a green tomato relish. They cooked corn-on-the-cob and sliced luscious ripe tomatoes from Jewell’s garden. After supper, everyone piled back into the car and drove about a mile south to the Putnams’ home. Jewell introduced Willie Mae. “This is Ennis’s sister, Bill.”

Orville extended his hand. “How did a pretty girl like you get the name Bill?”

His good-natured smile put her at ease. “My name is really Willie Mae. I had a lot of older brothers. I’m not sure which of them first called me Bill, but I seem to be stuck with it. I’m happy to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Putnam.”

“Please, call us Orville and Charlotte.” Orville gave her hand a hearty shake and turned to his wife, sitting in a rattan chair with wheels. Her legs were wrapped in a quilt despite the warm weather.

Willie Mae shook Charlotte’s extended hand and returned her smile. “I hope I can be helpful to you.”

Charlotte squeezed Willie Mae’s hand, then lowered her brown eyes. Her skin was pale in contrast to her dark hair, but Willie Mae thought she was pretty.

Orville spoke up. “I’m sure you’ll be helpful. The doctor said that a few weeks of mineral baths at Hot Springs might dissolve the blood clot that is keeping Charlotte from walking. We thought it was certainly worth a try. I need to stay here to keep up the farm work. If you’re ready, I’ll take you over there tomorrow and then come on back. If I don’t haul water for my cotton crop every other day, it’s not going to make it.” Turning to Ennis, he asked, “How’s your maize?”

“Same thing. Thank goodness there’s still water for the windmill to pump. Did you read about the terrible dust storms in Nebraska? They say their topsoil is turning to dust and blowing away.”

Dread was palpable in the room. Willie Mae knew that banks hadn’t granted loans to farmers since the 1929 stock market crash. It was a hard time to be a farmer on the plains.

* * *

The Putnams and Willie Mae left early the next morning. By that evening, Willie Mae and Charlotte were settled in The James, one of 40 hotel spas in Hot Springs, New Mexico. Orville made arrangements for their food and lodging, gave Willie Mae the doctor’s recommended schedule for Charlotte’s bathing sessions, and by mid-afternoon he’d started home.

The hotel dining room was set with large tables where guests sat together. Willie Mae was excited to see that there were quite a few other people her age. A beautiful blonde girl sat across the table from her. Willie Mae couldn’t take her eyes off of her. She caught Willie Mae’s eye, smiled and said, “Hi. My name is Dorothy. What’s yours?”

“I’m Bill. This is my employer, Mrs. Putnam. Are you here for treatment?”

“No. I’m a singer at the La Paloma Hotel. Can’t afford to stay there myself.” She seemed to enjoy the macaroni and cheese, green salad and biscuits she was eating. “You’re welcome to go with me tonight. The dancing starts at seven-thirty.”

Willie Mae was elated to get this invitation. The room where she and Charlotte were staying was adequate, with twin beds, a hot plate for making tea or coffee and an adjoining bathroom, but it would be nice to go out and give her employer a little privacy. She looked at Charlotte.

“Feel free to go, if you want to, Bill.” Perhaps Charlotte was having the same thought about their room. “Once you help me get settled for the night, I’ll be dead to the world. I’m very tired.”

“How much does it cost? I don’t have very much money.” Willie Mae blushed. “Don’t worry.” Dorothy made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “The friend who is picking me up is staying there with his employer. He can sign for your cover charge and drinks.”

“Are you sure? What will he think? Won’t he mind me tagging along?”

“Don’t worry,” Dorothy repeated. “Walter is a sweetheart from Muskogee, Oklahoma. He works for a Cherokee Indian who struck oil on his land. Walter drives him around wherever he wants to go in his Cadillac. We’re not a serious couple but we have a lot of fun together. Walter will be happy to have someone to talk to and dance with while I sing.” Dorothy laughed.

Willie Mae felt doubtful, not sure she’d feel comfortable dancing in a strange place with someone she’d never seen before. She was glad that she’d practiced the latest dance steps with Ina Rae and their girl friends. That comprised most of her dancing experience.

