• Archives

  • Categories

Worst Easter Ever

Writing about my marriage is very difficult, but my ex-husband has asked me to. So I’m trying to explain it all from my viewpoint.

After I started dating Bill, my parents were unenthusiastic, to say the least. He was foreign to everyone and everything with which they were familiar. He was from the North; wasn’t a Southern Baptist [thank goodness]; and he was very political. Bill was basically your average late 1960s young radical, and I was right there with him. [I still laugh, remembering how I put up a poster of Ho Chi Minh in my dorm room, and everyone thought it was Chiang Kai-Shik]

We’d been dating since the previous summer, and he was scheduled to come for Easter. My parents put on a full court press, talking to me non-stop about how I should be really sure before I committed to marriage. I had doubts, but wasn’t sure why. I loved Bill so of course I wanted to get married. Something wasn’t fitting though, and that made it easier for my parents.

Bill came on Friday night, and I didn’t even let him settle in before I told him I was breaking up with him. He was blindsided. If there was a right way to do it, I didn’t know. I was trying to do what my parents wanted me to do. Unfortunately, I also wanted to make Bill happy. The next day we went for a drive and talked for a long time. [I really hate long talks]

I used all of the arguments my parents used on me, but it was a weak attempt on my part. I just wanted everything to be nice. I didn’t like being put in the middle where I was being told I had to choose between my parents and my boyfriend. It wasn’t as if Bill had done anything disrespectful or crude. He treated them well, he treated me well.

I had to make the break, and not with Bill. By Saturday night, I had, according to my father, “cracked,” and made up with Bill. He left the next day, and we’d agreed he would fly me to his graduation from Johns Hopkins.

It wouldn’t be the last time my parents put me in the position of having to choose between them and someone I cared for.


When I was young, I was more insecure than anyone else I know. I learned to hide that by being funny, irreverent, capricious, sarcastic, and a smart aleck. Hey, I thought it worked for me.

The insecurity also caused me to become very jealous. I dated rarely if ever.  I never wanted the guy in the novel or movie.  I wanted to BE the guy. When I started dating Bill, I didn’t understand why he wanted to date me. He kinda pursued me, which had never happened before. He wanted to be around me. He thought I was like other girls, and I didn’t know what to do except keep on trying to be act like I thought I was supposed to.

The only other boy I had dated was from my high school. Our senior year in high school we dated from Oct. until April. The entire time, my “friend” lurked.  She dated tons of guys – but this was one she wanted. She was a real jerk to me. She told him lies about me, and when I tried to correct them, he didn’t believe me. It was very painful for a 16 yr old insecure girl. But I know now what the other girl was doing to overcome her insecurity, and I wasn’t ready to go that route. Yech. But she did introduce me to jealousy.

JGS.Samford.1966The first year Bill and I dated I was a junior in college in Birmingham and he was in his senior year in Baltimore. We saw each other at Thanksgiving, then Christmas, but had no plans to see each other until his graduation in June.

Then he told me that he’d taken another girl to one of his fraternity parties. We weren’t engaged and he had no obligation not to date. But she went to Goucher College in Baltimore, the elitist school in Balimore for females, as Johns Hopkins was the elitist school for males. They would have made a more logical couple than the girl whose father was a minister and taught religion at a small Baptist college.  I pitched a small fit. Not a big one, but he knew I wasn’t happy.

Just for fun, one day while I was in the college bookstore, I was looking through the greeting cards. I found one that I liked that was blank on the inside. The outside had a drawing of a little cartoon guy with a thumb print on the body. Underneath it said, I’m touched. Get it? Yeah. Cute.

There was no real reason to thank anyone for anything, but I bought the card. As a joke, I wrote inside “Thank you for the beautiful flowers.” Bill had not sent me flowers. I thought it was really funny [I now try to keep my sense of humor under control.] So I sent the card and waited.

A few days later, I got an unexpected phone call from Bill, and he told me he had not sent me flowers. Why didn’t I just tell him it was a joke? I didn’t. I told him the card included said “From the one who loves you best.” I’m sure I was trying to get back at him for dating Winifred or whatever her name was. When he hung up, things were a little distant between us, of course.

He called me back an hour later and said he was flying in to see me the next weekend. Well, then I couldn’t tell him the truth. When I told my mother he was coming, she asked me why. I still thought it was funny, so I told her. She did not think it was funny. I believe the words “deceitful” and “dishonest” were used.

Well, Bill came to Birmingham. I did not tell him, and we had a wonderful time. When he left, my mother called me into my parents’ bedroom – one of my least favorite experiences – for a “talk.” Ugh. I sat, I listened, they scolded. I finally said I would tell Bill the truth.

I did. About six months after we got married. He was really not happy. I tried never to lie to him again.


I didn’t want to get married, and I felt so guilty because everyone was so happy for me. I wasn’t happy. I loved my fiance, but just did not want to get married. I wish I had known then that I was gay so that I could have avoided hurting Bill. He was a wonderful guy who loved me, was kind, intelligent, and funny. He still is, and I’m grateful that we are friends.

