Thursday, December 3, 2015

Reluctant rebel

Today I was telling an old friend of mine the story of how I got thrown out of the Junior League of Washington. She laughed, thought it was an asset, and asked why I had never written about this on my blog. Hmmm. . . . I thought I had written about it at some point. Voila! Found an essay that is in my dusty old unpublished book. Instant gratification. Here's the story . . .

Reluctant Rebel

One day in my senior year of high school, while in Latin 4 class, there was an announcement over the PA system, “Miss Xander to the office please.”
Oh no, I thought, what have I done now? I jumped out of my seat and headed to the vice principal’s office. I could see the outline of Mother St. Eugenia, the vice principal, through the wavy opaque glass. When I entered her office, she stood and shook a piece of paper at me, saying “You! You!”
I racked my brain for what possible offense I could have committed. I hadn’t been smoking. I hadn’t done anything with boys, much to my dismay. I hadn’t skipped school since junior year when I was punished excessively for a single day’s fall from grace.
“You! Look at these SAT scores!”
I took the piece of paper from her hand—the scores were good, apparently much better than the scores of many of my classmates. I am sure the corners of my mouth began to creep up slightly before she explained the source of her displeasure. “If you can do this, why haven’t you performed better here at Regina High School?”
Although I did care about learning and wanted to go to college, I was just not cut from their mold and didn’t feel like playing by their silly rules. Besides, there seemed to be little opportunity for me other than going to my local state college, so why work really hard?
My parents were like counter-culture parents compared to the others. While my friends’ parents were pushing their daughters to get good grades so they could apply to private Catholic out-of-state colleges, my parents didn’t encourage me to go to college at all. My parents urged me to bleach my hair and thought that I could improve myself by being more “flashy”. I wore black tights, listened to jazz, and had books by beat poets, but my parents probably would have preferred it if I had been a Hooters girl. I never saw myself as rebellious—I simply didn’t want for myself what either the school administration or my parents wanted for me.
Much to my surprise, I won a full scholarship to my state college. But I had to live at home and it felt like an extension of high school to me. After a year in college, I fell in love and soon left school to support my husband who was in law school.
Several years into married life I tried to move up in social status. Big mistake. You can take a girl out of PG County, but you can’t take the PG County out of the girl. Since I was married to a Washington lawyer, I thought I should do what I could to be connected, to help his career. What a crock! I had a couple of friends who were members of the Washington Junior League, a large group of socially connected young women who ostensibly did charity work in the community. I had never belonged to a sorority and Junior League felt to me like what it must have been like to be in a sorority, except the women were mostly married and we didn’t live together. It was a very old-school social order—all the married women were listed in the directories by their husbands’ names, so I was Mrs. John L. Burke, Jr.
In order to be admitted, we had to submit letters of support, be accepted, go through a training period, and as an active member had to perform a required number of service hours. I volunteered to work at the Junior League Shop, a second-hand clothing store whose profits supported the charity work of the organization. My main duty at the shop was to change the window displays on a weekly basis. The shop was on a main street in the trendy Georgetown section of Washington. I developed some sort of theme (based on holiday, a local event, or a color scheme) and selected clothes and created displays in the store windows. Actually, it was fun, quite a hip job for a suburban mom with a station wagon, because I got to do display work at one of the most prominent locations in Georgetown.
So I did it for a couple of years, regularly went to meetings, and paid my dues. Then the board of directors announced that they were increasing the dues. I had witnessed how the board spent the League’s money and I was perturbed. The board had administrative offices above the shop in Georgetown. They had regular board luncheons and hired a cook to work for them. Had they completely lost sight of the fact that the expressed purpose of the organization was to serve the community? Why were they spending money having someone cater their lunches when they could have brought sandwiches from home and used the money to buy books for inner city kids?
I refused to pay the dues increase. They told me that if I wanted to resign in good standing, that I would have to pay the annual dues and then resign. So I resigned not in good standing. What a slut! I didn’t see my little protest activities against the Junior League as rebellious either—I simply thought what they were doing was wrong and I didn’t want to support them any longer.
So I’ve got some big blots on my permanent record—I was an underachiever in high school and I resigned from the Junior League of Washington not in good standing. You combine that with the fact that I joined SDS (Students for a Democratic Society, a leftist student activist group that protested the war in Vietnam) in 1965, and guess I’m more firmly in the counter culture than I ever realized. It’s a wonder that the Junior League didn’t do a background check and find out about my lack of ambition and my SDS affiliation and bar me from membership. Slacker, thrown out of Junior League, former member of SDS, and a banjo player? Couldn’t get any lower than that unless I had been a waitress at Hooters. I wonder if Hooters is hiring? Maybe I’ll make my parents proud after all.


  1. Please. Continue to post.

  2. Okay, I will. Even when it probably would be better to sit down and shut up, I'll continue to post. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Ms Xander, you are an amazing human being. And, on top of it all, you can play the banjo.
    I am so happy I found this blog ...
    Happy Sunday!

    1. Thank you so much. Truth be told, I'm a very ordinary human being. And anyone can play the banjo, given a tin can, a stick, and a few strings. You are so kind . . . dx