November 1972: ARLO GUTHRIE - City of New Orleans

My parent’s legal separation was on the books, and it was time for me and Mom to move out of the house. I remember the Mayflower moving van in the driveway at the ranch, and then cut to being inside our 2-bedroom apartment in Black Jack, with my Dad hanging pictures on the one fake wood panel wall in the tiny living room, his way of helping out before he went back to wherever it was that he was now living.

We were to live in the Whisper Lake apartment complex for 13 years, but at this moment, it was strange. I’d always lived in houses with front and back yards (or in the case of the ranch, acres of yard!) and houses separated by driveways. The apartment complex was a series of courts and tall buildings surrounded by cars, and the neighbors were only a wall or floor away, and you could hear them, which meant I had to learn to be more quiet since they could hear us, as well.

This strange new environment meant I was going to a new grade school – J.E. Jury Elementary – which was a short walk away from the apartments. Mom brings me into the administration office to register me for class, and as she’s filling out the paperwork she explains to the ladies behind the desk that even though my name is officially Patricia, everyone calls me Toby, so please make note of that and call her by that name.

I abruptly interrupted this exchange to boldly state, in no uncertain terms, that I was to be called “Pat.” Mom’s outward shock certainly matched my inward shock: where did that come from? Even at the moment I said it, I didn’t like the name Pat, but I also didn’t want anyone in my new life calling me by a nickname my Dad had given me. Since he left, he could take his nickname with him!

In retrospect, that was the moment I had summoned forth the identity confusion that would plague me until I hit my early 30s. From then on, half the people in my life called my Toby, the other half called me Pat, which would get confusing for everyone when a new friend and my Mom were both calling for me at the same time by two different names!

With this exchange finished, a teacher’s aide walked me down the hall and down the stairs to my new classroom. I stared out the windows as we walked the long hallway with a song playing in my head: “Good morning, America, how are ya? Say, don’t you know me? I’m your native son…”

"City of New Orleans" by Arlo Guthrie.

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