We met when I was working in Florida for the M-F newspaper The Titusville Star-144Advocate. I was the summer intern in the News Dept., and Bill, who had grown up in T’ville, was a summer intern in the Ad Dept.  We kept bumping into each other at the newspaper and then ran into each other at the Fourth of July celebration at the T’ville airport. My sister, who I was living with that summer, lived about 2 blocks from the airport and I loved to drive over and watch the planes landing and taking off. Bill walked all over the grounds with me while I took photos for the paper. And then he asked me out.

I didn’t know much about him, but my City Editor knew him very well, since Bill had worked on the paper since he started as a paper boy. The editor said he was a good guy and I’d have a good time. Our first date was to see “Mary Poppins.” Imagine that!

Titusville was not a big town at that time – mid 1960’s – certainly not the retirement mecca it is now. There was one theater which showed second run movies and a drive in. Bill and I went to the drive in quite often, and we watched which ever movie was playing. I loved movies and was not really into making out so much. I mean, why pay to go to see a movie and then not watch it? That should have tuned both of us into something.

One night Bill showed up to take me to the drive in, but not in his 1964 Dodge Dart [3 on the column]. His car was in the shop, so he brought his father’s car – a Jaguar sedan with mahogany dash and deep red leather seats, the kind that feels like butter. That was the first time I realized his family had money. 

Then we “doubled” with his parents to drive the 45 min. to Orlando to see “Doctor Zhivago,” and they showed up in Bill’s mother huge green Cadillac. I’ll admit it: they scared the beejezus out of me. They were very formal and proper in a way I didn’t understand. I *never* felt like I measured up. But I think my preconceptions about them and about people with money doomed my relationship with his parents from the start. I was way out of my depth.

I really liked Bill, and enjoyed his very dry sense of humor. One time we had made a date, but I didn’t remember what time he was coming to pick me up. So I went by his desk at the newspaper and left a note that read “What time tonight?”

I went out to cover a story, and when I came back there was my note on my desk with this underneath my writing: “Tonight start when sun go down.” I still remember it more than 53 years later. He was more intelligent than most of the guys I knew back in Birmingham and very witty.  I rate the ability to make me laugh very, very high on the desirability meter.

Bill was between his junior and senior years at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He was majoring in American History and every year made that long drive between Titusville and Baltimore 2-3 times every year. One of my favorite things he told me was how he always knew he was getting close to home when he could pick up WSB [Welcome South, Brother] in Atlanta.

We dated the rest of the summer. There was a lot of making out and I guess petting would be an appropriate term, but we never had sex before our wedding. I was so naive and inexperienced that I didn’t really understand why he stayed with me.

We wrote during the school year, back when people still wrote letters. I got probably 3-5 letters every week.  And he called every Sunday night at 9pm. People now don’t remember when the rates went down, but it was 9pm. So Bill would call, and we’d talk for 20 min. or more. In the dorms, there was one phone on the hall, so I’d stand in the hallway and talk, eventually sitting down or lying on the floor with my feet up on the cinderblock wall.

BillS_datingThanksgiving, he flew to Birmingham to see me. My parents had met him at the end of the summer when they came to Titusville to pick me up for the fall semester. My parents did not dislike Bill, but they were very concerned that he was not religious. And – horrors! – his parents were Presbyterians!!!

I remember that one night we went parking. Well, we couldn’t spend all of our time with my parents watching us. So we drove down to Mountain Brook Parkway and found an office park that was empty. Still no sex!


The F Book Ban

5 Ways To Get Banned From Facebook - TabithaNaylor.comThis will be short.  Since last Monday, I’ve been banned from what I will now call the F Book. They have at least three stages: first a warning; second a 3-day ban; third a 7-day ban. I’ve been through all of them. Next comes a 30-day ban. I don’t want to go there, because I enjoy the F Book. It’s how I keep up with my family.

What did I do? The warning came because I said the the people from the oil producing country of origin for the 9/11 terrorists were m*nsters for being behind the brutal murder of the journalist Khashoggi. The 3 day ban came when I said I hate the car-eschewing buggy drivers [mostly in PA] who run the worst puppy mills in America. The 7 day ban came because I commented on a post about people from my country doing something stupid that they were stupid.

I think I figured it out. I’ve done everything but regarding the current pos in the White House, but none of it brought censure. It’s because I wasn’t specific. The F Book considers general statements about groups of people to be “hate” language.

My hunch is that the F Book has bots that scan every post…EVERY POST…and when they encounter a phrase it checks the writer. I am clearly being watched now. I’m not paranoid. That’s what the F Book does. It’s their playpen, and they set the rules. I do think there is a way others may get around the bots. If you post a graphic, even if it’s text that your write in a graphics program, will “read” as a graphic, not as text.

I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll go back on the F Book, but I’ll use Twitter to post political items.


What If…

This is a whimsical piece I wrote several years ago after watching the Zapruder film on TV. I saw a young girl in Dealey Plaza just before the shots rang out on Nov. 22, 1963. I thought if only she had distracted him momentarily. So I wrote my own revisionist history, fixing things as I went, all based on “what if…”

The school girl on the the grass in Dealey Plaza, November 22, 1963, wore a brown sweater and white tights.. As the limousine with President and Mrs. Kennedy and Governor and Mrs. Connally turned onto Elm Street, she broke away from her mother and father and ran toward the car, screaming “I love you, I love you,” an unusually emotional outburst for the South in 1963.

