The author in 1968. Photo by Bill Munds
Introduction: I wrote a memoir in 2014. I put it to rest a few years back. Still some of the chapters are fun and tell a story of a California Girl transitioning from lost child, to an adolescent challenge, to a debutant–a buck-wild parallel to the 1960s.
Fast forward to my third marriage and 1993: A young girl and her tribe of fellow lost souls often visited my Santa Fe bookstore. Dirt lined her fingernails; Oily secretions stiffened her hair. She was bright, but annoying. Why? That’s a question that bothered me until I realized that she represented the embodiment of Charmaine Haley (me) at that exact age—11, going on 12—and done with the parental dysfunction that I lived with.
I was a lost soul. Nearly a street urchin. Unloved. But strong enough to crawl out from my bedroom window into the dark desert night and bid sad Charmaine goodbye.
No one forced me to return back to my father and stepmother’s house. But the next few months remained a confused dream—much like when my mother died. Briefly, I lived with my older cousin and her family. A few weeks into that living arrangement, I accidentally heard an after hour’s adult conversation that included, “Charmaine is a problem child. Something has to be done with her.” Emboldened, I appeared before the round-table discussion and asked, “Exactly what do you mean that I’m a problem?” A day or two later, I was whisked away to my godparent’s home.
Be careful what you say. You want problem?
And so began a five-year adolescent adventure, a transition from dirty girl to debutant, and mastering the art of pain in the ass.
I’m clueless as to the financial, if any, arrangement for my care. My father upheld his Catholic parental duty and kept me in Catholic tutelage through high school—even if it required a daily bus ride of about a 100-mile round trip. New friends. New environment. New adventures. New me.
I was stepmother-free, mostly father-free, desert-free (when at school in the San Fernando Valley), and pretty much discipline-free. There was no containment. Was I buck-wild? Maybe.
Neither a closed window nor locked door kept me trapped inside. I roamed my godparent’s neighborhood at midnight or stretched out on the crabgrass and watched shooting stars. Imaginative thoughts found their way on paper. Music, any kind of music, was mine to hear. Eye makeup. Long hair. Fashion boots. Tight jeans.
The beach: Anytime I could. I either hitchhiked or found a friend that was beach bound. Zuma , The Colonies, Malibu, sometimes Carpenteria, Redondo and Manhattan. Just get me to the sand and crashing surf. I welcomed the sun as it melted me into the sand. The song of the incoming and outgoing tide washed away any fear or doubt—even when President Kennedy faced the evil Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis. I also prayed that we would not have to face nuclear devastation, and then danced to the Monster Mash at a high school dance the same night.
The Beach Boys ruled. The Beatles were adorable and my best friend and I went to the first Rolling Stones concert in Los Angeles. Groovy. Totally bitchen.
And the boys? Yes. Heathens, a term used by my godmother for non-Catholics, were my preference. There were a few midnight escapes to skateboard Reseda’s sidewalks with a guy named Mace. A football letterman drove me to his Lancaster high school prom in his Corvette. A surfer kid from another Valley high school occasionally asked me to tag-along with him while he surfed Malibu and then cruise PCH for lack of a more creative idea. The drummer in a local garage band took me to drag races.
My godfather asked, “Can’t you get a date with a good Catholic boy from your own school?” Apparently not.
And finally, and under the protection of some unknown angel, there were endless antics behind the wheel of my father’s car “securely locked away” while he worked in Texas. Well, secure to those who didn’t know where the key was. I didn’t have a driver’s license yet, but I was good to go, nonetheless.
By 17 with a part time job I bought my own car. Maybe it was my prayer and devotion to practicing Catholicism that saved me from some untimely death in that car.
The Sixties maturation began in 1966. By midterm senior year, President Lyndon B. Johnson swore that the United States would stay in Viet Nam until “…Communist aggression ended;” Sgt. Barry Sadler performed 1966’s number one hit, The Ballad of the Green Berets; Martin Luther King, Jr. marched in Chicago; race riots raged in Omaha, Chicago, and Cleveland; 400 New Yorkers died from smog; the United States, France, Russia and China continued nuclear tests; 215,000 U.S. soldiers served in Viet Nam–all to the background sounds, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Sounds of Silence, We Gotta Get Out of this Place and Paint it Black.
With my best friend we grooved the Sunset Strip scene and flashed fake IDs to get in The Whiskey. And rational students planned their college education.
High school graduation in 1966 catapulted me into a fast-changing world. It was also a day I met my grandparents for the first time since 1951. When I hugged my grandmother, she was a frail old lady wrapped in a fur stole and, sadly, a stranger.
This reads as if I was one bad girl. I wasn’t. I volunteered at a convalescent hospital; worked for political candidates passing out flyers and knocking on doors; and maintained my devotions and faith. Fear passed me by. But my godparents status and my community service didn’t go unnoticed, as I was invited to the 2nd Annual Debutant Ball, slated for the coming November. My godfather, not my father, presented me to society.