Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Recreation at the Institution

(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
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I picked up the phone and called Dorothy to arrange our next meeting to record more of her life story. Her number is one that I knew from memory.


“Hi Dorothy, this is Charlie.”

“Hey, Charlie,” her voice brightened, “how are you doin’?”

“I’m doing fine, I hope you are doing well. Dorothy, I have a day off tomorrow, and I wondered if tomorrow afternoon would be a good time to come by to let you tell me more about your life story.”

“Oh yes, Charlie, I would love for you to come by. You can come by any time.”

We agreed on a time to get together at her apartment the next day. I tried to visit Dorothy each week from the time we began her life story project. Because my work schedule is variable, we did not have a set day each week. Sometimes we would set the date for the next visit before I left her apartment, and sometimes I would telephone her when I knew I had some free time to set up a meeting.  I always had to call ahead, though, because Dorothy had friends and connections. Just because I had a day free, didn’t always mean Dorothy would be available. She had church friends and church activities she enjoyed. One of her friends had a friend who was a hairdresser. Sometimes that friend would arrange an afternoon to take Dorothy to see her hairdresser friend who would style Dorothy’s hair for her. Other times Dorothy might call on one of her friends to take her to the grocery store, or she may have a clinic appointment to see her doctor. 

In our conversations about life at Partlow State School, Dorothy would sometimes mention recreational activities that the residents took part in. Other times I would ask her what some of the activities were that she enjoyed. Here are some of the things Dorothy had to say about things they did for fun.

Playground Activities

I used to love to play hopscotch, red rover and fruit basket turnover. I must have been 13 or 14.  One time we were playing this game and I didn’t know how to play it, I just run around. I hauled off and hit this girl in the nose. I bloodied her nose, but I didn’t mean to hit her. I just didn’t know how to play. They told me I better sit down while I could, that U would have to learn to play the game.  I hated it after I hit her.  We also played London Bridge and Red Rover, Red Rover.

We had these bikes - I finally learned how to ride one.  The first bicycle I learned to ride was a big old white bike. It didn’t have no brakes on it. I got started real fast. I forgot how to stop the thing. I went way down across the yard and hit the curb, fell off and skint my knee up and scratched my hip up. It scared me worse than it hurt me.  I knocked somebody down.

One time I was swinging and the swing broke with me. That learnt me some sense. I never did try to swing high no more. At school when I was in Sylacauga, they used to stand up in swings. They had them Jinx poles, a handmade see saw and an old flying jenny.  At Partlow they had swings and see-saws and monkey bars and a slide. Sometimes people would get hurt. One time a girl fell and cut herself.

They use to have an old board and it had nails in it. We had fruit jar lids – I mean the little rubber part that goes in the lid – and we’d throw them and if it rung on a nail it had a number on it. If you had as many as 5 or 10, you’d win the game. I liked to play that one, and half the time I’d miss. We used to play old homemade games – I used to love to play them.

I used to love to play ring toss. I used to run, and instead of grabbing onto a limb and chinning it, I’d just run under the limb. Then I learned how to chin limbs (Dorothy’s term for chin-ups) – I used to could chin limbs – grab ‘em and pull up on ‘em. I don’t know if I could even do it now.

We used to chin them old orange ink poles. They were something sort of like monkey bars. They had swings and see-saws, a little old sand bed, and sliding board.

I tried to walk on my hands one time but I kicked up too hard and fell over. Another time I ran and jumped into a swimming pool back when we used to go up to the pool at Queen City. I hurt my side then and I never did jump into a pool again. I never did learn how to swim. I used to like for somebody to float me on my back.  They let some from Bryce Hospital go to that pool sometime. Then the colored people started using it and they wouldn’t let us go there no more.

In the summertime, they used to have watermelon cuttin’s out on the lawn. The watermelons wouldn’t even be cold. We didn’t have no way of getting them cold.

Music and Dance

They never would let [the boys and girls] get together until later on when they let us start dancing with them. I reckon I was about 13 years old when we started having those dances. One time I jumped up and ran through the crowd and a girl was dancing with a boyfriend of mine.  I thought, “He’s supposed to be dancing with me!” I ran through the crowd and slapped him and I shoved her. Somebody went and got me. They told me I was going to get in trouble. Then it started to rain and they had to call the dance off. We all had to go back in the building.

We had our dances over in a place they called “The Boys Colony” where they raised vegetables and things. They would take us out there sometimes on Friday nights to have a dance, or sometimes we would have a street dance out in front of the main building.  [There they would play] records. They played that song ‘Good Golly Miss Molly,” and Jerry Lee Lewis, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and Chubby Checker, “Peppermint Twist,” and then the regular “Twist.” One time they were playing “Tallahassee Lassie,” and I got up, wasn’t nobody dancin’. I got up and was whirling around and the supervisor couldn’t event catch me. Then when the music stopped she got hold of me and said, “Dorothy, just stop dancing around before you run into somebody.” Then when they played the next song I was up again. She said, “One more like that and you’re going to the building.” I said “I’m not goin’ nowhere.” I just kept on whirling around until I got tired of whirling.

One time this boy got up to dance with me, and I said, “I can’t dance with you, you twist your old feet every which a way!” and I pushed him. Another boy said, “go ahead and fall down, I’m not going to pick you up!” I grabbed the second boy by the shirt and I shoved him – I almost shoved him down. Then they made me sit down.

One time I was dancing with Geraldine and her boyfriend. Something happened and he grabbed hold of me. I hauled off and I shoved them – they didn’t fall down, but they fell against the bench.

I had some boyfriends there. I used to like Cecil. One time I got mad at him because he wouldn’t dance, he would just sit like a stump. I knew him some back then but I didn’t really know him like I did later. I had one boyfriend and somebody come between us and broke us up. I got mad at her and told her. She knew that I liked cooked apples and she said, “I’m going to cook you some apples, Dorothy Faye.” She was trying to make up with me after she took my boyfriend. I said “You cook ‘em honey, I won’t eat ‘em.” I said so help me Jesus I’ll never eat another cooked apple you cooked,” and I never did, either.

Movies and Television

And one night we was all in the movie theater where they had the movies over at the community house, and I were doin’ something and started out the door, and the supervisor stopped me and said “You was in to it too, Dorothy Faye Burdette!” I said “Into what? Let me go!” and I walked away from her. Then she caught me again and kinda shook me, and I commenced to laughing at her. She said, “Laugh! You think it’s funny, but I don’t! You can’t come to the movie, you’re posted for two weeks!” When they said “posted,” that meant you couldn’t go anywhere for awhile.

 She posted me because I jerked away from her and I didn’t want to hear what she was saying, of something. And I was in a hurry to get to the building and I didn’t want to wait on her.  She said, “You were chunking up in that crabapple tree.” (We used to chunk rocks up trying to knock the apples down) I said “I was not!” and I jerked away from her. I think I was about 18 or 19.

Sometimes they would take us to the movie theater in Alberta City. The girls would go one Saturday and then the boys another Saturday. It would usually be a western. They’d give us a little bag of popcorn and we would see the movie.

There was a TV in the corner of the Day Room. The Day Room was on the floor where my ward was. When Hee Haw with Buck Owens came on, the attendants wouldn’t allow us to make a sound. We had to be perfectly quiet. 

*    *    *

Next week we will hear from Dorothy about some of her work activities as well as staff relationships at Partlow State School.

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