The President turned to look at her and leaned over to remark on the girl to his wife. At that moment, they heard a loud noise then another followed by a scream from Governor Connally as a bullet tore into his right shoulder. Secret Service Agent Clint Hill had been walking behind the limousine, having jumped on the bumper four times when the crowds pressed in during the Dallas trip. At the first sound, Hill looked around, confused. When he heard the sound again, he knew it was gunfire, and he jumped back on the bumper pushing the Kennedys down and sheltering them with his body. The black car sped onto Stemmons Freeway rushing Governor Connally to Parkland Hospital where he was taken immediately into surgery.

The Secret Service rushed the President and Mrs. Kennedy back to Love Field in unmarked police cars, shortly after their arrival at Parkland Hospital, and James J. Rowley, Chief of the Secret Service, immediately began revamping security protocols. “We were lucky” he said, “very, very lucky.”

In the aftermath of the assassination attempt in Dallas, President Kennedy removed FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. When Hoover threatened to release incriminating photos and transcripts of Kennedy’s affairs with a variety of women. Kennedy responded by telling Hoover about photos his father’s connections in the mob had of the director and his friend Clyde Tolson in compromising positions. Hoover left office without further comment.

Without Hoover at its helm, the FBI ceased gathering personal information on high profile Americans such as Dr. Martin Luther King and also stopped fanning the flames of conservative organizations like the Klan and the John Birch Society. Without the behind-the-scene support of Hoover, Klan membership fell off and by 1968 the remnants were scattered and ineffective.

Dr. Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King held a hugely successful Poor People’s March in the summer of 1968, following a succesful campaign for sanitation workers in Memphis. Dr. King died from a heart attack in May 1998.

John Kennedy won re-election in 1964, easily taking Texas as well as California. Governor Connally, seriously wounded that day, was re-elected in 1964 and 1966. Despite pressure from other right-wing Democrats, Connally did not run for the presidency in 1968 since he believed he would have to face off against his long-time friend Lyndon Johnson.

The United States had supported South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem’s government, but as protests against him had increased, punctuated most noticeably by Buddhist suicides, American support was slipping. Kennedy had told Ambassador Lodge to avoid meeting with President Diem and had sent private assurances to military leaders that he would not interfere in their planned coup. He had been assured that Diem would be allowed to leave the country. His assassination on November 1, 1963, caught the president off guard.

Despite cries that President Kennedy was soft on communism, he refused to allow the U.S. to become embroiled in the dispute and reversed earlier decisions sending U.S. advisors into Laos. Kennedy went on national television, stating that the primary objective of his second term was the domestic agenda of civil rights, expanding the vision of the New Frontier to include minorities through development of a series of entitlement programs. On the international front, Kennedy said the U.S. would become a force for peace, not war, around the world.

Kennedy expanded the role of the Peace Corps, even permitting the two year stint to be a substitute for military service. Without a war to draw revenues away from the country, the U.S. flourished. Hasbro considered the launch a military-based action figure for children, but market studies showed no support for the toy.

Debate continues as to whether or not Kennedy was the busiest president of the century or whether the advent of television news can be credited for his incredible popularity. Whether he was crossing the country repeatedly stumping for his civil rights legislation or holding a press conference from the White House, President Kennedy became a constant presence in U.S. living rooms.

As the economy expanded, Kennedy relied on Vice President Lyndon Johnson as long-standing health problems continued to plague him. Johnson was most helpful in the midwest and south, but his greatest influence was in the area of social legislation, such as health care for the elderly, voting rights, education, and, of course, civil rights. Former rivals, Kennedy came to value Johnson’s contributions to the domestic agenda, going so far as name the health care bill after him.

The inner cities remained calm during Kennedy’s presidency. He and his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy made frequent visits to the troubled cities of the north, focusing attention on job training, employment and education programs. As a result, the expanding use of drugs diminished as hopelessness gave way to hopefulness.

Despite rumors of his numerous infidelities, the president and his wife seemed to grow closer following the near miss of Dallas. Jacqueline Kennedy announced in March 1965 that she was pregnant again, and the country seemed to get a lift from the news.

When Japan launched the Bullet Train in 1965, President Kennedy immediately proposed a work program to create a national high speed railway system, the first pieces to be in place within eight years. Kennedy laid out a plan that would incorporate engineers from NASA, expecting the new endeavor to piggyback onto the success of the space program.

The late 1960’s were marked by increased optimism on the part of the American people. Teach-ins became commonplace on campuses, where students stayed out of class to host tutoring sessions for inner city and low income youngsters. Sports heroes were the greatest influence on young people, but NCAA rules were changed in 1967 at President Kennedy’s request to require scholarship athletes to participate in “give back” programs.

In 1968, President Kennedy campaigned for the Democratic Party’s ticket that came out of a united Chicago convention. 52 year old Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson had become friends with the president following their joint 1963 Conservation Tour. Nelson and his running mate Georgia Senator Richard Russell, 35, were the youngest ticket ever to seek the nation’s highest offices.

