Dancing with the Troops

Identity, Life

In honor of Memorial Day, I’m sharing a piece my grandmother wrote onset World War II, when national pride was strong and blind in idealism. It was at one of these dances she met my grandfather and for the next twenty years she lived the life as an army wife. Although her life didn’t evolve quite as romantically as she imagined at 18, it took her on a journey all her own. Among others things she was a beauty queen, a high school counselor, an artist, and a writer. At the ripe age of 91, she still manages to have a swing in her hip and skip in her step. It’s that light outlook that’s kept her young all these years. 

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“1942. I was in my first year at St. Petersburg Junior College, and dancing could just as well have been part of the curriculum, it was that important. My friends and I danced at least once a week, and sometimes more. We learned to waltz, fox trot and do basic tango at a dance studio named “The Tango Club” in St. Petersburg, but swing, the latest and fastest dance, was our favorite. Music came mainly from record players or jook boxes.

In 1941 the United States had entered World War II. Overnight, it seemed, there were hundreds of uniformed men marching up and down the streets of our sleepy little tourist town. They were billeted in some of the nicer hotels in the area – the Vinoy, the Don Cesar, the Detroit.

Across the bay, in Tampa, two Army Air Fields, Drew and MacDill, exploded with men and planes. We would hear a roar, look up and see the sky covered with large groups of planes flying in tight formation and looking much like a flock of giant geese in their v-patterns. We could feel the vibrations as they passed over, and it seemed as though the overhead sky was a huge loudspeaker. I remember being somehow proud to be a part of it all, even though I was just watching.

Patriotism was at an all-time high and my friends and I were ready to do our part, however small. Guys rushed to enlist, but what could girls do?

Then it happened: The president of St. Petersburg Junior College made an announcement that must have read something like this:

The United States Army Air Force will be having monthly dances at Drew Field. The USO respectfully requests the help of local schools in supplying dance partners for our servicemen.” Wow! My dancing friends and I immediately and enthusiastically volunteered. Our only question was, “How soon will we go? We’re ready!”

Didn’t take long. One evening soon after we all got on a bus and rode across the bay to do our patriotic duty. Dressed in full skirts and penny loafers – laughing and ready for fun, we pulled up to the Drew Field clubhouse. An orchestra was playing, and we walked into a large room filled with uniformed men lining the walls. waiting for us. Soon I was dancing, and it was one partner after another as the men tagged. The ratio being what it was, there were no wallflowers. We danced and danced and danced. I was too exhilarated and excited to stop, even for a soft drink.

Planes overhead, soldiers or airmen in the streets, it finally felt like we were part of a large, righteous undertaking. What could be better? Too young, too naïve to even wonder what was really going on, what was happening over there while we were dancing over here.

We were very young.”

Barbara Sartor

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Fighting Ghosts & The Nurse Who Roofied Me

Identity, Life

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I USE TO BE ONE CHILL BABY, nothing bothered me. My dad would blast his jams in the car and I would be in the back, looking out the window with a smile on face. I was so calm and relaxed my mom suspected something was up…

No, I wasn’t smoking pot! Come on guys, what kind of parents do you think I have.

As it turned out, I was partially deaf. I suffered from constant ear infections and inflammation due to tonsillitis. Getting my tonsils and adenoids removed was a pain. I remember the doctors trying to get me to lay down to strap a mask to my face (the thing looked like that sack Scarecrow wore in Batman, only with tubes sticking out). They pushed me down and I would spring back up like a lever. This was a battle I was going to WIN! Eventually they gave up and had me sit in the waiting area. I sensed something was up when one of the nurses came over with a red lollipop to suck on. I put it in my mouth anyway. Poppies my pretty! Next thing I knew I was in green cubical, with an IV sticking out my arm, I could barely swallow, and my voice came out like a squeaky mouse. The horror!!!!

But it all worked out. Better to be roofied then deaf I suppose. After the surgery I went through speech therapy for about a year. My favorite teacher, Mrs. Lee, would to sneak me out of class and I got to contort my mouth, make a bunch of noises, and at the end of the day I was rewarded with a colorful candy cane. When I received my certificate of completion, I had im-pec-ca-ble ar-tic-u-la-tion. I never had to stick marbles in my mouth either, Henry Higgins would have been proud.

As fun as that was, I had some catching up to do in the writing and reading department. English is difficult to learn if you can’t hear or emulate sounds. My teachers were confused, because at the time I was already an adept drawer. I could craft beautiful letters and place them on a page like words in a sentence. Only the letters didn’t spell anything, they just LOOKED like words (sure, maybe they were words, just the kind a deaf person hears). Ultimately, my mom decided to hold me back a year so I could heal and catch up. I was young and it ended up working out for the best.

Unfortunately, English was never my strong suit. Like most things, the areas we’re weakest in are often the ones that get picked on, rather then supported. I was ridiculed for my spelling and grammar, my choice of words, and the voice I used to compensate. The more I tried and sought validation, the worse it got.  It wasn’t until the end of High School I was able to let go and find confidence in my own style. Eh, I’m still working on it.

Sometimes that old pain creeps up and I find myself fighting. It’s inevitable. I’m lucky when things come out nicely, but often it’s a mess. Part of the fun is the splurge and picking out the gems. Most of the time we don’t really know what we are talking about anyway until we go about the act.

The reason I share this is we all have pitfalls and insecurities. This blog is an attempt to work on an area that may have not received as much love growing up. And sometimes our pain is a hidden blessings. I wonder how those early, quiet years developed my observation skills and sensitivity. The experience as a whole gave me the humility to put my all into work and dedicate myself to the process of learning. 

 

A Day at a Time

Identity, Life, Opinion, Process

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I’ve been meaning to start a blog for sometime but I always come up with an excuse: I need this and that set up, it will take too long, I’ll get consumed by it, I need to dial down my message, I’m rusty, and so on. I’m not going to lie, making my writing public is a bit terrifying. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I didn’t realize how scared I was until I tried to sit down to write this intro. Instantly I felt blocked. Nothing was coming out right, I wasn’t making sense, and the flood of judgement was consuming me. Part of me just wants to start over. I don’t like how I sound, things could be stated better…I could keep on editing, keep these flaws to myself.

Even though it can be intimidating, it’s liberating putting words down on paper. I enjoy having an outlet that contrasts with the visual arts I’m usually involved in. I’m not trained, I do it for myself to work out thoughts, but rarely for show. 

Unfortunately, we are often taught that if what we make isn’t GREAT, it doesn’t deserve to be shown, or we tell ourselves the alternate, no one cares, why waste time. How much is being deprived in preservation of a fake or shallow image. I don’t think I’m alone in my thirst for authenticity, engagement, and connection.

Obviously exposing ourselves, and showing something raw and imperfect is unnerving, but I think that’s where much of the value lies. Not in the end, but in the fight. It’s in the grit of showing up, participating, and discovering that is interesting. It’s our growth and search. It’s about not holding any one point up as more precious then the other, but realizing it’s the tension between them that creates the picture. I am working on loosening up that perfectionism and allowing the errors to have their own humble color.

Each of us has an unique position and perspective that is necessary for the whole to perform. We are all part of a bigger organism. I’m working on getting aligned with who I am so I can better connect with you. As I show up and share with you my own journey and process, I hope you might also find the courage to find and express yourself. And hopefully, our lives will be richer and more meaningful because of it.