When I was in high school in the Eighties, I was all about the Preppy Handbook. Apparently it was written as a joke, but to me it was the Bible — the guide to a world I knew nothing about, an orbit that included The Hamptons, sailing, straight hair and big cities. I memorized the book (no, really, whole passages!) and found the few places in Phoenix that sold the clothes I craved: oxford cloth button downs, espadrilles, and belts/purses/headbands with tiny frogs/whales/lady bugs embroidered on them, all in primary colors, plus, of course, a lot of pink and green.
I liked Preppy because to me it signaled All Things East Coast — that’s where prep schools are, after all — and what I wanted more than anything was to live far away, in a city like New York or Boston.
It never occurred to me that I could have truly lived the preppy life just a few blocks from my home, at the country club. Of course, back then, the Shmashmortion (sorry, no real names, but that brought to mind my favorite scene from “Knocked Up”) Country Club was truly exclusive.
There’s an old family story: that my sister (who was at the time in elementary school, and taking swim lessons at the country club, thanks for a family friend with a membership) woke up from a nightmare. “Mommy, I dreamed the pool was filled with wasps!” she screamed.
I’m not sure if that story’s true, but it’s too good not to repeat. And the broader truth, of course, is that the pool WAS filled with WASPs. I left high school for college, and by the time I’d graduated and moved to Washington, D.C. to take my first job, the only remnants in my wardrobe of the preppy thing were a few Laura Ashley pieces. I was a big liberal, really a socialist, I’d confide when tipsy on happy hour drinks, and I’d figured out what that whole preppy thing meant, and it didn’t include me, a JEW.
When I finished grad school and moved back to Phoenix to take my first newspaper job, I proudly wrote a front page story about how the country club refused membership to a prominent black businessman. And that is why, as you can imagine, I was shocked as sh*t (hey, can you cuss in a blog? I’m not sure) when my parents JOINED THE CLUB.
First, I was surprised the club wanted Jews. But my dad had just gotten a big promotion at work, so apparently Jews with Big Jobs were OK. (This was maybe 15 years ago.) My mom explained that they really didn’t want to belong to the club, but it has the best golf course in town. (My father’s one and only hobby.) So what could they do?
Then the club was remodeled. And I noticed my parents started going there — a lot. I refused, on principle.
Then I had kids. And still I held out, mostly. I gave in a couple times for Easter and Christmas parties, and I did let my mom take the girls by herself on occasion, but I didn’t truly stop plugging my nose til this spring, when Jenny came to town and wanted to celebrate all three of her kids’ birthdays by the pool.
“Fine, but I’m not wearing a bathing suit,” I emailed her.
“Good,” she replied. “Because we’re skinny dipping.”
Turns out, there’s an awesome wading pool, just right for the kids, particularly Sophie. No need to strip down; they have lifeguards on duty. The pool glistens, it’s so clean. The sun shines just a little brighter. Sitting with my dad, watching the merriment, I had to admit it WAS sort of nice.
“But I don’t see a single minority,” I sniffed. “Not even an Asian.”
“There’s one!” he called out, pointing.
Fine, but I didn’t see any brown skin, in any hue. And no one invited me to the Men’s Grill. Still, I had to admit that the girls had a super time. So this week, I decided it was more important to be a good mother and daughter than to make a stand no one was noticing anyhow. I threw my mom a bone.
“How about if we take the girls to the club to go swimming and have dinner?” I asked.
I’m sure she jumped out of her skin, but to her credit, appeared nonchalant. So we met there tonight and the best part — aside from one woman who, I kid you not, was wearing pink leather sandals monogrammed in pale green with her initials, to match her pastel patchwork pants, leading me to wonder to myself, “Did she have those in the Eighties? Or are they new?” — was that the place was DESERTED. Also, the weather was perfect. We’re experiencing a downright creepy spell of Global Cooling here in Phoenix, this month.
The girls waded in the pool, we ordered food (the canteloupe could not have been more perfectly ripe) and after dinner, Annabelle and Sophie gave a “performance” on the gorgeous green lawn while Mom and I reclined on thick striped cushions in oversized wicker chairs. (Which matched the kid-sized ones thoughtfully placed alongside them.)
Even I had to admit it was a lovely evening. Until, just as we were leaving, with nothing more than a small cough to signal what was coming, Sophie puked all over herself, me and the beautiful flagstone patio.
I take that as a sign. Of what, I’m not sure.