Nov. 19, 2022

PRETTY IS--AS PRETTY DOES.

Ann and I met in Junior High School. She was pretty, had a nice figure, and wore expensive cashmere sweaters, jackets with fur trim, and nice jewelry.  We hadn’t met in grade school because she lived in our town’s most affluent neighborhood.  She attended the nearby grade school where almost-all the students were popular, rich, and considered most-likely-to-succeed.

I don’t know about high schools today but, back then, students formed somewhat of a “caste system” in Junior and Senior High.  Students gathered together in groups and would always “hang out” with their specific group.  Every morning before school started and at lunch time, groups gathered at various areas on school property to talk, flirt, and gossip.  It was a hurtful time for those who didn’t belong to any group. 

Naturally, Ann belonged to the number-one group--the one with the most-important, most-popular, and largest number of snobs.  And, looking back, most weren’t able to maintain their important/popular status—once they'd left school and started college. 

Surprisingly, Ann and I attended the same women’s college in St. Charles, Missouri. And, even more surprising--for our freshman year--we ended up as roommates. But, that’s where all the surprises, end. She spent every weekend off campus with her boyfriend, the one whose father worked for the railroad, like my father. But, rather than take a chance on some poor boy marrying his daughter, Ann’s father paid for her boyfriend to attend an expensive college, drive a fancy car, and live off-campus in a nice apartment.  After all, Ann’s family had a reputation to maintain. They weren’t going to jeopardize their “standing” in the Pine Bluff community by letting their daughter marry a nobody with no-future-- or, heaven-forbid-- marry a nobody who worked for the railroad!

I well-remember the day I walked in my room and found Ann sitting at my desk, reading my personal letters. Rather than being humiliated, acting ashamed, or trying to apologize, Ann began laughing. She couldn’t believe I was corresponding with some lowly private in the Army-- some poor guy from a hick town named Sherrill, who didn’t even know how to spell! I can still hear her words as she held up the picture of my friend in his military uniform.  “My God Sally, you graduated prettiest in our class--- and you can’t do any better than this skinny, uneducated loser?!?!?”

Those were the days when manners defined us. Regardless of being rich or poor, everyone was expected to use their manners--not sometimes but-- always.  From birth, I’d been taught to respect people, their privacy, and their property. My grandmother, the church’s long-time Sunday school teacher, repeated her most valuable lesson year after year: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” and, I never forgot.

I grabbed my friend’s photo, picked up the many opened letters scattered on my desk, and left the room. We didn't speak of the incident ever-again but, I never trusted Ann from that day--forward. I hid my personal items and correspondence in an available locker in the music department.  I remained cordial, polite, and managed to finish my freshman year at college without controversy but, a part of my innocence left me that year. After sharing a room with Ann for nine months, she wasn’t as pretty as when I’d first met her.

That summer, Ann and her longtime boyfriend, Harry, got married. Of course, she asked me to sing at the wedding and--ever the pleaser-- I accepted. I was standing at the back of the church after the ceremony-- ready to leave-- when Ann stopped hugging family and friends long-enough to hand me a clumsily-wrapped package.  After saying a brief “thanks for the songs”--she hurried back to her close-knit group.

Later, in the car, I un-wrapped Ann’s thank-you gift. That was more than sixty years ago and today, I’m still the owner of the ugliest and heaviest ashtray ever-created by man. And, I've never smoked. 

The ashtray is a shapeless piece of heavy, thick glass-- completely void of beauty and----most-likely a wedding gift Ann didn't want--- but--- I keep it as an instant reminder:

“LOOKS are superficial and fade with time. REAL BEAUTY comes from within and---grows more beautiful, each and every day.”  

Sally Miller