Dear readers, tonight with me is an ageing heiress to an electronics empire, about to be sent to a nursing home by her family. She reminisces about her time as a burlesque dancer, and of family drama playing over decades of history.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
Oh my, well that is going back a ways, you know I am nearly a 100. I will tell you, times were quite a bit different than today. My family lived in Newport Kentucky, in a real nice neighborhood; we knew everyone on the street. My fondest memory was sitting in our little backyard in the summertime. My mother used to let my brother and I ‘camp out’ under the stars. My little brother Donny knew all about the stars and the planets when he was just a kid. I can still hear him pointing out the constellations. He was real smart, when he was just a boy he went to a special school created just for kids like him. I wish you could have met him, now he was someone you would want to interview!
Oh, look at me go on! Yes, we had a wonderful childhood, but there were hard times too. My folks took ill and in the end, it was just us kids. I almost lost Donny too, but he rallied. In those days there was no welfare and, had I not been older, Donny and I would have been sent to an orphanage. Of course, everything turned out fine, I took a job to support us and eventually that job is what helped Donny get into the college-prep school. We stayed in that apartment building, the older girls living there helped us, everyone there just loved Donny.
Yes, it was a nice neighborhood, a real community if you know what I mean.
What do you do now?
Well, these days I do a lot of sitting and remembering. I don’t get around much; or very well at times! The girls; my granddaughters and their daughters come to visit but honestly they do more fussing than anything. I guess everyone just looks at me as some old woman, I wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I was strong and I was the one looking after others.
That was a long time ago though. Some days I look at my hands and I’m amazed, how these old hands could be mine? This gold band here, it has never been off my left hand since my wedding day. It had an inscription, but Lord the years wore those words away. Never the love though, my Nicky and I had a strong bond.
I am rambling again, I do that. My Granddaughter Mary calls it my ‘moments.’ Back in the day I knew a man that did this, we called him crazy. I understand it now though, my memories are stronger than my days. Sometimes when I have these ‘moments’, it is just like stepping back in time. I see my Nicky again, my friends are all there, even Donny; he is with us again. It’s nice.
What was it you asked; oh yes; what I do. Well, I am a widow now, dear.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
Well, let me tell you, it was quite unexpected. A few weeks back I had a little accident in the kitchen. Everyone made a fuss, somehow a paper towel got into the oven and caught fire. My girls came over and the next thing I know; they are moving me to a nursing home. I know my Granddaughter Mary made sure it was the ‘best’ in the industry. Her sister only agreed because she was concerned for me, she is such a sweet-hearted girl. Still, here I sit watching my life being packed into boxes, my whole existence cover in newspaper and bubble wrap.
What did you first think when your family found out?
Well, dear, I know I am old, but I wasn’t always! I lived a life most were unaware until recently. Seems that my granddaughters uncovered my secret. You see, many years ago, I was a burlesque dancer! Yes indeed, and I was good at it too. Oh my you should have seen their faces when the found those old photos of me and my fellow dancers!
Mary and Kim; they are my granddaughters, well they were just besides themselves. Now their girls were a little more progressive than their mothers. Josie; Mary’s girl thought it was amazing, but she is a little on the wild side. The one that surprised me the most was my quiet Maisie, she’s Kim’s girl. When all the hullabaloo was over, Maisei told me she thought I was beautiful in my photo.
Isn’t that sweet?
What was the scariest thing in your adventures?
Now, I’ll tell you working at The Honey Bee; that was the club I danced for, it was not all fun and games. One day a man showed up with two bulls tailing him. That’s what we call the muscle for the mobsters back then: bulls. They came to see our boss Rudy; just marched in without warning. The trio came in from the service entrance, while Rudy was trying to sneak out the front! The largest of the men stopped him, then the group disappeared into the manager’s office. My friend Lillie told us girls that there was a rumor that money is missing from the club. No one had to tell us why the men are paying Rudy a visit! I never heard anything from behind the oak door, just like I never saw Rudy again.
I didn’t ask about it either, some things you don’t want to know.
What is the worst thing about having been a burlesque dancer?
