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Secret Crushes

As far back as I can remember, I kept having crushes on women. Maybe it was because my mom was a beautiful woman and I wanted her love. She was known as the beauty in the family—her sisters were Bess, great personality, Adele, the sexy one, and Dottie, the comedian. Mom was the beauty. I knew she looked like a movie star, but she also was my mom, and scrubbed the kitchen sink with Bab-o cleanser. She swept and dusted. She gardened. She kept our clothes perfectly clean and ironed (with hired help as my dad was a Dentist and they could afford it). But I saw the looks on my friends’ faces when they were with her. She was so pretty that they gaped a bit. Especially my sister’s boyfriends. Anyway, I had this gorgeous mom. So I started very early having crushes on movie stars. First it was Rita Hayworth. I saw every movie and read every item in the movie magazines. I had a cardboard box overrunning with movie magazines on the floor of my closet—my mom must have hated that clutter). I knew Rita Hayworth, her marriages, children, everything. I would imagine meeting her and being so adorable that she would immediately want to be with me and adopt me. Then it was Vivian Leigh for a while, but finally I landed on Doris Day. She was my idol for many years. I played her songs endlessly and can still sing “It’s magic” from start to finish. My friends did not have women movie stars that they adored. Then I started having more local idols, my temple chorus instructor, Phyllis Goldfarb. Blond and could sing. I longed for her to hug me and single me out for special attention. And there were my camp counselors, Pauline—oh my, could she please tuck me in? And my modern dance teacher Sally. Oh how I adored her. I would call her number and listen a bit then hang up. I sent her notes about how wonderful she was and how I wanted to be just like her. I mailed it! Her niece, one of my best friends, asked me casually one day—what kind of note paper do you have—I want to buy some. But I was wise to her and deflected. Finally it was Miss Yeoman, my English teacher in High School. My friend Judy also had a bit of a crush on her, but not like MY crush. I applied to Wellesley College because she went there. And maybe I majored in English (even got my PhD, for god’s sake) because of her. I was going out with Dickie Weinberg, necking on the couch, getting a bit excited, but my true love was Miss Yeoman. During this time I also had a dangerously close to my age crush on a set of twins. They slept over now and then and I stayed up all night being thrilled to have one of them by my side.

I didn’t share this crush thing with anyone, except casually with Judy. I sort of new it was a little too much. I knew I had better get busy with boyfriends. This was the 50s, you know. Women had a role to play and it was wife, mother, homemaker. It was not thinkable to style my life on “The Well of Loneliness,” which I did read, because I read everything I could get my hands on.

When I was in my Junior and senior years of high school, I got a summer job at the Millard Filmore Hospital, working in the infant nursery for 40 cents and hour. I was 15 and 16 years old, and it was 1953 and 1954. I remember moments of that job better than anything else from that time—with the exception of playing Eliza Doolittle in Shaw’s Pygmallion with an all female cast at the Buffalo Seminary (for girls). But more of that later.

I reported to work, was given a long white gown to wear that wrapped around me and tied at the waist. Then I was shown around the nursery, two identical rooms on a long hallway with windows (so family could look in on their babies). Each room had 3 rows of 6 tiny cribs, 5 on each side (we would wheel a crib to the windows when asked). First I observed a nurse taking care of the babies and was allowed to hold, feed and burp one or two. Then suddenly I was assigned an entire row (I was 15!) to bath, feed, carry out to mom, wheel into the circumcision room. I took this responsibility very seriously. I unwrapped each little body carefully, sponged it down, patted it dry, carried it in one arm like the nurses did, grabbed a bottle, made sure the mild would come out and was the right temperature (a few drops on the wrist), feed, burp, back to the crib. Same routine with the next one until all 10 were clean and fed. If some cried, I would burp further, but most slept peacefully. What a job. I loved it! And of course I had a crush on two of the nurses. I listened eagerly to their stories about kids and husbands but my favorite was a spunky woman with a limp (polio when she was young) who wisecracked constantly especially with the doctors who seemed to enjoy it. The summers passed quickly. I decided to become a nurse.

My mom suggested maybe I should be a doctor instead of a nurse (nurses were, in her eyes, not prestigious enough) and sent me across the street to talk to Dr. Joe, and ENT man whose son I went to school with. He was NOT encouraging. I remember him saying that it takes years and years to become a doctor and that I should probably not take that path. I remember feeling discouraged and I abandoned the idea of both nurse and doctor. I just went off to Wellesley to see what would happen.

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