When Nineteen Was Far Away
I’m sixty-two today.
It’s true what they say about time passing more quickly as you get older. The last twenty years especially are like a book that I just skimmed through. I wish I had read every line more carefully. I may had missed some hidden meaning in my race to the next chapter.
There was a time, though, when I thought being grown up was so very far away.
My cousin recently shared a photo that I had never seen before.
It’s me at eight:
I love this picture. I love my ragamuffin hair, my Bristol Girls’ Club sweatshirt, my blue sneakers with droopy socks. I even love the plaid shorts with matching shirt – because it reminds me of my mother, who loved to dress me in plaid, which I hated. I remember that shorts set. The shirt was a white polo with a plaid collar and placket.
I especially love the eight-year-old sweetness I see in my crossed hands and pigeon-toed self-consciousness.
That little girl with the shy smile thought she would never grow up.
I recall exactly what I thought grown up was.
I couldn’t even fathom twenty.
But nineteen. Oh my.
I knew what happened when you were nineteen. Because I had witnessed it.
On September 6, 1958, I watched the Miss America pageant. Mary Ann Mobley was crowned Miss America 1959. She was the prettiest woman I had ever seen.
And she was nineteen.
That’s when I knew what I wanted to be.
But it was so very far away.
The next summer at the penny arcade at Lake Compounce Amusement Park, I memorialized my goal. There was an engraving machine that made little medallions. It was very expensive – fifty cents I think. But I had saved for this occasion.
I spent a lot of time at that machine selecting the letters that were stamped onto the outer circle of the aluminum ring:
Yes, 1970. So distant I could hardly imagine it. I would be nineteen. I would be Miss America.
I kept that charm for a very long time. (My mother believes that she still has it in a drawer somewhere — maybe with her autographed Frank Sinatra record.)
But somehow 1970 got by me. And many subsequent years. Forty-three since I was nineteen.
And fifty-four years since I was that little elf-child who wanted to be Miss America.
But with my enduring and complete adoration of the accoutrements of beauty: makeup, fashion, hair – I realize that I am still that little girl, still dreaming of being Miss America.
Maybe sixty-two will be my year.