Thursday, October 11, 2012

Married at Fourteen

Married at Fourteen by Lucille Lang Day
Heyday Books, 10/1/2012
Trade Paperback, 352
ISBN-13: 9781597141987

Lucille Lang Day got married at age 14, gave birth to her first child at 15, divorced her husband at 16, married him again at 17, and left him at 18 to go back to school. Today she is an award-winning poet and holds an M.A. in English and M.F.A. in creative writing from San Francisco State University, an M.A. in zoology and a Ph.D. in science and mathematics education from the University of California at Berkeley.
Her memoir, Married at Fourteen, is a story full of hope and encouragement for those who find themselves in challenging circumstances. Her successful quest for fulfillment in romance, marriage, motherhood, education, and career shows that we need not give up, no matter how far we have veered from our goals.

My Thoughts:
Married at Fourteen is an autobiography by Lucille Lang Day. It begins in her adolescent years. She writes: "Part I tells the story of my teen years, 1960 to 1967, from my adolescent point of view: I have tried to recapture what I was thinking and feeling then and reveal how, bit by bit, I matured. Part II consists of nine self-contained stories that focus mainly on events in my adult life (pg xi, Preface)."
Lucille seemed determined to be a "bad" girl. She set her path on this course even to the extent of being declared a juvenile delinquent by the state of California for being a runaway. Also, even at age 12, she was purposefully trying to find someone to marry when she was still a child herself. After she was a divorced mother at 16 she finally realized the importance of an education. Day earned a scholarship to Berkeley. I was looking forward to reading this autobiography because Day did go on to get a great education and overcame all her early adolescent trouble, but very little focus was given on that part of the story, on her determination to get a great education. (She now has an "M.A. in English and M.F.A. in creative writing from San Francisco State University, an M.A. in zoology and a Ph.D. in science and mathematics education".)
This is a brutally honest memoir. Day doesn't pull any punches and shows herself as an unlikable, insolent teen. Actually, everyone she describes was unlikable - which can be problematic for a reader who is hoping to stay engaged with the autobiography. I also became a bit tired of reading the minute details about every outfit she was wearing. I'll have to admit that while reading her account, I was becoming increasingly annoyed at her and her parents. My children are adults now, but I can assure you that they would not have been allowed to do the things Lucille was allowed to do, especially at the ages she was allowed to do them combined with the irresponsibility she was exhibiting. Her parents could have said no to her demands and could have limited her activities. (Off my soap box now.) 
Reading through her adolescent years became a struggle. Then, once I made it to Part II, I also wish she had shared some affirmation of personal growth away from her predisposition to define herself through men. Even though her current life is happy, I think sharing more about her continued education and accomplishments could have provided added inspiration to teenage mothers who feel they are in a hopeless situation.
For me this was a So-So memoir.
Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for review purposes.

I started seriously looking for a husband when I was twelve. I’d had enough of being a child, enough of being told what to do. I was unhappy at school; I resented homework; I didn’t get along with my mother. Having seen movies like South Pacific, Sayonara, and A Summer Place, I believed in true love. More than anything, I wanted Rossano Brazzi, Marlon Brando, or Troy Donahue to come rescue me from my childhood. I wanted to be an adult, to be free, and to be loved.

The grown-ups always warned that getting pregnant as a teenager would ruin your life, but I didn’t believe them. I felt that in truth my life would be ruined if I had to live with my mother much longer: her nagging would drive me crazy. And my sanity would benefit even more if I could be freed from boring math drills and stuck-up classmates. A high school diploma? I didn’t need one. I already knew everything I’d ever need to know.

My thoughts on all these things began to crystallize in the summer of 1960, after my sixth-grade graduation from Egbert W. Beach School in Piedmont, California. That summer I went to Camp Augusta, where Piedmont Blue Birds and Campfire Girls rode horses, swam, wove key chains from long strips of colored plastic, and painted daisies on salt and pepper shakers for their mothers. On the bus, which took us from the Piedmont Community Center to the Sierra foothills, we sang “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall” and “A Hot Time in the Old Town.” But my fun was to be short-lived. Singing on the bus, I had no inkling that once at Camp Augusta, I would spend my time figuring out how to avoid the broom treatment, and that having accomplished that, I would dive headlong into a turbulent adolescence. pg. 5
On September 8, three months before my fifteenth birthday and the week before I should have started ninth grade, the sky was a luminous blue as Mark and I entered the First Methodist Church in Reno. Our mothers asked the organist to play “I Love You Truly.”  I’d have picked “Love Me Tender,” but I wanted our mothers to be happy. Standing at the altar, I found it hard not to giggle. Mark looked so skinny in his rented navy blue suit! When I knelt, I thought my tight-fitting dress would rip, but it held. I stood again, and Mark put the ring on my finger. I knew that many people would call me a fool, but I was incredibly happy. I thought ours was a unique and wondrous passion. Antony and Cleopatra, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, step aside!  Mark was the prince and I was his princess, and our wedding would fulfill the promise of our extraordinary love.

Afterward we all went to Lake Tahoe for steak dinners at Harvey’s Wagon Wheel. Other than me, the women at the table came in matched pairs: Ellen and Judy, Mark’s mother and stepmother, were redheads with sarcastic senses of humor and the worldliness of women who worked outside the home; my mom and Aunt Ethel, badgering the waiter with endless complaints, were identical twins, just over five feet tall, who wore shortened size 14 dresses over their corsets and told and retold the joke about the woman who pulled a sugar cube from her brassiere, then asked her guests if they’d also like cream. Mark’s stepfather, Pete, a large man with a square jaw, ordered drink after drink and stood up to toast Mark and me each time a new one arrived. Mark’s dad and mine, masticating their steaks, said they felt lucky. At first I thought they were referring to Mark’s and my marriage, but as the conversation continued, I realized they were talking about blackjack.

We had a four-day honeymoon at Mark’s dad and Judy’s house in El Cerrito, just north of Berkeley, while the adults stayed at Tahoe to play keno, blackjack, and the slot machines.  pg. 79


Jeanne said...

Sounds like she took some remarkable material and made it more or less ordinary... that's what learning to write in higher education can do, unfortunately.

LisaMM said...

I'm oddly drawn to this book; maybe because I have a 14 yr old who thinks she's in love. Ugh.

Lucille Lang Day said...

Lisa, I hope you and your daughter can read my book and discuss it. If you have hesitations about buying it, perhaps you can get it from a library. I show how teen love is not likely to be the real thing, and how acting on it can lead to disastrous consequences. Best wishes to both of you, Lucy