When the Republican Party met in Miami in 1968, they nominated former Vice President Richard Nixon who chose former Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew as a running mate. However the Republican ticket appeared tired and out of step with the country.’s upbeat mood. Agnew’s attempts to create rifts between generations, races, and economic levels fell flat, and the public chose Nelson and Russell.

Robert Kennedy resigned the Attorney General position in 1966 and had been elected as Senator from New York. During the campaign, his wife Ethel had spent time with her brother Rush in nearby Greenwich. Rush, she realized, was an alcoholic and his irrational behavior was causing severe problems on the home front. Rush and his wife Anne were raising an out-of-control brood which Ethel saw as a potential problem for her husband’s presidential aspirations. She insisted on a stricter regiment for the seven Skakel children and helped her sister-in-law select boarding schools for the six boys. Her intervention proved timely and effective.

When Anne died in 1973, Rush began drinking more heavily than ever. However, removed from the chaos of his house, the Skakel boys grew into responsible young men who graduated from Ivy League universities and married the society girls they expected to.

Martha Moxley who lived across from the Skakels grew into a bright young woman with an infectious laugh. She graduated from Smith College in 1981 with a degree in art history which she parlayed into a position at Christie’s. In 1984, she married her brother John’s college roommate and three years later presented her parents, David and Dorothy, with their second grandchild, a daughter named after Dorothy’s mother Eleanor.

Because the drug culture never gained a foothold, Charles Manson was unsuccessful when he attempted to draw disgruntled young people to him. Thus, Sharon Tate gave birth to Roman Polanski’s son in 1968. 


(c) JSchenck 2018



Events in Orlando have left me stunned and hurting. One of my favorite things about being a lesbian has always been going out to dance. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to dance, and I had dancing in my soul.

When I lived at the woman’s retreat in the Adirondacks, every Saturday night I would be the first one out to our barn to fire up the heater and lay a fire in the stove … and crank up the music on the jukebox. I learned to do the bump there, listening to Carole King’s Smackwater Jack. Before my knees went south.

There were my favorites – LaBelle’s Lady Marmalade, Carly Simon & James Taylor’s rendition of Mockingbird, TSOP, Imagination, Boogie Shoes, Ladies Night, Bennie & the Jetts, Ring You’re Sixteen and Oh, My My. For slow dancing, we had two of my favorites, Barbra Streisand’s singing of “Memories” and Gladys Knight & the Pips’ You’re the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me. Listening to any of those songs today takes me right back to 1974.

When I moved to the Pioneer Valley in western Mass., I discovered a Northampton restaurant/bar turned its rear dining room into a lesbian-only dance area once a week at 9pm. Every Wednesday night, I hitchhiked from Amherst where I lived to Masonic Street’s Zelda’s. On the weekends, we had a number of women’s bands that might be playing at local venues. Off I’d go to the Steak Out, the Lazy River, or the St. Regis. Maybe there would be a benefit at UMass or Hampshire College’s Red Barn. At Zelda’s, I learned the hustle and the electric slide. And thank you to Molly O who gave impromptu demonstrations on women’s security and self defense. I still get my keys out when walking to the car, spreading the keys out between my fingers. I even scare myself.

And then there was Northampton’s own tiny lesbian bar, the Gala. It’s gone now, but we have Diva’s, a snazzy place to go. I loved the Gala so much that I’ve tracked down much of the music on its jukebox so I can re-capture those nights. Love Hangover, Got to Give it Up, Misty Blue, Love Train, Boogie Shoes, Jive Talking, That’s the Way I like it, Lady Marmelade (again!), Shake Shake Shake, This Will Be, and on it goes.

What was the magic of that dancing? In 1975, it was the joy of the music, moving your body, dressing up, going to a friendly place, meeting friends, and laughing, laughing, laughing. I have to admit my parents were right: rock and roll is the devil’s music…….thank goodness! Looking for love in all the right places. Once, after my dad died, I was amused once to hear my Baptist mother say she was sorry she had never danced with my father. She thought she would have enjoyed moving around the dance floor in his arms.

So I imagine those 49 people getting all dolled up to go to the Pulse club, making plans with friends, anticipating the fun and maybe planning some great new dance moves. I see them arriving and shouting out greetings to friends, maybe avoiding an ex or two, ordering drinks. Perhaps it was a first date for some people.

The music was loud, throbbing, the bass beat pounding in the crowds’ ears. They pushed to the dance area, some people hanging back, waiting for the next song. There was a constant flow to and from the dance floor, people laughing, drinks spilled, waitresses flowed through the crowd with their trays.

The music is different now from what I knew when I came out, but those faces showed the same joy and happiness that my friends and I felt. Being gay is awesome. That is what all of the bigots and homophobes are afraid people will discover. If you’ve got the gene, lucky, lucky you!

I’m tired of platitudes and empty phrases from the right. I don’t want to cry anymore. I’ve decided instead to dance. When the sadness overwhelms me, I’m going to dance. Today I danced down one side of the fitness center at the Northampton Senior Center and back up the other side. No one even blinked.

So if you see me downtown or at Stop and Shop, don’t be surprised if you see me take a few steps, maybe swirl around a bit. Imagine what the world would be like if we stopped waiting for Congress to pass legislation that can stop the madness. Imagine if, instead, everyone honored these 49 extraordinary young people by just bursting into dance periodically. We need more love. We need more kindness. And we certainly need more dancing!

