My sis­ter Karen dis­liked the Span­ish teacher, Mr. Kissler, because he was a smart ass — Hijo de puta (son of a bitch) who had a habit of say­ing rude things in Span­ish to you if you hap­pen to be the last kid arriv­ing for class, or would mock you if you mis­pro­nounced a word or phrase too many times. Karen was going to be late one day and could not bear the idea of being embar­rassed in front of the class, so she skipped school and hid out in the back­yard. It wasn’t too bad because Gram­my and Ken were vis­it­ing at the time. Karen sat qui­et­ly below a screened win­dow and enjoyed lis­ten­ing to them talk to our mom through­out the after­noon.

School could be quite awk­ward when puber­ty blos­somed sud­den­ly and you were looked at and judged on a total­ly new and unfa­mil­iar play­ing field. My Mom should have been coach­ing Karen from the side­line well ahead of time, but nev­er talked to her about the things young girls should know. If it weren’t for sixth grade health class, Karen wouldn’t have found out she would very short­ly be expect­ing her first peri­od. Life for a twelve-year-old girl is an awk­ward time in a num­ber of ways and my sis­ter felt like a geek. She wasn’t real­ly, she was very pret­ty actu­al­ly, but didn’t real­ize it, I guess. Karen didn’t have a bra to wear or “cool” clothes like the oth­er girls. To make mat­ters worse, she had the hairi­est legs in the school.

Her sixth grade grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mo­ny should have been a fun and hap­py mem­o­ry but it wasn’t. Karen: “I remem­ber hav­ing noth­ing nice to wear for my 6th grade grad­u­a­tion pro­gram at the ele­men­tary school… I wore this plain hand-me-down sleeve­less pink top (She was the old­est kid, so I don’t know who she got the hand-me-down from!) and skirt mom had made. And a pair of white pointy-toed flats and I felt as if every­one was look­ing at my hairy legs and worn shoes – I couldn’t wait for the cer­e­mo­ny to be over, I did not enjoy it, I just want­ed to leave!”

Mer­ci­ful­ly, they didn’t announce: “Sasquatch Adams” when she was called for­ward to get her diplo­ma, she would have nev­er got­ten over it.

For­tu­nate­ly, Karen had a few fond mem­o­ries of her sixth grade year. Her class went to a week­end camp below Mount Palo­mar in north San Diego Coun­ty, the home of the Palo­mar Obser­va­to­ry. They stayed in cab­ins named after the con­stel­la­tions; hers was “Ori­on.” The class toured the obser­va­to­ry and peered through tele­scopes into the Milky Way late into the night with the astronomers.

The mag­nif­i­cent obser­va­to­ry build­ing looked like it had dropped down onto the moun­tain­top from out­er space itself. The whole build­ing rotat­ed and the domed roof split open like a Martian’s hel­met to expose the “Big Eye.” The mir­rored lens was 200 inch­es across and took thir­teen years to grind down and pol­ish. At the time it was the largest opti­cal tele­scope in the world. The astronomer, Edwin Hub­ble, had the hon­or to take the first expo­sure with the “Big Eye” in 1949, and many more until his death in 1953. He con­tin­ues to dis­cov­er new galax­ies through his name­sake, the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope. Launched by a space shut­tle in 1990, it orbits the earth every 97 min­utes.

Karen was becom­ing quite the social but­ter­fly. She won third place in the “Home Eco­nom­ics- Cake Walk Con­test” that year. Her win­ning entry was “The Good Ship Lol­lipop,” a cake dec­o­rat­ed with a col­or­ful assort­ment of can­dies. The Shirley Tem­ple song, “On the Good Ship Lol­lipop,” was the inspi­ra­tion for her cake. Before head­ing up to Per­sh­ing Mid­dle School for sev­enth grade, Karen took advan­tage of the active sum­mer pro­gram at the Ele­men­tary School and learned to dance the Cha-Cha and the 4‑step. She could add those to her list of dance steps that includ­ed “The Swim” and “The Funky Chick­en. Now that she start­ed shav­ing her legs, she’d have no prob­lem get­ting asked for a dance.

Karen joined the Camp Fire Girls and earned sacred pur­ple beads doing com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice, and in the process learned about Home, Camp and Health Craft, as well as Nature Lore. When you earned enough beads you’d attain the rank of Wood Gath­er­er. They dressed in cer­e­mo­ni­al Indi­an garb dur­ing secret cer­e­monies where beads, feath­ers, wood rings and var­i­ous awards were hand­ed out each month. Part of their cre­do was to pro­mote social and com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices, includ­ing the arts. That sum­mer, Karen’s Camp Fire group went to see per­for­mances of “Madame But­ter­fly” and “Peter Pan” star­ring Mary Mar­tin at the Bal­boa Park Bowl.

I remem­ber watch­ing the TV ver­sion of Peter Pan and was stunned, “ — Mary Mar­tin? Wait a sec­ond, Mary — a girl is play­ing Peter? That isn’t right!” I protest­ed.