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Filtering by Tag: 1970s

Juanita Steve: Part Hannibal Lecter, Part Scarlett O'Hara

LeAnn Stephenson

A couple of Februarys ago I informed da Hubbs and my babes, Olivia and Noah, that I enjoyed writing.  "I am going to write a book," I declared, one evening.  I was going to become an author.

Where this curious notion came from remains a mystery to me.  However, It might have something or another to do with my recent inability to maintain a stable body temperature or read anything written in a typeface smaller than billboard sized letters.  I guess, I figured, "I'm in my mid forties, it's time to be reflective and share some wisdom."  There's that, and the feeling that everyone in the world doesn't "get me," that my dear husband should just up and die out of sheer stupidity and that, though I hate to admit this, I may have lost my sense of humor for good.  I fear daily that I am transforming into a terrifying hybrid of Hannibal Lecter and Scarlett O'Hara.  I'll rip your heart out and eat it with some fava beans and a nice chianti, but I'll proceed with the back of my hand firmly pressed against my forehead like a full-blown diva. Presently, like Miss O'Hara, I'm trying to get through each day the best I can and remember that, "Tomorrow is another day."  Remembering where and what I came from and writing it down helps soothe my alternating brooding and surly temperament.

I thought I would share a little bit of what I've been working on.  I hope you enjoy this little excerpt.  I'm almost finished with the rough draft of the book and I welcome your thoughts and encouragement!

So, here goes . . . .

The Seminal Idea

This is a chronicle of one woman's life, the fat girl she never was, the hardships she never endured, the opportunities she wasted, the evil she never encountered.  Juanita Steve is the reluctant participant in a life that she wants to fall deeply in love with - unfortunately, it just wants to be "friends."


There is in the state of Texas, north of the Hill Country and east of Big Bend, a medium-sized town called Abilene. If you were to have looked in the white pages of a local phone book, one published around, say, the early to mid-seventies, you'd find a listing that shares a telephone number with two other listings.  A generation ago, the population of 1217 Beechwood St. consisted of one grandmother, three mothers, five daughters, two sons, two aunts, five sisters, one brother, five cousins, one flying Gold Fish, a squawky Budgie parakeet and one extremely anti-social alley cat.  And, if you've done the math, you are right in assuming that the true occupancy of said address, while still quite high, didn't quite equal twenty-four actual bodies. One person held many positions in the family - a mother whose adult daughters had children of their own, as well as sisters who were aunts to the others' children, for example.

I got to hold several positions in that family tree, I was a granddaughter slash daughter slash sister slash cousin slash niece. All of us came together shortly after the husband slash father slash son-in-law slash brother-in-law slash uncle slash sorry-son-of-a-bitch named Steve, took himself away.  The year was 1971, and the distance from 1217 Beechwood Street to our former, less populated house, was roughly the distance an Olympic athlete might have to fling himself to set the National Long Jump record.  But, it was far enough away to feel like a fresh start for my mom, Josie, my older sister, Avon, my brother, P.Q., my little sister, Jane and me.

At the end of Beechwood Street, which to my knowledge had no actual Beech trees growing on it, was Calvary Baptist Church.  This was our church and the place where my older sister and brother found Jesus.  To be honest, the only thing my little kid brain could do with that information was to ask, "Where had Jesus been? . . . . and wonder out loud, " Why hadn't he called someone to let them know he might be late or something?" . . . . because,  apparently people were worried and looking for him.  I was always misunderstanding the significance of phrases like that.  I also thought they were saying the Verg and Mary.  This spurred questions like, "Who's this Verg guy?  And what were his intentions concerning Mary?"  I remember thinking that maybe that was the name of the angel who came to tell Mary that she was going to carry the son of God.  My Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Edwards, was the first person to tell me the whole story from start to finish about the Virgin Mary and the day she got the news.  I remember telling Mrs. Ed, that I would have told that angel, 'No thank you, and walked off to find my mother as quickly as possible."   I had been taught that this was an appropriate response to strangers passing out candy, why wouldn't it have work on angels passing out babies?