Judith Schenck

copyright (c) 2016


JBillWeddingOn Friday, January 26, 1968, I married a great guy, a funny, loving, warm man who deserved a happier life than the one I gave him. I left him on July 3, 1974, because I was a lesbian, a little bit of truth I didn’t know on that day in 1968. I would have spared him my leaving if there was any way I could have lived as a straight woman. I could not.

I met him when I was a journalism summer intern at the Titusville Star-Advocate, now defunct. I had just completed my sophomore year in college, and he’d just wrapped up his junior year at Johns Hopkins University. I had dated rarely in high school and very little in college, but Bill was one of the funniest guys I’d ever met. He was also a genuinely nice guy who came from a well-to-do family, but his parents were smart enough not to hand him anything on any kind of plate. He worked for everything he got, and I admired that about him.

He had begun working at the Star-Advocate as a paper boy when he was in grammar school and had worked his way up while in school. On breaks from college, Bill worked at the newspaper, and that is where our paths crossed. He has always had the kind of dry wit I enjoy. We still communicate regularly, and it’s still fun to see his sense of humor unfold. Always unexpected, always delightful.

When we started dating, my city editor was not happy. He didn’t think I would fit in with Bill’s family and made several pointed comments to that effect. Of course, I didn’t listen. We were just dating. I had no idea that it would lead to anything. Good grief. I was 19!

We began dating at Titusville’s July 4th celebration at the little airport when I was covering it for the paper and ran into him just poking around the games and rides. We walked around and talked about things, and I began to realize how funny he was. And there was no doubt that he was intelligent. He cared about civil rights the way I did, which was important to me. I had a rule that I would not date anyone who used the “n” word – I thought that was the reason I hadn’t dated much. And most of the guys I went to college with were more than a little boring.

mosquito coilI loved dating that first summer. We went to the movies all the time, and I love movies. Very often we went to the Titusville drive-in, cleverly sited next to a large swamp. That insured that the mosquitoes would swarm…just as the movie started. So we always had to have those little spiral anti-mosquito coils going. I was so into the movies that there wasn’t a lot of necking going on. Besides the smoke from the coil often made me sneeze, but we couldn’t survive without it. My favorite trip to the drive-in was the week Bill’s 1966 stripped down Dodge Dart (stick shift) was in the garage. Bill showed up in his father’s Jaguar sedan – the one with the inlaid mahogany dashboard and the red leather upholstery. Okay, I love cars as much as movies. I loved that car.

Did I date girls in college? Nope. Did not even know that was an option. I’d always had my girl crushes, but I had never heard of lesbians. Try to remember that I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, and when I say “grew up in” I mean IN. While my dad was a Southern Baptist preacher, he wasn’t a pastor, but the rules still applied. God was always watching. Every time we got out of the car, my mother said, “Remember who you are and whose you are.” Every. Time. School, church, movies, friends’ houses. Every time. I used to look at my brother as we walked away and we asked each other, “What does that even mean?” We knew, but every time?

I liked being with Bill, but marriage? I wasn’t ready to be that serious. My brother was born serious about Chip, his wife whom he began dating when he was 15. I’d never had a really serious relationship. The Easter after we began dating the previous July, Bill was coming to spend the holidays with us. My parents were not happy about my dating him. When we’d driven from Birmingham to Titusville, FL, over the Christmas holidays – and my parents thought we were going to stop in Georgia and get married. Nothing could have been further from my mind!

But by Easter, they were ready for this to be over. And they talked and talked and talked to me. Was I sure this was God’s choice for me? Did I see myself growing old with Bill? On and on and on it went. I’ll admit it. They wore me down, but they couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t had my own doubts. Then when Bill came, and I told him it was off, he talked and talked and talked to me. On and on it went. I’ll admit it. He wore me down, but he couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t had my own doubts. Yeah, see the symmetry? I just got lost in it all. So much talking, and no one asked me what I wanted to do. They had their own agendas, and my job was to make everyone happy. I had no idea what I wanted, but I knew something wasn’t right. I had no idea what was off however.

We continued dating, and in June I flew up to Baltimore to see Bill graduate from Hopkins. That summer, I interned at the Star-Advocate again, but Bill worked in the History Department at Cape Canaveral. He had his B.A. in American History and was headed to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for graduate school.

Soon, every time we went to a mall, Bill tried to get me to try on engagement rings. I hemmed and hawed. I really didn’t want to. At the time, I was living with my sister and her first husband, not a happy marriage. There was so much yelling, so much anger, so many slamming doors. Bill attributed my reluctance to get engaged to my fear of being in a marriage like theirs. Our marriage would be different, he said. We would have fun. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought of marriage as something that was supposed to be fun. Romantic. Soul-binding. Happy. Fulfilling. Fun? Hmm.

Eventually, I asked him why we couldn’t go on like we were, dating and being close. Why did it have to evolve into marriage? He told me that if I didn’t go into a store with him to pick out a ring, he would stop seeing me altogether, because he wanted us to be moving toward something. I didn’t know what I wanted. I wasn’t ready to make the break, but wasn’t ready to commit either. So we became engaged.

