Hi. Barb Ross here. Madly getting ready for Christmas.
Taking off from Lea Wait’s recent post, here are 15 things you probably don’t know about me.
2) I never graduated from high school. I spent my senior year of high school in Colombia, South America as a Rotary Exchange student. All I had to do was pass English there in order to graduate from my stateside high school. But at my Colombian school, they were doing sentencing diagramming based on Noam Chomsky’s work in syntactic trees. I never did get the hang of it and flunked English. I marched in my US high school graduation, and when I got to the podium, I got a beautiful case with an index card in it that said I would get a high school diploma once I passed two semesters of freshman English in college. But by the next spring…
3) The Wyoming Valley where I lived in Pennsylvania was devastated by a flood following Hurricane Agnes. The records at my high school were destroyed and I never got that high school diploma.
4) Our house was heavily damaged in the Agnes flood as well. I was away waitressing and living at a resort in the Poconos. My parents and brother were evacuated, and then spent weeks living without running water, electricity or refrigeration as they mucked out our house which had had six feet of water on the first floor and extensive foundation damage. I came home toward the end of the summer. I often think the theme in the Maine Clambake Mysteries where various characters tell Julia she wasn’t there enough during her father’s fatal illness (and Julia feels this acutely, too) comes from this experience.
5) A few years later, my parents bought the house they were evacuated to.
6) I lived in Montclair, New Jersey from age four to age nine. My next door neighbor my final year there was Joe Walsh, famed guitarist with the James Gang and the Eagles. He was sixteen and, in this nine-year-old’s opinion, absolutely dreamy. He played his first paying gig in a tuxedo he borrowed from my dad.
7) One Sunday in fourth grade, I ran away from home. I didn’t have any clean knee socks to wear to Sunday school. My mother pointed out it was because I never put my clothes in the hamper and made me wear babyish ankle socks. The whole experience was so humiliating that as soon as I got home, I took off. I walked for miles and miles and miles, fantasizing about raising myself in the woods before it occurred to me that a) I didn’t have a plan, and b) I had no idea where I was. So I turned around and walked miles and miles until I finally ended up in a neighborhood I recognized and could make my way home. It was evening by the time I got home and my parents were worried out of their minds and so furious they could barely speak to me. As I sat alone, exiled, in the back yard, Joe Walsh gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. Pointing out that no one knew if I’d been kidnapped or in an accident or what, he said, “Always leave a note.”
8) In high school I attended a meeting with James Michener who came to town speaking on behalf of the anti-war movement. At the end of the meeting he took my hands, looked deeply into my eyes and said, “Good luck with your writing.” I had never told him I wanted to be a writer.
9) At my interview at the University of Pennsylvania, I asked the admissions officer about my chances of getting in early admission. “Oh,” he said, casually, “you’ll probably get in. We like to accept a few dumb blondes to round out the class.” I went there anyway, which astounds me. My grown-up self realizes he was joking, something my teen-aged self was too insecure to see, but I often wonder what would happen if an admissions officer said something like that today.
10) The summer between my junior and senior years in college, at Herb McCarthy’s Bowden Square, I waited on Truman Capote at lunch every Monday. I wrote about that for the blog here.
11) I have one brother, and my brother and I each have a boy and a girl. On the other hand, my father was an only child, and both of my grandfathers were only children.
12) My grandfather, Clarence McKim, won a scholarship to Princeton in 1921, where he was a track star and captain of the football team (he was about 5’6″ and maybe 140 pounds in his playing days). In fact, since now they run the 100 meter dash, some of his 100 yard dash records still stand.
13) All four of my grandparents are college graduates, including both my grandmothers, which I think at my age is more unusual. My family has a long tradition of educating men and women equally.
14) One summer night we got a call at my grandparents house in Water Mill, NY from CBS news, asking if it was true there are been “a murder in our compound.” Thinking it was a prank, my grandmother hung up. But then my grandfather got curious and called CBS back, and they were indeed tracking down such a murder. Apparently, our neighbor, who’s claim to fame was that we was Salvador Dali’s gem cutter, was “dining out all over New York,” telling people he’d found a body in our living room. We never did figure out the story behind this story.
15) I was a co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of WebCT, a company that was among the creators of a category of software called “course management systems” for higher education.