The Bebop Sisters

by Martha Heimdahl Slavin '67

There we were, Martha and Linda, sisters, bebopping down the Newport Freeway in Linda’s “Blue Bubble,” the name we gave to her midnight blue ’59 Ford. We rode with the windows wide open, Beethoven’s 9th blaring from the radio for all to hear, hair blowing straight across our faces, gum popping, on our way to Laguna Beach to burn our bodies to a crisp lying in the hot summer sand — me in my pink and orange stretch terry swim suit and Linda, my older sister, in her aqua, gathered number; no boobs showing anywhere on either of us, but fingernails and toenails painted Shocking Pink. It was 1960, and we were the California girls, man, feelin’ groovy.

We spent our lives in cars, trying to be cool but always a little bit square. We went cruising with the sounds of Claire de Lune and the 1812 Overture inspiring our every move. Colorado Boulevard was our big haunt. We went to the movies, stopped at the drive-in at Bob’s Big Boy to check out the boys. There we were: two girls wanting to be the California girls we saw in Seventeen and Glamour ads, but never having it all together.

We grooved at the Cat’s Pajamas, listening ever so coolly to the Beat poems, lazy eyes dreaming to the cool jazz — me in a black turtleneck, black skirt, and black tights; and Linda, older, with black eye make up and white lips, playing like little sister wasn’t along, her favorite expression, “Like, wow, man.” We sang songs about all being in the world together, about blowing in the wind, about being trapped on a train in Boston. We were part of a movement, man, and the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary were our leaders.

Linda grew up that year and went to college. She went on to live the American Dream: she got married, had two kids, and then divorced and divorced. She dropped husbands one right after the other like bombs going off in her unwary heart.

After high school, I also went off to college, to Scripps, the place that I’d seen as a five year old and decided was the place for me. During the summer, I flew to New York on my way to my first summer job. I stayed at a hotel in Times Square, right in the middle of the action, with hordes of people, cars, and horns blaring everywhere, signs with blinking lights flashing through my window all night long, and knocks on my door in the middle of the night.

A year later, 1967, back in New York, a little wiser, the summer of love in San Francisco, the summer of the Arab-Israeli War in New York. Me, working at Mademoiselle magazine; me, a guest editor for the month of August — a whole month of whirlwind tours meeting famous people, going to parties, taking a trip to Peru.

While I was in New York, Linda was raising two children. Suddenly divorced after the second baby, she turned to babysitting, Tupperware, and cosmetic home-parties, and finally, greeting card designers’ assistant. She married the designer and added grown-up children to her menagerie of kids and animals. That marriage didn’t last either, and now she lives with her best friend in a small apartment, collecting and selling on eBay.

New York was too much for me. I traipsed back to California and took ordinary jobs — no more flying high with Warhol and friends. Just like Linda, I married my college sweetheart, but we stuck it out, had a kid, traveled the world, worked like crazy — all those things adults are expected to do. Linda and I saw each other occasionally, both of us busy with our separate lives.

When our parents died, we reconnected. We’re now in our 60s. Linda’s straight blonde hair is now white, while I look more and more like our mother. We share stories of families, husbands, and partners. Once again, a year after our mother died, we were grooving as we drove down the California coast, hair blowing in the wind, doing 80 miles an hour from San Francisco to L.A. three times together, this time in a PT Cruiser; this time with Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, and Keith Urban blaring out the windows.

We were still the California girls — me in a black T-shirt and capris, and Linda, still a little plump, in an aqua tiedied T-shirt and pants. While we cleaned out our parents’ accumulations, we resolved longstanding issues with the rest of our family. In response to our heated reaction to our family conflicts, we started calling each other new nicknames, the Two Hotties, Jalapeño and Habañero. But we didn’t forget those days when we were just the Bebop Sisters.


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