In Casper, Wyoming, I didn’t fit in. But people weren’t unfriendly—they were just curious. I was that “different” girl from back East.
Casper was a conservative place. At Kelly Walsh High School, girls were required to wear white blouses and black or navy blue skirts. Boys could not wear blue jeans, and their hair had to be kept short—nothing over the tops of the ears. The dean of girls (I think that was her title) was the ferocious Mrs. Scifers. If she thought your skirt might be too short, she would have you kneel on the floor. If the hem did not touch the floor, you had to go home and put on a longer skirt.
I specialized in obeying the letter but not the spirit of the dress code. With my white blouse and black skirt, I wore Desert Boots. I wore a wide leather belt. And I overcame my aversion to sewing to the extent of going down to the Tandy Leather store, buying some pieces of cowhide, and making myself a suede vest with long fringe around the bottom. It even had a design of a jumping deer on the back.
My Aunt Phyllis decided that despite the unpromising fact that I had pawned my sewing machine when I ran away from home, she and I might be able to bond over a sewing project. She got a pattern for a spring coat, and we picked out a fabric together. It was one of those nubbly 1960s fabrics in pastels, and there was a pink polyester lining for the coat. Alas, the project was much too difficult for me, and eventually she gave up on my completing it.
I had started learning to drive at the time I ran away, and my cousin Rin took over the task of teaching me. We didn’t bother about getting a learner’s permit—she would just pull over from time to time and let me take the wheel of the International Scout.
I had a tough time with the Scout. It was a 4WD vehicle with a manual transmission, and I constantly stalled it out. One time we stopped at a light on a steep hill, and I repeatedly stalled it, with traffic collecting behind, until Rin had the idea of pulling out the throttle knob, which had the same effect as stepping on the accelerator. The light turned green, I took my foot off the brake, and we lurched forward.
But “Scoutie” was a great vehicle. The two windshield wipers functioned independently, operated by pushing a button over either one. There was a manual choke (which I never got the hang of). Scoutie could forge right through deep Wyoming snowdrifts, and it had a stripped-down, all-metal aesthetic that I remember fondly.
My Uncle Rod would take me out horseback riding at the stable out of town where the family kept their two horses. I rode Rin’s beautiful Arab, which you see pictured at top. Uncle Rod of course rode Western style, and when he saw that I liked to ride with very short stirrups, he found an old McClellan cavalry saddle that I could use. I neck-reined my horse the Western way but otherwise rode English style. I remember riding on the prairie in snow so deep that the horses literally swam through some of the drifts.
A shy, quiet person, I didn’t make friends quickly, but Rin and her friend Ardee took me under their wing. They had adopted a hobby of making colorful ceramic jewelry painted with whimsical stripes and dots. They called them “Krummy Buttons” and attached pins to the back for wearing with those mandatory white blouses. Mrs. Scifers could do nothing about it.
I did make one friend with whom I am still in touch to this day, Pam Goodman. She was in my German class, and I remember sitting next to her practicing those terrible German verbs in the language lab, our ears covered with gigantic headphones. The school was on the edge of town, and tumbleweeds blew past the windows. Little did we know that Pam would eventually become a speech therapist working at an Army base near Stuttgart, and that I would visit her there a couple of times. One time we even met up in Berlin when I was over there for a business trip, and we took the train together to the Czech Republic.
Spring rolled around, school ended, and it was time for me to return to Arlington, Virginia. The months in Casper had been an interesting experience, but my time there did nothing to change my ideas or my lifestyle. I was soon involved in all the iniquities I could manage to come up with—sneaking out to see Dennis again, exploring the wonderful world of psychedelic drugs with my friend Eileen, and goofing off when it came to schoolwork. I decided I did not want to go to college. I did nothing my senior year in the way of applying to schools, causing Mom and Dad to wring their hands.
It all turned out fine in the long run. I spent four months hitchhiking through Europe the year after high school, I ended up going to college after all, and my life did not go to wrack and ruin. I will return periodically to some of these experiences—but for now, I conclude this series.