Here’s the story of our engagement: Bill called his parents, who had moved to New Mexico when his dad was transferred from Cape Canaveral to White Sands Missile Center. His mother suggested he drive me to Lake Osceola in Winter Park, FL, and ask me next to the lovely lake with the lighted water fountain in the background. This is how I know I wasn’t ready. When he asked for my finger, I gave him the finger. Yes, that finger. I thought it was funny. He didn’t. So we were engaged.

My sister was going to make my wedding dress. But every time I was on my way out the door to do something, she wanted me for a fitting. I really wasn’t into the whole wedding thing. The truth was I had never thought about getting married. I wanted a career. I didn’t WeddingWLeecare about what music was played, what the cake looked like, what kind of flowers were used. I wanted the wedding to occur without involving a lot of angst. My mother complained one time too often about how difficult it all was, so stressful for her. So, I said I would take over. My friend Lynn had had a lovely wedding, so I just asked for her baker and florist. I told the florist I wanted a bunch of green at the front, and told the baker I wanted the same cake Lynn had. The only thing I cared about was having the organist (a friend of our family and a teacher at Samford University where Mother & Dad worked) play “The Rosary” when my mother was seated. It was one of her favorite songs – think there was a book or movie she liked.

I had taken extra courses every semester so I could finish college in Jan., instead of waiting for June. That last semester I studied like crazy, but had a recurring dream where the Registrar’s Office called me in March saying I had miscounted my credits and was three shy of graduate requirements.

I had my last final exam on Tuesday and got married Friday night. Why Friday night? Well, it was when my brother got married, and I had so much fun at his wedding. I didn’t enjoy my wedding at all. Years later I would do stand-up comedy and learn how to be entertaining in front of a crowd. Maybe if I could have told jokes…

As soon as we got the wedding photos back, I realized – my eyes were totally glazed over and I had the exact same smile in every picture. I wasn’t there. I recall looking out and seeing a friend of mine watching me during the photo session after the wedding. She looked puzzled, and later asked me what I was thinking of. She said I looked like I was in a total panic. I told her I was, but I didn’t know why.

Bill and I did have fun being married. Three weeks after we were married, he took me to a history department party, chock full of some of the most arrogant and self-important people I’d ever met. They thought themselves “real” intellectuals. However, in the back room, I found a group of great people crammed around a tiny black and white TV watching a UNC basketball game. Having cut my teeth on Alabama, Auburn, and Samford football, with a minor interest in Samford basketball, I felt like Han Solo in “The Force Awakens” – “Chewie, we’re home.” If there were sports to watch, I’d be okay.

I regularly harassed Bill into going to stand in line to get tickets to the UNC basketball games in grand ole Carmichael Auditorium. Once I saw then star Charlie Scott on the side of the road and almost drove the car off the road.

On Oct. 31, 1968, I got it. I finally understood what had been bothering me. I went to the movies with a student who worked part-time in the Chemistry Dept. where I was in the secretarial pool. We drove to Durham, to the little artsy movie theater and saw “The Swimmer” with Burt Lancaster. Afterwards, she drove me home, and we sat outside talking for two hours. I never wanted the evening to end. It was just … right. It clicked. It felt natural. Before that night, I didn’t “know.” Afterwards, I knew everything without anything at all happening. I just knew.

Lucy and I never went out again. She was married. I was married. Several years after I left Bill, he moved back to Chapel Hill to work in the University Library. He wrote me that he had run into her – and she was a lesbian.

(c) Judith Schenck

April 11, 2016

Values Without Apology

Cleaning out some things today I came across some clippings about my father as well as some articles he wrote. Here’s one printed in the April 22, 1966, Birmingham News, which is a surprisingly accurate look at what has happened to the Republican Party. In the Alabama of 1966, the driving issues of the day all centered around race: segregation, integration, voting rights, equal education, equal justice. Dad’s protest (2nd paragraph) was against the horrible racism exemplified by the “Solid South,” solid in its zeal for the Democratic Party which protected white racism and its activities.

Today we are again – or still, because it has never ceased – in the midst of a social revolution. It didn’t start in the 1960’s or 1950’s. We have been an evolving work in process since the first human came to this land mass. I believe what Dad said about the Alabama Republican Party in 1966 holds true for the national Republican Party today. I don’t apologize for Dad assuming that only men would hold public office. He was a remarkable man for his time, but he was a man of his time.

“Your recent editorial on the Republican Party in Alabama leaves a door open for me to say what I have said to one of the prominent leaders of the party recently. That is that the present trend of the Republican Party in Alabama and Mississippi is not creative. Mr. Wallace stands precisely on the platform where the successful Republicans stood in the last election.

“They won because they represented a revolt from the national Democratic Party. All my life I have been a Republican, not because of any special philosophy this party championed, but because it was the only way in which I could make my protest of the policies of the Democratic Party from 1932 to and including 1966.

“Now it seems that the Republican Party is the place where people mark their ballots who favor the status quo area, and this means that the party has left me without any choice. In order to protest the status quo, I shall have to become independent. At the present time the most creative man I see is a Democrat. Mr. Allen is correct. The Republican Party is being made a tool.

