There are stock answers, of course, one that most all my "Sorority Sisters" and I used at one time or another. Truth be known, I got in it for the money. I was broke, had way too many bills and was already working to my financial potential as an insurance crime investigator. So what led up to this sad state of affairs? That would be my life story. I'm still asked that question a lot, because my present profession is typecast as hard-boiled males only. You asked, so here goes:
I was born twenty-something years ago, to Sandra B. and John G Cunningham, of Santa Monica. Jack and Colleen Cunningham were my grandparents. Isa Tracy Rafferty was my maternal grandmother. Harry Rafferty was killed on Okinawa, in World War Two. Isa was the next of that generation to die, and I was too young to remember her. But I owe her and Colleen Cunningham a great debt. Grandpa was a John G. also, and since I was the only issue that was going to happen in this branch of the family I very nearly got saddled with the name "Johnna". Isa and Colleen put their collective feet down, hard, and said "That is not going to happen!" So I got Isa's middle name, coincidentally the name of her mother, Tracy. The compromise was my middle name, Jo. Tracy Jo. Sounds like I should be in the Ozarks, somehow.
From what I was told by Grandma Colleen, Grandpa and Dad made a valiant effort to nickname me Jo, but that wouldn't wash either. She told me I rejected that notion when I could voice my own opinion.
I've always been headstrong. In fact, I got into so many scraps and situations that Grandpa gave me the nickname of "Pickles", because I was always in one. Only within my family and my BFF Kelly the appellation has stuck through the years.
I was pretty independent at an early age. My mother was a heavy smoker, and she smoked her life away when I was fourteen. She had a slow growing cancer, so she took a long time to die, and was sick for what seems like my entire childhood.
If you figure that my memory touches my fourth year, and she died ten years later, being sick for five or six of them, you can see why I would feel like that. I felt abandoned and hurt that she would rather smoke than stay alive with Daddy and me. For years I never really forgave her for leaving us.
I have some great memories from back in the happier days. We actually had a few family dinners at a dinner table. Grandpa Jack (Grandpa was Jack, Daddy was John) was a Captain in the Los Angeles Police Department, worked in the uniform division. Daddy just made detective first class in LAPD when I was about five.
That's when my some of my training began. I was pretty slovenly aren't most kids? And I had a lot of toys strewn around my backyard. The game was to memorize where everything was in the yard, then go inside the house and draw a picture depicting what I had memorized.
At first, all I could remember was a couple of items. But with training, and mnemonics taught by Grandpa, I got to where I could accurately sketch out the yard with at least twenty items that were hidden. Yes, hidden. By Grandpa. He was so proud.
I can remember one outing in the summer, when we all, including Grandpa drove to Stockton, picked up Grandma Colleen and drove east to Pinecrest Lake. I remember a lot of little sailboats, and wearing a red cowgirl outfit, a skirt, shirt and vest with a matching red hat. I had two cap pistols, and I shot a lot of bad guys that trip. That was probably the earliest vacation that I remember.
I had one favorite playmate in those years. Kelly McAllister was my bff from the time we could scoot our little bodies across the floor. She lived down the block on the other side of the street. Since we were the only girls in the block, and we were born a couple of months apart, and since her dad was a cop in the LAPD, too, is was only natural that we would become as close as twins. As we grew, we remained equal in stature. So when we went to kindergarten, we were already the class shrimps. More than once we stood back to back defending ourselves against one form of tyranny or another.
We never won any of those glorious schoolyard fights. One time we even had the same tooth knocked out and the same eye blackened. We lost the battles, but won the wars, because everyone liked our spunk and sassiness.
Kelly tried, but she couldn't do the memory game. I think that's when I began to realize that I might have been blessed with something special in the smarts department. When it came to a physical battle between Kelly and me, she usually won two out of three falls. I could out-shout her, but she was faster and a little braver than me. So everything evened out.
Kelly had reddish brown hair, with greenish eyes. She had a face full of freckles. She was impish, just like me. My hair was toe-head blonde and my eyes are a nice medium blue. So guess who got tagged with the name "Salt and Pepper?"
"Let's get Salt n Pepper to do it!"
Yep. That was us. We even thought it was original.
Kelly was the person I learned to share with. We were inseparable. I remember one time… I think we were about eleven or twelve, we had been lounging on her bed reading some girl's magazines and we began talking about boys, which soon digressed to kissing.
Do you think you can get pregnant by kissing a boy with your mouth open?" she asked.
"Do people kiss with their mouth open?" I asked in shocked reply.
"I think so."
"Oh yuck!" I said.
"Let's try it," she said, and added dramatically, while scrambling to her knees. "Come here darling kiss me!"
She had her mischievous smile on, and sometimes I am so gullible.
So we kissed, experimentally. Lips closed. Then she opened her mouth, which shocked me a little. After I opened mine, she stuck her tongue in my mouth!
I jerked back and said, "Bleecchhh! What did you do that for?"
Then I slugged her in the shoulder.
"That's the way people do it," she smirked with that evil grin.
"`S called a french kiss."
"I've heard of that. Well, let's not do that anymore."
"Least not to each other."
"Yeah. Who'd want to kiss you anyway and get your slobber all over them?"
"Hop to it, Froggy!" We began giggling and wrestling as usual, rolling around on her bed.
It was about the time when both of us began having periods, and the budding was beginning. At least hers was. She was out of starter bras before I needed to get in one. We were almost fourteen years old, only two months away from going into the eighth grade, when leukemia killed Kelly.
* * * * *I'll never forget the faces of my parents when they met me on the stairs coming home from running errands. Kelly had been sick since that May. I didn't know, and wasn't told, that she had contracted a virulent form of Leukemia, one that she never recovered from. I visited her, of course, but now that I look back it was only on her good days. I was told the sickness made her hair fall out, but it would return soon. If I went to her house on a bad, day, I was told that she wasn't up to seeing anyone.
Dad sat me on the porch stairs and said, "Tracy honey, I'm so sorry. Kelly passed away last night."
My world shattered. I didn't say a word, just walked to my room and closed the door, and bawled for three days. The first time I left the room was to go to her funeral. And I'll never forget that either. There must have been two hundred people there, a lot of them our school mates. The sight of them all teary-eyed just started me crying again. The image of her walnut casket inside brass railings with the fake green grass carpeting around it is burned into my memory. I can still bring it up and count the number of flowers in the scene.
Somehow I got through that ordeal, but I knew my life would never be the same again. My childhood innocence was gone. Fourteen-year olds shouldn't have half of their lives ripped away.