Charlotte spoke up. “You should go, Bill. I don’t want you to be stuck with me all the time. It’ll be nice for you to meet some other young people.”

“All right then.” Willie Mae felt elated once the decision was made.

As soon as she helped Charlotte into bed, Willie Mae ran a comb through her permed blonde waves. She quickly changed into the party dress she’d made earlier in the spring, grateful that she’d packed it. It was an ankle-length mauve taffeta with a boat neckline and large puffed sleeves of a deeper hue. She knew it made her blue eyes even bluer. She put on lipstick and a little rouge and hurried back downstairs. Dorothy arrived in the lobby at the same moment.

“You look nice.” Dorothy smiled.

“Thank you.” Willie Mae thought her homemade dress looked pathetic next to Dorothy’s elegant ivory-colored satin halter dress. Willie Mae took a deep breath and put that thought out of her mind. She looked all right. She wasn’t going to be on a stage.

Dorothy’s friend, Walter Brown, arrived shortly. After a quick introduction, they hurried to the big car waiting at the curb. Walter took a paper bag from under his seat, pulled a cork out of a bottle inside and asked the women if they’d like a drink of whiskey. “My boss has a good bootlegger. This is smooth stuff.”

“No, thank you.” Willie Mae had tasted whiskey once and knew she didn’t like it. “I already feel a little tipsy, from just smelling the cork,” she laughed.

Dorothy also declined. Walter took a swig from the bottle and returned it to its hiding place. Willie Mae felt relieved that he drove conservatively. When Dorothy started singing “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” Willie Mae joined her. “Hey, you’ve got a good voice, Bill. Let’s practice this. You carry the melody. I’ll harmonize.” By the time they arrived at the large hotel on the main town square, the duet was close to perfect and Willie Mae was elated.

The La Paloma was a Spanish-style adobe building with a tiled roof, arched colonnades across the front and elegantly carved woodwork in the lobby and ballroom.

The three young people sat at a table near the bandstand. The seven-piece orchestra played “Mood Indigo“ and “April in Paris.” The piano player rose, placed a microphone in the curve of the grand piano spoke into it. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome our beautiful songbird, Dorothy Jones.“ Dorothy slowly ascended the three steps to the platform as the musicians started playing “Night and Day.“

Willie Mae was entranced. It seemed she had landed in a dream. Dorothy had the crowd in the palm of her hand. When she said, “I’d like to ask my new girlfriend to sing with me,” Willie Mae couldn’t believe her ears. “Her name is Bill Cummings. Yes, I said girlfriend, and her name is Bill. We can accept that, right? Come on up, Bill. Let’s sing ‘Sentimental Journey’.” The crowd applauded as Willie Mae ascended the step. It didn’t sound bad. She was elated.

Walter asked her to dance the next number, “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home.” She was glad it wasn’t a slow one, and Walter led her in the Charleston, allowing her to keep her distance and still have a good time. Several other young men asked her to dance. By the time Walter and Dorothy dropped her at her hotel, she was exhausted but happy.

For the next four weeks, after Willie Mae helped Charlotte get dressed, they went to the pool for Charlotte’s bath appointments, Willie Mae helped her with a routine set of exercises to help Charlotte increase her stamina. A therapist taught them this routine the first day and came on the following Mondays to evaluate Charlotte’s condition and progress. The two women had lunch in the hotel dining room. Charlotte rested in the early afternoon while Willie Mae played dominoes with other guests or read. After another exercise session in the pool, dinner and helping Charlotte into bed, Willie Mae went out with Dorothy and her group of friends. Charlotte assured her she didn’t mind. She was an avid reader and enjoyed her solitude, though she loved hearing reports of Willie Mae‘s evening exploits.

She had a grand time. Dorothy invited her to sing with her more than once. Sometimes Willie Mae couldn’t believe that she was the same girl who’d been so depressed all through high school, the same one who felt broken hearted just a month before.

This was a dream job for Willie Mae at the time, but in later years she would say, “I wasn’t worth a flip as an employee.” Still, it launched her into adulthood.