“The views expressed by the Hon. James Allen that the Republican Party is jeopardizing its future are, I think, quite pertinent. The party is not building for the future – it has taken an opportunist stance.

“In a time when such a social revolution as we are experiencing is going on somebody needs to step up who knows what direction we should take on a wide spectrum of issues and provide leadership. The only issue one hears is “Who is going to be governor.” Essentially they all have the same program: how to put the brakes on social revolution. Essentially all are saying, “Let us force the federal government to plan our future.” Somebody ought to be statesmen enough to lose because he has something worth standing for.

“The most important problem in Alabama is how to hitch our resources, human and material, to our needs, human and material, so as to grow a state where men and women can invest their lives in what are to them values without apology. Somebody should be man enough to admit that there are needs that demand all that all of us, Negro and white, can offer and give us a program for the future.

“He would not be elected. Of course not! But only one of these men or women now running can make it. Those who go down in defeat will leave us nothing to think about during the next four years. I could stand with a Republican Party that had something to say and accept defeat area but the prospect of a continuation of the status quo with another party label offers very little worth voting for, and nothing to stand for.”

I would paraphrase Dad’s sentence to read “the most important problem in this country is how to hitch our resources, human and material, to our needs, human and material, so as to grow a country where men and women can invest their lives in what are to them values without apology.”

(c) 2014 jgschenck

Revising High School


I recently attended my 50th high school reunion, the only one I’ve ever attended.  Why now? I wanted to give myself an opportunity to revise my own image of who I was in high school and revisit Birmingham. And it worked.

The reticent girl who didn’t want anyone to notice her showed up with high top glittering sneakers, a white silk shirt with a black bow tie, and tuxedo pants.  At first, I was nervous about what I’d wear, trying to figure out how I was going to fit in with the girls I never fit in with during high school. Then my wonderful spouse held up these shoes and said, “Screw it. If it was me, I’d wear th

Reunion.Shoesese.” It was so clear. The only way I’d have a good time would be if I went as myself, not a clone of someone else. When I bought the shoes, I felt a great weight lift. I didn’t have to be them, whoever “them” was. I could really be me. That was good, because I don’t know how to be anyone else.

I don’t know who the reunion attendees remembered me as being. I had seen myself as an observer, a passive one, of all that happened during the years we lived in Birmingham. So, it was fitting that most of the attendees didn’t seem to remember me at all. All the “stuff” that happened in high school was revised and, hopefully, put into a more realistic scenario.. I was in the room with people who had had business and personal failures, illnesses, joys, sorrows, heartbreaks, people who had faced challenges and won some, lost some – they were people just like me, 67 years old and still trying to figure things out.

The “big” issue I came prepared to address, my being gay, wasn’t an issue for most people. The majority just didn’t care. There was at least one frosty shoulder, but it was inconsequential. One person I expected to enjoy seeing was a disappointment. I realized we’ve both changed so much that the tenuous strands of friendship will have to readjust for us to “fit” now.

Perhaps my favorite moment was telling a woman I knew from church that I remembered her after-church skit from “South Pacific.” She and another girl sang “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my life,” so I told her it was her fault I’m gay. In fact, I said, I’d told my mother it was Carolyn’s fault, and before my mother died she was looking for Carolyn. It got the big laugh I’d hoped it would get, because that’s who I am and that’s what I do.

For me, the best part of the reunion was the realization that I left Birmingham with more friends than I came with. I met people I’d known before, but most didn’t remember me, just as I didn’t remember most of them. There were exceptions, of course, such as the woman who remembered all that we did together in the ninth grade. She and her husband live in Ohio and will stop by on their way to Boston this summer.

And I loved telling a woman who was nice to me when I first moved to Birmingham who much I appreciated her kindness 54 years ago. It isn’t often one has the opportunity to repay a good deed. She didn’t do anything big. She was just nice to me.

I was also interested in being in Birmingham again, half a century after the demonstrations. Of course, I’ve visited many times In the past, but it always seemed that people in Alabama wanted to act as if it all never happened, and I found that insulting. The racist actions of the 1960’s government and white people – it all shaped who I am. To sweep it under the rug dismissed its impact on me. I was pleased, when we visited Vulcan Park, to see that Birmingham has embraced its past, but, while things aren’t perfect or as I wish they could be, the same could be said of most places. In the 1960’s, Birmingham’s racism was exposed for the world to see, and the city isn’t hiding what happened. It’s moving forward, and has incorporated the past into the brick and mortar of its foundation. That makes it easier for me to move on, too.

I am not so foolish as to believe everyone I met has miraculously transformed into a civil rights activist, but I think most people have grown. That’s what life does to you, at least I hope so.

So high school’s big weight has been lifted. If I chose to hang onto the old memories, it would be as if I chose to walk around with dog poop on my shoe. I am replacing the bad memories with good ones, happy ones in which I am the hero of my own story.

©2014 jgschenck


In 1974, I made the decision that had been growing inside me for six years out of the six and a half I had been married: to leave my husband and strike out on my own for a life outside boundaries. I was fearless and terrified, but I trusted completely in Life to guide me and protect me. There wasn’t any reason to believe that I would be all right, but I knew instinctively I would.

