In the spring of 1962, I was getting very disillusioned with college life. How can a junior get "Senioritis"? Very easily, I found out! I was attending Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. Bloomington is in the middle of nowhere, right smack in central Illinois. Aside from school functions, you have to make your own fun. Plus, I was an RA (Resident Assistant), so there were times I couldn't leave my dorm. I was a music major, voice was my concentration. I kept myself very busy. I didn't do a whole lot of socializing because I was so busy with classes, being an RA, and my campus job at the music library. I had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I loved the theatre, and loved performing in front of gobs of people. I had a huge desire to travel, to see the sights of the world. That summer, my chance came, and at the time I couldn't even begin to fathom just how much it would change my life.
"JILL! JILL DEARBORN!! PHOOOOONE CAAAAALL!!!"
The sound of someone screaming my name immediately brought my nose out from my music theory text. I was glad I hadn't gone outside to study or I would have missed the call. It was too windy, anyway, and I think the humidity would have made my curly hair even more frizzy than usual. I ran out of my room, down the hall to the phone closet on our floor of Pfeiffer Hall. Even though this was the nicest and newest girls' dorm, we still had only one telephone per floor. But how able-bodied college females couldn't manage to walk down the hall to quietly tell me of my call was beyond me.
"Jill, it's Auntie!"
Yes! I always loved calls from my Aunt Margie; sometimes I thought I got along with her better than with my mother. Her British accent was always so much fun to listen to, and every once in a while she would teach me a new word from the local dialect.
"Auntie! What time is it over there?" I said as I carefully sat on the rickety wooden chair in the phone closet.
"Oh, it doesn't matter, I know it's daytime there--how are classes going?"
"Great, actually I'm glad you called, I was trying to find an excuse to get out of doing my theory homework!"
"Well, just promise me that you will get back to it when I ring off, alright? If not, I won't tell you my surprise..."
"Surprise?! What surprise?"
"I have a proposition for you...I know how much you love it over here in London, and visiting Uncle Rog and me. The record shop needs a classical music section, and I know that you have a much better grasp of these things than I do..."
"Auntie!" I interrupted. "What are you asking? Are you asking me over there? To work with you?" I could feel my heart rate speed up from the anticipation.
She cheerfully replied, "Well, not really asking, because I already know the answer. I want you to make a new classical section for me in MC's. We can work out the details of working hours once you get over here, you'll probably be fine with 30 hours a week. You can stay here for free, free board, too, so your earnings can be just spending money. I know how you like the British fashions, and I'll give you a hefty discount at MC's! And don't worry about Julia--I already okayed it with her. You can come over for the whole summer!"
I could not believe it--I screamed probably the most rapturous scream I have ever emitted from my 19-year-old lungs, knowing full well that it would essentially wreck my voice lesson the next day. But I didn't care--I was going to London, and not just for a month like when I was 12, this was for the whole summer! I had longed to go back since our last visit. I was so happy that she had okayed it with Mom first--I never liked confrontation, especially with Mom. She was always overprotective of me, and I knew convincing her would not be an easy task. But thank heavens for Aunt Margie--I could always count on her to help me with the major roadblocks! Going to London with the family was one thing, going by myself was a horse of a different color!
The first time I visited my Aunt Margie and Uncle Roger Eddings in London was in 1955. I went with my mother (Julia) and father (David) and younger brother (Chris). We stayed for a month that summer, and I got to see the sights of London. We took in a lot of plays and musicals while we were there; I think we saw about three a week. Margie is Mom's sister, younger by three years (the same age gap between Chris & me). The two of them look so much alike you'd swear they were twins. They're both about 5'5", with short brown hair, and hazel eyes. Mom had me young--or at least I thought she was young. She never went to college and barely finished high school due to the fact that she was 4 months pregnant with me when she graduated. She & Dad got married the summer before her senior year since he was a year older and had already graduated high school. They thought he was going to get drafted, so they got married. When he didn't get drafted, they were quite relieved.
Aunt Margie was always a fun lady to be around--she had met Uncle Roger on a USO trip (she was always the entertainer in the family!) to England, and she never came back to America! They married about a year after the war was over. After the war, Uncle Roger returned to teaching, and Auntie decided to open a record shop--she named it Medford Cove Records, but the locals called it MC's.