I know what everyone thinks when they hear that I danced in a club. I didn’t do it because I wanted to undress in front of a bunch of foolish men. I needed to work, I had to provide for my little family. Back then, it was hard to get into good schools, especially when you are poor. Truth was that dancing paid better than running drinks in the club. You learn to turn off the cat-calls and ignore the backstage Johnny’s. I did it to make sure my brother Donny made it to college. I kept my eye on the goal; seeing Donny graduate college, by God, I made it happen too.
What is the best thing about it?
Well, dancing is like any job there are good days and bad. What gets you through it though are your friends. Those girls were a sisterhood, and my sounding board. No one understood back then, and I doubt my family will now. I tell you though, it’s simple, we dared to be strong long before it was acceptable. We were women in charge of our destiny, this was long before that women’s liberation came along. By design or circumstance, we found our way to “The Bee” and, we made the best of it.
I always said that these were no ladies; these were women!
Tell us a little about your friends.
Well let me think; there is Lillie she used the stage name, Whiskey Lil. She was a tall woman that hailed from Oklahoma of all places! Her stories of the ranches and fields of cattle were fascinating. She knew how to rope too and her routine included lassoing a fella at the end! Of course there was my best friend Angie, she was reserved, but on stage, she became another person. Twirling within gossamer veils she would mesmerize the room; women included. She had dubbed herself Moon Maiden; her dance was so surreal I swear her feet didn’t touch the stage! For a short time, Lana danced at The Bee. They called her The Louisville Legs! She came up to The Bee from down in Kentucky, she moved to a bigger club, but boy it was fun while she was here!
I wish you could have met the blues singer: Roxy Black! That woman’s voice was so deep and soulful, she could add passion to any song. I can still hear her, as the horns wail mournfully, agreeing that some men were just not worth the time. That woman’s voice would rise above it easily. No musical notes, no musician nor a man would silence this woman’s voice. No sir, Roxy Black would be heard.
Any romantic involvement?
Well, there was only one man in my life; my Nicky. He was a layoff man for the Mob, do you know what that is dear? Well, a layoff man runs from club to club picking up the bets, you had to have the organizations trust of course! Let me tell you that was a handsome man and oh, how he could sweet talk you! I was young and innocent, but far from dumb. I saw right through his talk. That is not what won me over, it was how he was with Donny. He was just so good with him and, protective. Of course Donny thought the world of Nicky; I have to say, I trusted my brother’s instinct. It really was the main reason that I agreed to a date with “Mr. Layoff Man.”
Whom (or what) do you really hate?
I look back on that time now and I shake my head! What was a slip of a girl doing dancing in a club run by the Mob? Sure there were frightening people, but the worse by far was the manager the Cleveland Group put in the club. In no time Paulie, wanted us girls to do more than just dance, if you know what I mean. If you disagreed, he would simply starve you out and keep you off stage. Some of girls caved, they weren’t bad girls they were just scared you see.
Not me, I found out that he was pulling money from the club before running it up to the Bosses. Well, we all know what happens when you do that! So, I tried to convince him to simply leave me be and I will return the favor, after all, what he did with the money was none of my concern. Well, he was arrogant, it got down to the point where Paulie threatened me; yes sir! Thought he could bully me into doing what he wanted. He stood before screaming about how he’d “ruin me.” Just like that, well I stood right before that toad of a man and I told him; “You didn’t make me.” I guess he wasn’t expecting that because he shut up, then I walked out.
Now I won’t lie, I walked away real fast. I may be brassy, but I’m not dumb!
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
Well dear I will tell you what the rest of them will learn in time. Our family has been associated with the Mob for quite a while. Now of course everything is above board, but there was a time you could help the organization out and the favor was returned. Now we call it investing in a business, then we knew it was just cleaning the money.
Everyone did it.
Caroline Walken is an award-winning Indie Author with several titles in publication currently; Ell’s Double Down, Reggie’s No Limit, Nowhere on the Map and the latest, Behind the Fan. Coming later this year — In Hiding, the award-winning short-story will be turned into a novel! Readers find her writing gripping and the characters compelling. With a craving for action and adventure, her romance novels are not your typical girl meets boy tales. Often intertwined with mystery and lawbreaking the stories keep the reader engaged.
You can find Dorothy on the pages of Behind the Fan.
Join us next week to meet a sergeant tasked with clearing a mine from the psychotic, magic-wielding savages that took over it. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.