1967-1969 Interlude

University of Omaha Scholarship 001

My life’s journey really changed direction during 1967-1969. I received a letter announcing I had earned a scholarship to attend the University of Omaha. This opportunity was totally unexpected. I did not expect to go to college. The College Prep study offered at Omaha South High helped me avoid business courses. My mother worked in clerical, but I lacked confidence in my ability to ever master typing and shorthand. My favorite courses were Social Studies – History, Economics, Government. I had an almost photographic memory at the time that made it easy to memorize. I enjoyed Biology except for one embarassing moment in 8th grade. Other science offerings with a lot of experiments and analysis were too challenging. I lost touch with Math somewhere in 9th Grade. Chemistry and Geometry became problematic. I certainly could have done better if I did homework. That was never going to happen because I treasured my after school and evening hours of freedom. I really did not pay much attention in class. Daydreaming was still a major focus of my school day. I lacked motivation and discipline. English was always a mixed bag for me. I loved reading and could do this rapidly. I hated writing and did not learn much grammar after the 8th Grade. I signed up for Latin class to attend the festive Spring Banquet. I discovered no talent for foreign languages after a brief introduction to Spanish in 8th Grade. There seemed to be something about verbal learning. I could hear pronunciation but never repeat it correctly.

Early high school 001 Looking forward to high school 

brush rollers worn in public because home hair dryers worked in slow motion!

My family did not have the resources to send me to college. Neither of my parents attended college. My father received his education at trade school via the GI Bill following his WWII military service. Movies and television programs at the time depicted women serving in the military. Enlisting in the military offered a fallback plan if I did not get married soon. I preferred the Navy and Marines because I liked the female uniforms. The various shows I watched suggested administrative and medical work would be available. I was obviously concerned about my chances of mastering clerical skills. A medical position intrigued me, but I had one fear to overcome. Much to my humiliation, I had fainted at the sight of blood in 8th grade Science class. The teacher brought in some beef heart and lungs to examine. My classmates laughed when I keeled over with cotton dress skirt flying over my head to reveal nerdy underwear! A medical career might be a stretch.

My scholarship saved me from a really tough decision. I was shocked when my Dad sat me down and advised that he did not want me to enlist. His explanation was that it was no place to be for a young woman. I do not recall that he gave much of a detailed explanation. He did say he had met and observed some pretty “hard” women during his war service. I got the impression his concern related to proper gender behavior and sexual morality. My father strongly disapproved of this choice and I could lose whatever respect he had for me.

My mother also sat me down. She strongly urged me to take the scholarship. She explained that she had turned down her own opportunity to go to college. She chose to get an office job instead and said she always regretted it. I really did not need to be convinced. I happily accepted the scholarship because I did not want to go to work for a paycheck.

I had worked a summer job at my dad’s insistence when I turned 16. I was totally shocked when he took me for a Goodrich ice cream and broke the news to me. The harsh reality was my family was strapped for cash and I had to get a job. I became a carhop at the A&W a few blocks from my home. I learned how to make change and balance multiple large root beers on trays while sashaying out to cars in a parking lot. It was hard and sticky work. My starched white cotton blouses smelled of soft serve, sodas and fried food by the end of my shift. We did have some fun at closing time. We gravitated to the soda fountain at Union Station still open late at night. I had the satisfaction of buying some new clothes at Richman Gordman and purchasing new glasses for myself and my little sister. I dated the owner’s son who was visiting for the Summer. Pretty exciting.

Senior Prom 001  My Senior Prom –

that hairdo was professionally coiffed!

But I digress. I was off to college in 1967. My family moved away when my dad got a great job as a skilled trade instructor for the Job Corps. An Aunt and Uncle in South Omaha were generous enough to invite me to stay with them. I learned how to do some household chores for the first time. A guy from my South High Latin class lived nearby and had a car. We became best friends and I was spared a long bus ride with transfers.

My memory served me well and I evolved into a very good student. Early morning classes were difficult. I almost lost my scholarship when I got 2 C’s my first semester. One was in an 8 a.m. typing class my Dad insisted I take to “have something to fall back on.” The other terrible grade was in French class. My Art & Sciences program required a semester in foreign language. French seemed so romantic, but verbal learning skills failed me once again. I actually spaced off the final in this class. I forgot to study and knew I could fail. I took a makeup test and my instructor fortunately had booked a ski trip she was anxious to enjoy. She generously gave me a C after I shared my scholarship situation. She did suggest that I never take another French class. That was the last semester when I had any troubles academically. I wisely dropped the Chemistry class I signed up for Sophomore year. I wanted to hang with some really entertaining friends, but just could not take that academic risk.

My Sophomore year witnessed a cultural shift of great magnitude. The dress code was flaunted and some students became rebellious about the Vietnam War. I had a tolerable student job in the Library. I did not pledge a sorority because I was penniless and could not understand the point really. One day a charismatic young man in Army fatigues and combat boots approached me in the Library. He mentioned that I looked like the Maizie Bird in a Dr. Suess book. I wore British Mod false eyelashes at the time, which were still marginally fashionable. I had updated my wardrobe a bit to include some more current “flower child” fashion. I soon followed friends into wire rimmed glasses.