My pastor, Jerry Poteet, continued the theme in my life of one person taking on many different roles. He and his wife Carolyn were not only the leaders of our congregation, they had their own histories with my mother and my aunt.   The result of these relationships, gave Jerry and Carolyn dual citizen ship in my world,  they were my own personal  "adult friends", while also being the parents to my own personal "kid friends." They had  three children Karen, Randy and Jennie.  Jennie, their youngest, was my age and we had been classmates at an Episcopal school in kindergarten.  She, my little sister, Jane and I were friends and played well together when her parents came together with our family at  each others homes, at church picnics, or at vacation Bible school in the summers.    My aunt, Audy, had been roommates with Carolyn at Texas Women's University in Denton, Texas, just North of Dallas.  My mom was an alumnus of TWU as well, and was very fond of Carolyn, her mother, and her younger sister. 

Two traffic lights up from our Beechwood house on a street called Mockingbird, was a little strip shopping center with an M System grocery store, and a TG&Y nickel and dime store.  On the West side of the street across from the shopping center sat a dress shop called Estes Fashions and to its left was my Episcopal school.  This little Bermuda triangle of retail and education was one of my most favorite places to be in the world.  Mostly because, anytime we were in that area we, my little sister, cousin and I,  would be given permission to buy anything we wanted provided we stayed within our given budget of 25 or 50 cents.  The dress shop held rack after rack of beautiful Easter-type dresses.  I got to own 2 of those dresses in my life - one of the frocks was a pastel-y number that had a floral sheath dress that came just above my knee that had a light weight, lilac linen coat of equal length that went with it.  The second dress had a navy and white geometric design on a full skirt that was attached to a crisp white cotton blouse that had ruffles down the middle and pouffy white sleeve that buttoned just above were my arm bent.  The best part of the dress was its extra wide crimson red sash that tied in the back in a huge "Snow-White-like bow"  - I felt like Jackie O in the first and like a fairly tale in the second - the first was my Easter dress and the second I wore to my aunt's wedding.  I held my Episcopal school in high regard, not because of the wonderful education that I received there, but because they supplied me with Graham crackers and cartons of chocolate milk 5 days a week.    

Taylor County was dry which meant that if a person wanted a drink he needed a club membership or had to travel to Coleman County to quench his thirst.  This was not much of a concern in my family, though, because from what I understood, drinking alcohol was evil and was to be avoided.

It seemed to me that everyone in Abilene believed in God.  They just disagreed on who he loved the most - Baptists, Church of Christs, Episcopals  or Methodists.  For its population, Abilene was overflowing with religious institutions, churches, and religiously affiliated colleges.  As I grew older and became more aware of how people interacted socially, I started noticing that evidently most of its citizens that I had met found comfort in the fact that anyone who held an opposing view of family, religion, or politics than they, were headed straight for hell.  I remember being fascinated and a little sick to my stomach by the way other adults interacted with my own personal adults.  It seemed to me that these people had perfected the art of saying nothing in a way that left practically nothing unsaid.  But, that didn't stop me from remembering Abilene and it's inhabitants as warm and friendly.

I will always love Abilene, some of my most favorite memories happened in those few years that we lived in that house at 1217 Beechwood Street.  So much so, that thirty-eight  years later, I still long for just a few more moments with my grandmother, aunt, cousin, mom, sisters and brother in that place.  This time, in retrospect, was probably looked upon as "the dark years" by my newly divorced mom and aunt, both of whom were responsible for caring and providing for their respective children and their mother on a couple of very small teacher's salaries, and both without the benefit of any child support from their ex spouses.  But, if that were their mind sets, I was blissfully unaware.

The stories that follow are about a little girl, who got to be born in 1965 into a family of exceptional women.  It's a memoir, a swell and an exhale of appreciativeness and a way of returning to those moments that formed who I am.  Some of my beloved family members are no longer living;   I cannot speak for how my siblings, cousin, aunt, grandmother or mom  felt about this town,  our house or our time together.   I'm not entirely sure if they would recall this particular time in our lives as a happy one.  I'm sure they have their own versions. 

This is mine.

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"Sex and the City" Brunch

LeAnn Stephenson

I'm back and feeling like a lighter version of me only with a higher dosage of happy pills. I give credit not to my psycho-pharmacologist, but to my recent trip to New York. The alarmingly hectic, albeit wonderful, year of 2009 left me feeling a little spaz-tastic and weary, but my new year has begun with a renewed sense of excitement and lots of plans for the coming months.