I only had a month to prepare for my London visit--I was leaving a week after school was out. I had to make sure I still had my passport--luckily Mom found it in a dresser drawer! I had to work some more hours at my campus job in the music library to make some cushion money; I didn't know how much I would have left at the end of the summer, and I knew I would need books and most likely some new clothes at the beginning of the school year. I was elated--I could work in Medford Cove, something I loved, and make money that I could spend on whatever I wanted. It was almost like a dream--I felt someone had to pinch me to make sure it was all real. My roommate, Anne Phillips, was so jealous. She'd never even been out of the continental U.S.! She made me promise that I would write her at her home in Wisconsin. We got along great; she was a music major, too, but she played violin. I was always so jealous of her--she could always grasp the theory things better than I could and was such a talented performer and a good student. Anne was about 4 inches taller than me--about 5'8", long blonde hair, very attractive. She always got the guys. Whenever we would go out, guys would talk to me, but usually only to ask me about my friend.
The next month flew by. I breezed through my finals, my voice jury was a cakewalk, and I even got an "A" on my paper for Dr. Cooper's Baroque class! I worked more hours to pay Mom back for the plane ticket to London--I would buy the return ticket when I knew the exact date I would be leaving, but I knew that I needed to be back at school by Tuesday, September 4th. When I came home for that short week to my parents' home in Granite City, Illinois, I had to unpack and reorganize everything! I kept my winter clothes in the boxes, and shipped everything I would need that they wouldn't let me take on the plane.
Of course, there were tearful good-byes to my family--Chris was so jealous of me! He really wanted to tag along, but he was only 16, and he had football camp the last month of summer. He knew he was going to have to work a lot that summer if Dad was going to let him buy a car for his junior year of high school. Before I left, my parents gave me a really nice camera, and asked me to take a lot of pictures. I promised that I would; I really hadn't had any problem before!
I took off from Lambert Airport in St. Louis. The flight was LONG--I didn't remember it being so bad last time I flew across the pond! Uncle Roger met me at the airport; Aunt Margie was tending to the record shop and since Rog was a teacher, he had the whole summer off, the lucky bugger!
Most of my days were spent working in Medford Cove--I probably ended up working about 30 hours a week, true to Auntie's estimation. I was able to expand my record collection with the help of my employee discount at the shop! I loved checking the catalogs of what was available in London in classical recorded music. I was proud that Auntie trusted me to take on such a huge project and that when I left, my mark would remain on the store.
A few days into my stay, Auntie hopped into my room bright and early one morning. "Jill, I have a great idea! Not that you don't look good now, but I really think a makeover would do you good. I need to get my hair cut anyway...I can get you a haircut, makeup ideas, a couple new outfits...you know, girls' day out...whaddya say? My splurge--c'mon!"
Now how could I refuse that? I was in a new place, I hadn't had a new hairstyle since high school, and she was offering to pay--why not? Plus, she caught me in the last strains of jet lag, so I probably would have agreed to knock down London Bridge all by myself! I got up and showered, not bothering to wash my hair or do any makeup since we were going to the salon at 10 a.m.
We went out for a late breakfast, and then we were off for our day of beauty. The lady at the salon gave me a shorter cut, so instead of red curls that went past my shoulder, they now were in a bob-style 'do that hit just below my chin. I didn't want it too short because I still wanted to pull it back into a small ponytail sometimes. I really liked it, but tried not to let "Little Orphan Annie" comparisons get into my head! I had long since abandoned the idea of a beehive or football helmet-style hairdo since my curls didn't do much but, well, curl. Another lady helped me apply my makeup and gave me some good tips. She taught me how to make my eyes stand out better. I had just gotten contact lenses in March, and after about eight years of wearing glasses, I had no idea that my eyes actually could stand out! She told me that she loved my dark brown eyes. After Auntie's haircut was done, we went to Harrods, the really nice department store in London. She told me the spending limit, and we started trying everything on. I found a nice pair of pink shorts, a black skirt, black cigarette pants, and about five shirts. I also got a red & white polka dot sundress, just in case it might actually be sunny one day!
Over a very late lunch at a small café, she told me that we might have an opportunity to go up north later on that month, and that's one reason we went on the shopping spree. I guess we all need an excuse to shop! We took this opportunity to catch up on old times. We had written and called each other quite a bit since my last visit in 1955, but just to talk to her in person was great. She couldn't believe how much I'd grown up in the years since she'd seen me. We discussed our hopes, dreams, philosophies, likes, dislikes...it was just great to talk to her. She was such a dynamic woman to be around.
On to Chapter Two
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Copyright ©Winona Patterson, 1999-2006.