Peace Corps Writers
God, President Kennedy and Me (page 2)
God, President Kennedy and Me
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page 2
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Making out with Jean Paul
When I look back, I realize that I didn’t really have to win that contest to take up more than my share of space in the high school yearbook. I’d been a dismal failure in junior high school. Partially because I got a bad reputation when I made out with Jean Paul Mathieu, the French exchange student, at the Thanksgiving homecoming game, and the Vice Principal had reprimanded me right in front of everyone: “You shouldn’t even be wearing lipstick, much less doing what you were doing.” But Jean Paul Mathieu was a foreign student, and from a very early age, foreigners were my idols. I regarded them as celebrities.
     In fact, I had a fantasy of marrying three foreigners — a Chinaman, a Frenchman, and a Mexican — and having a baby with each one. Then the children and I would travel around and spend four months in China learning Chinese and the Chinese culture, four months in France learning French and the French culture, and four months in Mexico, et cetera.
     That had been my fantasy until President Kennedy introduced the idea of the Peace Corps. Having three husbands was a beautiful fantasy. But the Peace Corps was a cross-culture dream that could come true. Anyway, girls weren’t even supposed to begin wearing lipstick until the second semester of seventh grade, so because of the lipstick and what I was doing with Jean Paul Mathieu people thought I was fast and cheap, and this was a school for nice girls, so I was ostracized. Now that I think of it, though, Ursula stood by me. But of course she was the one who’d told me to wear lipstick my first semester even though everyone in the car pool and at Miss Sloane’s Dance Class had agreed on the second semester. The point, though, is that I had a bad reputation in junior high.
Winning friends with Dale
But in high school I’d over-compensated. I’d learned that success consisted of being like everybody else, only better, and — God willing— prettier. I’d learned how not to be weird, not to look too eager. I’d learned how not to dress. (Not in my wilted, smelly gym blouse just because I could never get my locker open. Not with my bobby socks crawling down into my loafers.) I’d even learned how to open my locker. I’d learned when to help others and when to help myself. I’d read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and I’d begun my negotiations with God.

About "Splendor in the Grass" — the movie

     Gradually I’d become socially acceptable — even decent. I was DAR Girl and Chairman of Religious Emphasis Week. I’d accumulated awards and been elected to school offices. Now I was a member of Executive Council and the Editor of the literary yearbook, The Rebel. This was a big turn-about for a girl who’d been nominated for an office only once in junior high school and had broken out in a cold sweat because she feared the only vote she’d get was that of the kid nominating her. I was right. The teacher forgot to erase the board, and I saw it with my own eyes.

Homeroom Coupon Chairman
   Janet Donahue: 16 votes
   Matthew Kent: 8 votes
   Barbara Lee Shealy: 1

Did I mention that my name is Barbara Lee Shealy?

Splendor in the grass
But now in my senior year of high school, I was president of two clubs, including Future Teachers of America, which was sponsoring me in the beauty contest that night. If I won, in a way it would be a boon to American education. But I have to admit, it wasn’t just for that that I wanted to win. I wanted to win so that I’d have a permanent record of how I was before I started to grow old. Ursula always said that from the age of sixteen, we start to die a little bit every year. “Nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower,” Ursula said, “So gather we rosebuds while we may.” I wanted a two-page spread of how I was before I started to wither and wilt.

     Ursula had told me to cut classes that day so she’d have longer to work on me — after all, she was cutting three days of her classes at Winthrop to come home to help me — but the principal had a new policy. He saw how girls were being absent from their classes to have their hair done on the day of the beauty contest, so this year he’d announced that roll would be taken, and any girl absent from any of her classes would be ineligible to compete in the Miss Greenville High School Beauty Contest. So Ursula agreed to start in on my Jackie Kennedy “do” right after school got out.
     Before I left for school that morning, I caught my mom reading when she was supposed to be working on my dress.
“What’s The Feminine Mystic about?” I’d asked her.
     “It’s Feminine Mystique,” she’d corrected me. “It’s all about the sacred feminine ideal.”
     I’d nodded. I had a sacred feminine ideal: God willing, I’d be the prettiest girl of all — please, dear God, just for one night. If mother ever finished the dress! When Ursula got up, she could nag her while I was in school. She’d driven up the night before in the little Fiat Daddy bought her because he wouldn’t support the re-industrialization of Germany by buying a VW, and she and I had had a little bit of time to confer on how I should walk, how I should smile, and things like that. She’d been nice until she just had to ask that question she’d been taunting me with all semester.
     “How’s your campaign going?”
     “What campaign?”
     “You know. The one for the highest possible moral standards award?”
     “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Glenn McAteer Scholarship
“Yes, you do!”
     “No, I don’t!” I said. I looked at her as if she were crazy and I had a low tolerance for the mentally ill.
     But I knew. She was talking about the Glenn McAteer Scholarship, which was awarded to a high school senior every year. Glenn had once been the president of the student body at Greenville High, and then he’d been killed in action in Korea. In his memory they gave an award to the senior who most exemplified the characteristics he embodied: Service, leadership, and the highest possible moral standards.
     They didn’t have the term “short list” back then, but if they had, I’d have been on it. Unless they found out about me in junior high.
     Mother put down her book and told me to try on what she’d done so far.
     My gown was long and straight — something like the one Jackie had worn when she’d gone to France with President Kennedy and he’d introduced himself as “the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.” And she’d spoken French with DeGaulle. Someday I’d know French too. I’d join the Peace Corps right after I finished college and I’d go to some French-speaking country and learn French while I did good deeds.
     “Are you sure this is going to be ready by tonight?” I asked her.
“Don’t worry. It’ll be ready,” Mother said through the pins between her front teeth. I remembered how I’d had to wear pins in my clothes on the occasions when my formal wasn’t ready — like for the junior-senior dance the year before.
     “Please God, please,” I prayed silently. “Let it be ready by tonight. Help Mother focus.”

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