This is the second in a series of four articles.
Part one is here.
I was more than twice the age of the other models-in-training, which didn’t feel odd at all because as an only child I’d always felt comfortable in the company of much younger or much older people, and in my teenage years I was more often surrounded by a gaggle of young children I babysat for or taught piano to than my peers.
I adored my Barbizon classmates the same way I had my junior high students during my brief student teaching experience. I’d forgotten how much I liked being around giggling, blossoming young girls.
At the end of the third session, Jean Curt, the director of the school, asked me to come see her before I left.
She greeted me at the door and walked across the room in a way that demonstrated everything the school taught about graceful movement and sat down at her modern, glass-top desk. She lit a cigarette and brought it to her mouth with flawlessly manicured fingers and inhaled it like the leading lady in a 1940s movie.
I felt like a country bumpkin, sitting across from a woman dressed and coifed like the glamorous fashion models in the photographs that accented the burgundy and pink walls of her office. I was afraid she was going to tell me I couldn’t stay in the class because I didn’t fit in. Instead she invited me to come back to teach after I finished the course.
“But I only have one dress, the one I’m wearing!” I blurted out, and then my heart sank. I couldn’t believe I’d just said something so stupid in what had become a job interview. Surely no one would hire a woman who couldn’t dress appropriately to teach at a modeling school. Too embarrassed to look at her, I stared down at the skirt of the teal-blue, rayon shirtwaist that I saved for special occasions.
“Well, then,” she began and paused to put out her cigarette while I filled in the I’m- sorry-but-no I was sure would come next. “You can use it to show your class how to accessorize,” she said matter-of-factly, as if interviewing a candidate without a wardrobe was something she did every day.
She took out a checkbook and wrote me an advance on my first week’s salary to buy a hat, scarves and jewelry so I could demonstrate how to make a single wardrobe item look fresh and new.
I was so excited I floated to the parking lot. I’d buried my dream of being a teacher to be a wife and mother, and now Jean Curt had brought it back to life.
On the ride home my head was so full of ideas for making my classes exciting the hour felt like minutes, but when I turned into to the winding back road shortcut for the last leg of the trip, all my plans were taken over by one thought—what will Bob say?
He objected to my doing anything outside the house and had only given me permission to take this course because it was a gift from my mother and, thanks to her help, he wasn’t inconvenienced. He had no interest in hearing about my day when I got home and didn’t like it when I chatted with the children about “Mommy’s school.”
Even though it meant I had to stifle my enthusiasm, I kept the news about the job to myself. I knew I ought to tell him and spent a lot of time thinking about the best words to use and the right time to bring it up, but whenever I made plans to do it I chickened out.
In the end I had no choice. I’d finished my last class and was supposed to start teaching the following week, and he still didn’t know.
My arguments were concise and rational—the work was enjoyable, it fit with the kids’ school schedule, it paid well for part-time employment, and we needed the money.
His answer was loud and clear—it was a crazy, dumb-ass, stupid thing to do, and I was a jackass to want to do it. No amount of pleading or arguing had any effect.
But I was not going pass up this opportunity no matter how much of a stink he made. I decided that on the first Saturday I was scheduled to teach I would take the kids to my mom’s and just go.