Letters Home


With each passing year it's harder to remember what life was like when I was young, and what I myself was like. Why would you want to, you might ask, and you have a point; some things are better forgotten. Still, sometimes I wished I'd kept a diary.

Then a few weeks ago it occurred to me that I sort of had. Starting from when I went off to Penn State in June 1962, I wrote letters to my parents every few days until they died in 1991—and my mother saved them all. After unearthing the box from the garage I began to read.

Here are excerpts from those letters, which I'll add to as time allows. Of course they aren't as intimate as a diary; there were plenty of things I didn't tell my parents, and it was constraining to know that my father was reading as well as my mother.

A soupçon of background: I grew up in a small northeastern Pennsylvania town in a family whose main social outlet was the Methodist church. I wasn't very attractive or personable; in high school I was a band member, not a cheerleader. I wasn't a good student and mostly slid through school.

A partial index to LETTERS HOME:

 
1
1962
June:
Arrived at Penn State. Registered as a Home Ec major and played sax in the summer band.
 
2
1962
July:
Got some work as a piano accompanist. My first-term grades were not so good.
 
3
1962
Sept:
Started working in the dining hall. Tried to exempt out of beginning sewing. Suicide at East Halls.
 
4
1962
Oct:
Having flunked the sewing test, maybe will become a music major.
 
5
1962
Nov:
Switching roommates. It's great to be working in the dining hall. A suicide in Pollock A.
 
6
1963
Jan:
Now majoring in Music Education. Roommate's father has pretty much disowned her.
 
7
1963
Feb:
Roommate is coping with her disfunctional family. I'm working a lot.
 
8
1963
Mar:
A 3-day field trip by bus from Penn State to NYC—where I plan to eventually live.
 
9
1963
Apr:
More on the NYC trip. Taking sax and piano lessons.
 
10
1963
May:
Meeting my roommate's strange parents. Overwhelmed by taking on too many activities.
 
11
1963
May:
Accompanist for the Miss Centre County pageant, a lowest-rung competition for Miss America.
 
12
1963
June:
Summer quarter again, with summer band and a new summer roommate.
 
13
1963
July:
Trying so hard in band and chorus. Music isn't really my thing, but it's where I am.
 
14
1963
Sept:
Didn't make regular band. Cried at my voice lesson. Want to finish college early.
 
15
1963
Nov:
Accompanist for a musical. JFK is shot. I am incapable of conducting.
 
16
1964
Apr:
(Can't find letters from winter term.) Joined Mu Phi Epsilon music sorority.
 
17
1964
May:
High school friend deactivating from a sorority. My roommate and I quarrel.
 
18
1964
Sept:
Accompanying "Oklahoma". Still trying to exempt-out of classes to finish early.
 
19
1964
Oct:
Lost the "Oklahoma" spot. Have decided I'll need secretarial school after Penn State.
 
20
1965
Jan:
My last (tenth) quarter at Penn State. Sending out résumés.
 
21
1965
Feb:
Trying for a job on a cruise ship, or an international government job.
 
22
1965
Mar:
No job lined up for me, so I'll have to go pound the pavement in NYC. I graduate!
 
23
1965
Apr:
Arrived in NYC with multiple suitcases. On my third day, got a job offer from ABC.
 
24
1965
Apr:
Being unemployed, had to move into the Webster Apartments. Then accepted the ABC job.
 
25
1965
May:
Don't like living at the Webster. Trying to get a room/bath at the Laura Spelman YWCA.
 
26
1965
May:
Successfully moved to the YWCA. Going to Broadway shows, buying clothes with my new paychecks.
 
27
1965
June:
Making friends at the Y. Investigating the Mary Byers secretarial school.
 
28
1965
July:
Working in ABC's music clearance department. Returned a dress that shrank.
 
29
1965
Aug:
Took a city bus north through Harlem to 159th Street, a frightening ride.
 
30
1965
Oct:
Decided not move into an apartment with 3 other girls. Saw the Big Blackout of Nov. 9.
 
31
1965
Nov:
Took a Civil Service test to become an employment interviewer.
 
32
1966
Jan:
Buses and subways are on strike. Buffy Sainte Marie comes to live at the Y.
 
33
1966
Feb:
Trying to move up from typist/file-clerk to legal secretary.
 
34
1966
Mar:
ABC is slow to promote me and slow to pay its bills. Maybe I'll try an overseas job.
 
35
1966
May:
Promoted to secretary in the legal department, with a dreamboat boss.
 
36
1966
June:
My boss left for a job in Hollywood. Now I'll be a "floater", trying out various ABC departments.
 
37
1966
Oct:
A date with an actor, and starting to look for a new job outside ABC.
 
38
1967
Jan:
Started work with Olsten's temporary agency. My friend has a nervous breakdown.
 
39
1967
Feb:
A great 6-week temp job in the personnel dept. of the Singer Co. in Rockefeller Center.
 
40
1967
Apr:
Temp jobs at Harriet Hubbard Ayer and CBS News. My high school 5-year reunion is coming up.
 
41
1967
May:
While temp'ing as a secretary in J.C. Penney's computer dept., I decide to become a programmer.
 
42
1967
June:
Training as a computer programmer at Metropolitan Life, and moving to Greenwich Village.
 
43
1967
July:
Learning my new job at Metropolitan Life. Nearly evicted from my Greenwich Village lodging.
 
44
1967
Aug:
Being the only female computer programmer in my department. Evading my housemother.

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