Looking back, I still don’t know why I let Life lead me to new opportunities, but I did without a great deal of questioning. I literally went with the flow.

My husband and I had booked a three week trip to Yugoslavia (my destination choice – I wanted to see Dubrovnik!) when I told him I was leaving him. The next day he told me the travel agency informed him they would not give us a full refund, and he asked me to stay with him until after the trip. I did not. He went to England for two weeks.

I had scheduled time off from my job at Yale University, but suddenly had nowhere to go. A friend in the Provost’s Office (Yale had its first woman provost; we were all feminists and part of the sisterhood)  showed me a letter to the editor of MS Magazine from a woman who was running a retreat for women only, so I said I’d go for a week. If she had not remembered that letter, I’d probably still be living in New Haven, CT, perhaps still working at Yale University. Opportunity one.

I had a good time in upstate New York, and met the first woman I ever slept with. The Great Kahuna who ran the place asked me to stay another week – I was a fun guest. So I stayed. Opportunity two.

At the end of the second week – by then I’d met the second woman, and this one I was involved with for about eight months – a group of the women who I’d met at the retreat asked me to join their collective and live at a former retreat outside of Athol, NY. My total investment would be $10,000, to get my name on the deed. I didn’t have that much money. In fact, once my husband had everything we owned appraised, I ended up with about $3,500, all the money I could expect. I gave it all to the collective! We moved to a former mountain lodge, complete with an enormous moose head in the barn, and I began to learn about myself. Opportunity three.

What I had not realized was that being part of a collective meant giving up parts of you for the greater good of the collective. I got married three days after my final exam in college, moved to North Carolina from my home in Birmingham, AL, and began supporting my new husband in graduate school. The bottom line was that I had gone from my parents’ home to my husband’s and knew very little about myself. Living in a women’s collective was illuminating. One learns what one values by how intensely one refuses to let go of things.

I desperately needed to get away from New York for a brief spell, and I was so fortunate that I have the most wonderful brother and sister-in-law in the world. They offered to fly me from Albany to Chicago for a visit. Opportunity four.

I remember Lee telling me I could leave the collective, and I responded that I’d promised I would stay. After leaving my husband – with whom I’d also promised I would stay – leaving the collective felt like another failure, but my brother, whom I trust without reservation, assured me in the grand scheme of Life this would not be a failure. I finally exhaled after seven months of trying to fit square peg me into the pattern of the collective.

From Chicago, I flew to Cincinnati for a week with a woman I’d met at the women’s retreat. She wanted to leave Cincinnati, and I wanted to leave the collective, so we agreed we would each leave, meet in Syracuse and find a place where we could live near each other, but not together.  Opportunity five.

There was nothing about Syracuse I liked, but, to be honest, we were in a motel next to the Interstate. It was probably not the nicest area of town. The next day we drove into western Massachusetts and visited Pittsfield and Williamstown. She wanted Williamstown, which left me with Pittsfield. That was an opportunity I let pass! The following day we drove into Northampton and Amherst which I loved. Amherst was like Chapel Hill, NC, and I knew how to live in Chapel Hill. Opportunity six.

I had no money, no home, and no job – and she’d flown back to Cincinnati to pack. It was an incredibly lonely time. Walking around Amherst, I saw Grace Episcopal Church in the middle of the town. I had joined the Episcopal Church in New Haven and felt comfortable with that particular brand of religion, so I went in. I asked if I could see the minister/rector and was shown into his office. When I walked into his office, I saw a white placard hanging on the wall – “I AM A MAN.”  I recognized it instantly as being part of the janitors’ march in Memphis in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had participated shortly before his assassination.

“Were you with Dr. King in Memphis?” I asked. He had been. We talked about civil rights, Birmingham, my parents, my life, and my goals. Rev. Clark and I bonded very quickly – I reminded him of his youngest daughter, a rebel.

He called a man he knew from the church who worked at the local newspaper and got me a minimum wage job. As rector of the church, he was also chaplain to Amherst College, which owned the Lord Jeffrey Inn. He called the manager at the Lord Jeff and got me a room for $10/night which included a continental breakfast. Then he called a local realtor who also was a member of the church, and the man had a basement apartment three blocks from town that would be available in a week. Within two hours of meeting Rev. Clark, I had a job, a home, a place to stay in the meantime, and I had a church. Opportunity seven.

Of course, as luck would have it, my friend from Cincinnati moved to Northampton…with her ex-boyfriend. I was still lonely. One day I saw a flyer for a new group forming at the University of Massachusetts’ Everywoman’s Center for lesbians over 25.  I found my community. Opportunity eight.

Things happen, even if you aren’t expecting them. Things happen if you are open to what is offered. I was given at least eight great chance opportunities within one year’s time. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew I would not live the life I could by staying put.

One of my long-time friends has told me I am brave. In the past I thought I was. Now, however, I wonder if I’m not just lucky. I like who I am, and I believe in myself…even when there is no reason to do so. In the midst of failures, I’ve always known things will be fine. If I find myself struggling too much, I stop and take another look at what’s occurring. If I’m living the life I want to, things will flow.

One of my favorite movies is “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” with Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. My favorite saying: “Things will be alright in the end, and if they aren’t alright, then it’s not the end.”

©2014 jgschenck