As you meet new folks out and about, quite often someone will ask, “Where are you from?” That conversation at a recent event sent me tooling down memory lane.
I always start by saying I’m from NYC, which shocks people since I haven’t had a New York accent since about five minutes after I got to Clarkston High School in 1967.
Unless you’re my age, you may not recall that Lester Maddox was governor of Georgia from 1967–1971, a fact that looms large in the story I tell about moving here. I’d heard all about Lester Maddox—perhaps because Mom was from Macon or maybe because Lester Maddox and his pick handles made the national news. No matter why or how, I knew enough about the man to be horrified that we were moving to Atlanta.
He was famous for barring African Americans from his Pickrick restaurant in Atlanta. When a few “unacceptable” folks tried to enter the restaurant, he and his staff grabbed pick handles—yes, pick handles, and stood outside. I was telling this story just the other day when someone asked, “What are pickhandles?” I’d never considered what they were exactly, but I now know they were the wooden handles for the picks—no blades attached.
Consider that no eighth grader willingly changes schools, and then imagine me moving from NY to Georgia at age 13. It was a culture shock. I went from having only recently convinced my mother to allow me to wear stockings to attending a school where girls most often wore saddle oxfords and sox. I owned neither but soon remedied that situation.
It was bad enough I had pierced ears and wore dangly earrings, wore short skirts, which back then meant a skirt slightly above the knee, and had a distinctive accent. When I recall those early days, I’m convinced my new classmates didn’t know what to think of me. Probably my only saving grace was that my mom took us to Clarkston Baptist Church.
A story I always recount is having to write 100 times, “I will say ‘Yes Sir’” and coming home in tears because my English teacher kept calling me a Yankee. The daily tears prompted my father to visit Clarkston High to speak to Mr. Biggs, the English teacher. Picture my dad, a full-blooded Greek with black hair and olive complexion, dressed in what I describe as his best Mafia suit, confronting Mr. Biggs.
I didn’t get to hear that conversation, but it had the desired effect. And, for the record, my dad wasn’t in the Mafia, though I think one of my older Italian cousins may have been. Even if he wasn’t, we’re all pretty sure he was a bookie.
Soon enough, I made new friends, made the drill team, and was even a contestant in the Miss CHS contest. I had no special talent, so goodness knows how I managed to compete. I still remember my friend Annette winning the crown by staging a fashion show with clothes she designed and sewed.
My claim to fame in high school was that Pistol Pete Maravich chose me when the yearbook staff sent him class photos of several senior girls and asked him to select the most photogenic. When they announced I’d been named Miss Angora, I was speechless. L’est you think it gave me a big head, please note that I usually say my title was Miss Goat since our mascot was an Angora … goat. That thought will put a girl in her place.
Kathy is a Sandy Springs resident. Find her books, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch” and “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” at the Enchanted Forest, Amy’s Hallmark at the Forum, and on Amazon. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Facebook, www.facebook.com/KathyManosPennAuthor/.