In the next several posts I will be sharing photos and experiences from our trip as well as presenting plans I have for The Vintage Laundry, the blog, and other endeavors. But first, I'd like to share this:

2009 brought many opportunities, one of the most valuable being the chance to not only meet Stan Williams, but be given the gift of his friendship. The second day of 2010 was spent with Stan and Veli at their home in the NoHo neighborhood in Manhattan. Stan whipped up a very "Sex and the City" brunch - armed with relentless joie de vivre, his favorite vintage printed tablecloth, his 1970s mushroom tray from J.C. Penney, cheese, crackers, scones, muffins, coconut macaroons, and lots of tasty Prosecco champagne. Truly a master thesis on "effortless hospitality" - A "vintage glam" time was had by all!! Stan, you are one of the most clever, wickedly talented, dearest creatures on this planet - I'm so grateful that you are in my life and I hope 2010 has even more marvelous things headed your way!!

Photos courtesy Olivia Stephenson.
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Child of the Seventies: Clothkits

LeAnn Stephenson

As a child of the 70s, I had a memorable talisman - among others, Mrs. Beasley was a favorite because she had a pull-string that made her talk. She said wonderful things like; "DO YOU WANT TO HEAR A SECRET? I KNOW ONE" or, "IF YOU COULD HAVE THREE WISHES, WHAT WOULD YOU WISH FOR?" I confess, I was all about "the secrets" and "the wishes" at the age 6 or 7. I even had an invisible friend, who I named Buffy Rebecca - in homage to the 70s series, A Family Affair. She lived on my Big Wheel. She would stand on the seat back when I rode it, which was often and at very high speeds down our steeply pitched driveway. When I reached the end of it, I would pull with a strong jerk on my hand-brake at the back right wheel, which produced a rather lovely black skid mark and a fantastic Indianapolis-style hissing noise. Buffy Rebecca would not be able to resist the centrifugal force and would fly off the Big Wheel, slam into the large Mesquite tree we had in our side yard, break her neck, and have to be taken to a hospital where she would be attended to by Dr. Marcus Welby, M.D. In the meantime, I would give an accounting of the accident to New York City's finest detective, Lieutenant Theo Kojak (played by Telly Savalas) who always said, "Who loves ya, Baby?," and then would give me an imaginary lollipop. In response I would say that "he" loved me, and that was that. Buffy Rebecca was pretty much abused, neglected and ignored by me, other than that. There were no deeply disturbing conversations or orders to paint the neighbor's cat blue - so, I'm not really sure how that happened! I was at home with my family watching Laugh In at the time . . . honestly! I had a friend, Julie, who had an invisible friend named Marilyn Monroe, and I guess, if the truth be known, I felt abnormal not having one.

As far as my wardrobe was concerned, it consisted mostly of Grandmother, Aunt or Mother-manufactured dresses or smocks that we paired with stirrup pants at first and then bell-bottoms later. I was a tall child, even back then, so stirrup pants on my lengthy legs more closely resembled the pants that one might wear as part of their baseball uniform, though that was not the look I was striving for. However, if I had lived in the UK, and been aware of, or had access to Clothkits I would have been rockin' that look to the max!

Started by Anne Kennedy in 1968 and run from her kitchen table, Clothkits was one of the original 'Mompreneurs' in the craft business. Hugely successful, Anne's idea was simple, design groovy, graphic clothes and accessories for kids. She would print the pattern onto high quality cotton or corduroy fabrics in multi-sizes and send them out by mail-order with little packs of notions. This allowed Moms with even the most basic sewing skills to make their childrens' clothes with pride.

Kay Mawer
, bought the old Clothkits business in 2007 and promptly relaunched it. She has created a fantastic new range of Clothkits for the modern kid. She stays true to the heritage of this iconic brand by raiding the Clothkits archives. Projects with contemporary artists and designers form the core of the business. Partnerships with screen printer Jane Foster and papercut artist Rob Ryan are some of her most recent collaborations.

I'm thinkin' I'll be getting a couple for my daughter and me . . . who knows, Buffy Rebecca may even like one - I'll just be careful not to get a color that clashes with her neck brace!

Photos courtesy Clothkits