How do like this photograph from 1967 in which I’m wearing an old lady style of black fake fur hat with an attached knitted scarf that could be tucked up inside for a more dressy look. You wrapped the ends of the scarf around your neck a couple of times and tied it and it was very warm indeed. It got me through several winters in Pittsburgh, and I remember it especially as it was a gift from a new friend I’d made in Florida I was reluctant to leave behind. Her aunt had given her the hat plus another just like it in another color and Charlotte told me I would need it and insisted I take it with me. I’d forgotten that until I came across this picture.
I’d arrived in Pittsburgh only weeks before to work as an editorial assistant in the Public Relations Department of the Carnegie Mellon University (formerly Carnegie Tech). An older woman (to me, since I was 25) with silver hair in her late 50s, the receptionist in the front office had called me at home to gossip and give me advice about my new co-workers.
She liked Sibley, one of the two senior editors near my office and like June–married–but implied I should watch out for Amity, who was a nice person you understand, but of a strange lot (in more or less in those word) who wasn’t a friendly sort at all.
Fresh out of the south, I wasn’t sure what to think. Office politics? I wondered but got no clues from Amity who seemed aloof but respectful. June seemed to go out of her way to be nice to me, so I listened to her but did as I’ve done most of my life when it comes to people. Made up my mind to treat Amity with the same respect I gave anyone else–until or unless she gave me reason not to.
Well, strangely enough, Amity and I came to be casual friends. She was not married, owned her own home in Wilkinsburg, loved ice skating and winter sports. She was a blonde, with a pock-marked face, but otherwise was an attractive woman several years older than me but still youthful.
I was a little timid around her at first, not because I was afraid of her but I felt lacking intellectually, and I knew she was respected for her work as well as her intelligence. I’m pretty sure she also grew up in a family of higher social standing than I had. I was really surprised, then, when after one of the first snowfalls of the season and probably because she knew I’d never seen snow before Pittsburgh, she invited me–Hubby, too, though we weren’t married then, to visit her at home. Can’t remember if it was for dinner or just hot chocolate or dessert or something but we were dressed to play in the snow and play we did, with the usual snow fights and snowman building. That’s when I discovered show how likeable and fun she was. I never felt awkward around her again and was sorry when she moved on, to another state and presumably better things, during the year I worked at C-MU and I never heard from her again.
The snow that evening was a fine, dry powder, not the best for building a snowman, but we found that by letting the base take the shape of a wide skirt bottom, and packing the chest area with smaller and pointed blobs, a shape was taking form. In the interest of my newly forming feminist thinking, I decided snowmen are generally overrated anyhow. So my first snowman became a snowWOMAN.
Maybe I was beginning to think more like a feminist unconsciously–as I suspect may have been the problem with Amity according to June, who was very much of the old school. June was the feminine ideal of my past. Amity was a woman finding her new place in the future. She was making her own way in the world without family around, doing very well for herself and not caring a fig what June or anyone else thought. I only worked there at C-MU for a year and not long after during that year Amity left to take a new job in a new state. I never heard from her again.
What I learned from this early episode–or rather what was reinforced–in the re-educating of Alice during those Pittsburgh years as I’ve come to think of it–was that I was right in not choosing or rejecting a potential friend by what someone else thinks or says about them. A fine lesson to learn and one I still go by.