“Let’s Take a Trip Down Whittier Blvd!”

1961 – 1966 • La Habra High School
Four years of high school blended together, being neither the low nor high point of my life. The second tallest girl my freshman year at La Habra High, I tripped up and down the long halls between classes praying to be invisible, hoping no one would look at me, especially the boys. Math was not my strong suit and I nearly flunked algebra. I hiked three miles to and from school every day, uphill, both ways; it was easier to walk than to roust Carleen out of bed that early in the morning to get her to take me.

Cathy Clemens sophomore La Habra 1963My sophomore year was slightly better, as was my confidence—even though my face was spattered with pimples and moles, I still made most of my clothes, and they switched my picture with another girl’s in the yearbook. I had Sally and Laura to eat lunch with in the cafeteria or out in the quad. I took Russian in the morning before first period, still having to make that hike back and forth. My junior year was a definite improvement. Laura got a brand new gold 1964 Pontiac LeMans for her sixteenth birthday and every morning she drove from her house in Whittier, a ways out of her way, to my house on Verdugo Ave., picked me up, and drove me home when school got out; I loved her for that, more than she’ll ever know. Kay, Linda, Laura, Peggy, and I had a car club, the Shalimar’s, even though only Laura had a car. We’d started our own as the cheerleaders didn’t invite us into theirs.

I had a summer boyfriend, Bob, who liked me, and who, of course, Daddy didn’t like. Bob’s father, a sergeant on the San Francisco Police Force, fixed all his speeding tickets. His mother held his hand until he was twelve. A Mission Dolores and Riordan boy who lived in the Parkside, he attended San Francisco State, worked three jobs, lived at home with his family, was my stepsister Irene’s husband’s younger brother, and wrote me letters signed, keep good thoughts. I was in love.

For the first time in my life I felt like I fit in. I no longer cared that I may have been the only person in my high school of 3,000 students who lived with a family that had a different last name, whose parents were divorced and married five times between the two of them, whose mother was in and out of asylums. It didn’t matter that I was almost 5’10, that my capped front tooth didn’t match my other teeth, that I wore a padded bra. It was alright that I wasn’t a straight-A student, that I was terrified to stand up front in speech class, that I wasn’t a sosh, a cheerleader, or class anything. None of that was important any more. I was finally okay, just the way I was.

Cathy & Bob, Senior BallBy my third year of Russian class, I could remember the letters of the alphabet. Laura continued ferrying me to and from school. I had girlfriends, and was allowed to cruise Whittier Blvd. on Friday nights with them as long as I was home by ten. We’d grab a burger at Bob’s Big Boy, then go lowriding with the windows rolled down and the music cranked up, California girls flirting with the passing boys, bobbing our heads to the the Byrds and Beatles, the Righteous Brothers and  Beach Boys. “Ba ba ba, ba Barbara Ann…”

Bob took me to the Springtime Ball and my Senior Prom. I received a small high-school scholarship to San Jose State. My capped tooth had broken off again; excused to go to the dentist, I was more than greatly relieved to not to have to stand up in front of the whole auditorium to accept it. They gave me the money anyway. I got the scholarship because Mrs. Brown, my business class and typing teacher who’d taken me under her wing, recommended me. When the school counselor interviewed me to see if I qualified (it certainly wasn’t based on grades as I was only a “B” student, at best), I felt awkward when she asked about my family, and why I lived with my sister. I didn’t mention my home situation to anyone, except a few girl friends. She asked if my sisters were as pretty as me. I hesitated, then told her no. None of us were particularly pretty—we were just normal looking. I was glad that it ended the interview, but always felt bad that I said they weren’t, like I’d betrayed them or something.

(Excerpt from the complete memoir of Behind These Doors: A Family Memoir)

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Comments

  1. We used to go to Harmony Park and to Bobs afterwards. Loved that place.

  2. LARRY MILLER says:

    I LOVED BOB’S DRIVE-IN AND DRIVING DOWN WHITTIER BLVD. DID IT ALMOST EVERY DAY. STILL HAVE A BUNCH OF LIFETIME FRIENDS I MET DRIVING AROUND BACK IN 1962. GOT MaRRIED IN 65, TOOK THE BABY CRUISING THE BLVD. PARKED AT BOB’S. WE WOULD ORDER A GRILLED CHEESE ADD A PADED, DP-ED TWICE, WITH A SIDE OF T & S. BETTER KNOW AS A PATTY MELT CUT FOUR WAYS AND DIPPED IN THEIR TOMATO AND SPICE DRESSING. WHAT A GREAT TIME.

  3. Richard Sinay says:

    Captures the tone of our years at LHHS. I must have been one of those you waved to when cruising Whittier Blvd. I remember one time when we were trying to hustle some girls who were not from LHHS but were cute and looking for attention. They decided to hold their hands up in the air to show us that they were either already engaged or “hooked up.” So I rolled down the window and said, “If you’re already hooked up, then what are you doing here?” They all looked at me like four deers peering into the headlights.

  4. Catherine, you take me down memory lane with you. First stop ~ we both had blonde flips.

  5. Hi Peg, Life is amazing, the way we weave in and out with one another. Who knew!

  6. Hello Cousin! Your January 16 “…trip down Whittier Blvd” jolted me. Wait for this: I was teaching U.S. History at La Habra High School while you were a student there. I was the Miss Margaret Chatfield in your 1962-63 and 63-64 annuals. What a shame that we failed to meet back then. Forty-five years had to pass (2007) before our common research and interests connected us! Live on and keep writing; your bold introspection and unique insights help affirm and encourage many.
    Fondly, Margaret “Peg” Chatfield McCarty, co-author, The Chatfield Story

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