I bumped into that same flirtatious lad later in the year when my group of friends ventured into the Old Market. Commercial development had come back to this historical district of Downtown Omaha. I remember a bookstore, art gallery and head shop in the area of brick warehouses and produce markets. I found the guy from my library encounter playing a bongo drum on the Northwest corner of 11th and Howard Streets. We talked briefly and he suggested if I came back the next week we could go out. I did return and he had a car at his disposal. His younger brother and a friend were along for the ride and one of them played a guitar.

I made a life changing choice that night. I survived what could have been a risky trip into the woods with 2 high school boys and a college guy I really had just met. I was awfully naive in accepting the invitation. I pray young women today find the good sense to make safer choices. Perhaps, I had a streetwise South O ability to judge character? I was pretty shaken when I later realized the risk I had taken, but it all turned out O.K. The younger guys made a campfire and played music. I somewhat unwisely climbed a tree with my date, but arrived home safely later that night. The newly named University of Nebraska at Omaha semester ended soon thereafter. I took an airplane to a Maryland visit with my parents and younger sister that Summer.

college trip 001  Summer fun in 1969

I eventually learned the name of my knew love interest – Bruce Arnold. He came to the attention of my Aunt and Uncle who expressed disapproval of his longer hair and student radical attire. It did not help that an article appeared in the Omaha World Herald reporting his family’s connection to The Peace and Freedom Party and a community political leader named Ernie Chambers. This was all new territory for my family. I had seen the aftermath of D.C. riots in 1968 when I visted my family in Maryland. My impression of my family’s politics at the time was patriotic, socially conservative and working class Democratic leaning. That same year, we shared the sad loss of Robert Kennedy, Jr. together. His casket entered D.C. by train as we watched from the rooftop of our transitional hotel residence. I have come to appreciate how sharing memories like that can build bridges between generations.

I exchanged correspondence with Bruce Arnold the next Summer. He also travelled to the East Coast but in the Boston area. My home visit was not that exciting. The age of majority being 20 years in Nebraska, I had the legal right to make some decisions for myself. My cocktail preference became rum and coke. I sunbathed during the day and watched T.V. at night. I decided to return to Omaha for Summer School and wrote Bruce to return home so I would not be too bored. He complied and thereby missed what would have been a historic side trip to the Woodstock Festival in New York. The Summer class I intended to enroll in was already closed so I started a lunch counter job at the downtown Brandeis Store. My social life became complicated when my Aunt and Uncle announced I could not date the Arnold kid and reside in their home. (I suspect they discussed the situation with my absent parents.) While awaiting Bruce’s return, I started going out with boys whose more affluent families facilitated sports car cruising. My grownup family supervisors may have predicted my readiness to make a change.

I had a decision to make before going back to UNO for my Junior year. I carefully weighed my options and decided to break it off with Bruce. The next time we went out, I explained that we would have to break up because of my family’s ultimatum. He surprised me by declaring his love and proposing marriage. We could live in his parents’ basement until we graduated from college. He was going to be a senior and said he was aspiring to eventually become a Unitarian minister. I could not turn him down. He was very compelling in an offbeat masculine way. I was in love and he had missed Woodstock for me.

        Arnold wedding 2 001   Dress Arnold wedding 001b  Cake  Arnold wedding 3 001   Minister with Bride & Groom

We quickly planned a wedding to occur 3 weeks later. I waited a week to tell my parents of the upcoming nuptials. They did not have the money to attend. Bruce’s parents hosted an engagement party for their family. I was somewhat startled to overhear his older sister and father speak of stockpiling weapons for the upcoming revolution. My Aunts and Uncles in Omaha graciously attended my ceremony at the First Unitarian Church. I wore a white lace A-line dress my Aunt purchased for $1.50 at the Brandeis bargain basement. I baked a small 3 tiered wedding cake and bought 12 bottles of sparkling Cold Duck wine for the celebration. I discovered Bruce was a poet and he produced an impressive poem titled “Wedding Song.” I suspected he may have authored it much earlier for someone else. I asked my new best girlfriend to be the bridesmaid and sing a love song I liked from the 1963 movie “How The West Was Won.” I think she also sang an early Elton John hit. Our candlelit ceremony at twilight was actually quite beautiful. We drank the Cold Duck, sampled the cake and danced to his younger brother’s band before driving to Lincoln, Nebraska. We spent 2 nights in an economy motel, visited a museum and went to the movie “Goodbye Columbus.” We returned to his parents’ basement and our UNO studies. I had just married a charismatic young man I had gone out with a total of 3 times.


Janet Stewart

Janet is a mostly retired lawyer and politician known for her persistence. She is still working on patience and responsibility.

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