SHARED STORIES: Learning to Dance

Barbara Goodhue grew up on a Colorado farm in the 1930’s and 40’s. Her move to California with her first husband typifies the experience of so many who came here after World War II.  Barbara’s  life story reflects challenges, courage, and success.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Barbara Goodhue
As a rule, I don’t usually get stressed over things, and especially something that I have no control over. I have gone to church since I was very young and been taught to have faith and trust in God. I think that is why I stay calm even during times of great stress.

I was married to my first husband Leo for twenty-seven years. We met at a street dance in Pueblo, Colorado. He lived on the farm where he grew up, twenty-eight miles south of Pueblo, but he worked at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. I worked at the Colorado State Unemployment Office, and also had a part-time job on Saturday morning working for the Texaco Company.

The town was having a street dance, and being young, I was curious, so my sister Dorothy and I went. Leo asked me to dance, but I told him that I didn’t know how to dance and he could dance with Dorothy. He didn’t want to dance with her. My answer didn’t deter him. 

I told Leo where I worked so he wanted to take me to lunch sometime. A few days later he came into the office and we made arrangements to go to lunch. We courted for about a year. Leo took me to my first movie, “My Friend Flika.”  I was twenty-two years old. 

Leo and I were married in 1953 and moved to California shortly after the wedding. It was a good marriage and we had four children.

Leo worked several jobs before getting one at the A.J. Bayer Company in Vernon. He worked there for twenty-three years. We lived in several different places.

Leo was ill for a long time, had lost both of his legs due to the hardening of the arteries, and was in and out of the hospital. We didn’t have very much income and I was working part-time three days a week as an instructional assistant at the elementary school near us. At that time I was also trying to get a better fulltime job.

I did get one at Bee Industries in South Gate. It was part of Superior Honey Company. They sold bees wax candles. I was on the order desk taking orders over the phone, answering questions for customers, typing up the phone orders and ones that came in the mail.

It was a full time job and paid better than the one at the school, but I was gone more and had to have someone take care of Leo part of the time. Besides all of this, my youngest daughter Leona was still in school and another daughter Lola was going to college. Leo passed away the day before Lola graduated, which added to the stress at that time.

A number of years later my second husband Roy was ill. By this time Superior Honey and Bee Industries had been sold to another company in Stockton, so I was without a job again but had taken tests and been hired by the Los Angeles County Office of Education. I was working for a school for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Handicapped children in Lawndale. I was driving from Bell Gardens to Lawndale to work. Roy became ill and I had some of the same stress problems again.

A few months after Roy passed away my niece and nephew invited me to go to a square dance class. I first turned them down because our church was against dancing. Also the class was on a Sunday afternoon and I went to church on Sunday evening. I didn’t think I could get back in time for church.

After thinking about it for a while, I called them back and said that, “A woman is allowed to change her mind, isn’t she? I told them I would like to try the square dancing, so I met them at their home in Norwalk and went with them.

The class was already in progress and I had missed more than the number of lessons allowed. Also, being single, it was harder to get a partner to dance with. I stuck with it, though, and learned all of the calls and the dancing. I have been square dancing now for almost twenty-five years and I really enjoy it. It is good exercise, you meet a lot of nice people, and it keeps your mind sharp by making you think to remember the calls.

I meet my third husband Russell at a square dance class in Downey. Russell was born and raised in New Mexico and owned a farm there that had belonged to his dad. He had a man from that area taking care of it and raising cattle. We were married for eight years before he passed away. 

We had many happy years of square and round dancing. Russell had a motor home and loved camping. We went to many of the monthly weekend campouts with the square dancing club and made some long distance trips. One trip was to Stratton, Colorado, for my 50th high school reunion in 1999. 

One trip was to Iowa to visit my sister and brother-in-law who were hosting our family reunion that year. From there we went to South Dakota, saw the Bad Lands and Mt. Rushmore, then we drove through Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and back to California.

Another year my brother and cousin hosted our family reunion in Indianapolis, which we went to. On our way home from this trip Russell and I attended the New Mexico Harding County 75th Anniversary, the county where Russell had his farm. We would stop by and check on things there when we went that way. 

Some of Russell’s friends still lived in the area, and he enjoyed visiting them. The county’s anniversary celebration had a parade, rodeo, and barbeque on Saturday. On Sunday there was a watermelon feed, rodeo, and horseshoe tournament which Russell participated in. Russell enjoyed playing horseshoes.

In early September of 1997 Russell had had open heart surgery with a heart valve replacement and a pace maker. He recovered from this very well. Then, unfortunately, the day before Thanksgiving in 1999 he fell off a ladder picking oranges in our back yard and broke his ankle.

After three months of recovery and getting back to normal he had gone out in the yard to trim some of the trees. I went out to tell him lunch was ready and found him dead on the ground. It was March 2000.  A blood clot took his life suddenly. 

I’m sure there have been many other times of stress and possibly some that I could have had more control over, but all in all, I have had a pretty good life. Thanks to my Faith in God.