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A Real Grown-Up Name

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Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965

When she arrived at Mt. Holyoke in the fall of 1963, she smiled brightly, stuck her hand out and told everyone to call her Frances.  From the minute Johnny had said her name, her real name, up on the stage at Kellerman’s, she knew she’d never be Baby again.  (except maybe to Johnny, in low, quiet bedroom conversations that were laced with memories and laughter.) 

 

That’s Frances Houseman,” the girls in her dormitory whispered “she has that older boyfriend who lives down in Springfield and teaches dancing!  He comes to get her on the weekends wearing that leather jacket.  She knows things.  Things about the real world.

 

And she did.  She did know things that girls at Mt. Holyoke didn’t know, and it wasn’t just how to dance the mambo.  That summer at Kellerman’s she’d learned things that you couldn’t teach at a Seven Sisters college.  It was much more than that she knew what it was like to have a man’s rough hands feel soft as silk on the back of your neck. 

 

It was the spring semester of 1964 when the first girl showed up at her room in the middle of the night, her eyes puffy from crying; a frantic plea on her lips. “I know you don’t know me, but I really need help.  See, I met this guy at the last Dartmouth mixer and, well…”

 

She didn’t know what to do, not at first, but that weekend she did the thing she’d been doing her whole life: she asked her Dad.  Frantically, the story spilled out as she stood in the hallway of Johnny’s rooming house on the communal phone, telling her Dad about how scared this girl she’d never met was. 

 

He’d sighed, a long sad sigh, and she knew he was thinking of Penny, bleeding to death out in the staff cabins.  After a few seconds, he told her that he’d find a doctor in Springfield they could trust and to call him back the next week.

 

The next Monday, Johnny drove Frances and the girl, whose name was Jeannie, to a doctor who shook their hands and had a real office and was wearing a white coat and everything.  Jeannie cried just a little and Frances never let her encouraging smile slip from her face as the doctor walked her inside.  Johnny held his hand in the small of Frances’s back and said things without words about how proud he was to know her.

 

Over Spring Break, she came home to New York and asked her father, one night when only the two of them were still awake, how he’d managed to find a nice doctor with a clean office for Jeannie but Penny had to almost die thanks to some traveling butcher.

 

She knew the answer, but she wanted to hear him say it.

 

He was ashamed of the answer he had to give her, but even though he tried to make it sound different, Frances knew the answer was really what Robbie had told her.  Some people counted, and some people didn’t.

But Frances knew the secret now: there was no difference between Jeannie and Penny.  When she came back from break for the rest of her first semester, Frances let the word go out that she was ready and able to help any girl (Mt. Holyoke student or not) and teach anyone interested about the things she knew about the real world.

 

She’d find them doctors and safe spaces, she’d make sure they had the information they needed to not get to that point.  She’d shown them that everyone was someone who counted, that they had the power to control their lives and bodies.  And if she had to break the law to do it, well, that made the law wrong, not her. 

 

Thinking of Penny almost dead and so scared, Frances couldn’t imagine there were any horrors in Vietnam much worse.  At the end of her first year, she’d switched her major to pre-law and refocused her efforts on changing the world outside her front door.

 

When she announced the change that summer, her father had smiled knowingly and looked down at his morning cup of coffee.  He didn’t have to say anything; she understood.

 

Miranda v. Arizona, 1966

 

The world was changing too fast for a town like South Hadley to keep up and Frances didn’t want to miss one minute of the changes.

 

She started the spring of her junior year at Barnard College in New York City, where she could see and participate in every change in the world as it happened. 

 

While she lived off campus with two roommates, for all intents and purposes, she and Johnny were living together in a tiny walk-up above the dance studio he was working in.  He was still saving every penny he made to try to open his own studio, but New York opened ideas in him bigger than studios.  The word now was company and there was a vision attached.  Frances loved the way he unfolded into the wide open potential of modern dance, of doing something truly original with the rhythm she felt hammering under his skin. 

 

Meanwhile, Barnard was more exciting than Mt. Holyoke could ever dream of being and together, the two of them glowed with the excitement of new possibilities.  Conventional wisdom dictated that this was the time when they should have been growing apart; instead, their insatiable hunger for what was next, what was possible, twined them closer than ever, dreaming new dreams together.  Her heart still skipped a beat when he pulled her close and they still danced with the lights off during cool spring evenings.

 

It was almost the summer before she persuaded him to take her to meet his father.  He had no more excuses, now that there were in the same city, and she wouldn’t take no for an answer.  They’d been serious about each other for three years now; it was time.  He’d been grim and tight-lipped and told her she wouldn’t like it.

 

Johnny’s mother had died when he was 8 and his father had raised him in a silent and occasionally violent household.  Frances knew this story, of course, but the reality she discovered in the sweltering Hell’s Kitchen apartment was much worse than the story she thought she already knew.

 

Over strained dinner conversation, and while on his fifth beer of evening, his father asked if Johnny was ready to get a real job and stop messing around with queer business like dancing.  Johnny had stiffened and tried, calmly, to explain he had a steady job now, was saving money, was meeting important people, but his father had simply brayed with laughter.

 

“Gonna need a lot more than some little bit of money to take care of a uppity Kike like that one,” he’d said, smiling a nasty smile and pointing right at her face.

 

She’d stared in open-mouthed horror and didn’t even notice when Johnny grabbed her hand and yanked her away from the dinner table.  They were halfway down the block before she realized they hadn’t even said good-bye.  Johnny hadn’t said anything at all, as a matter of fact.

 

They never spoke of his father again.

 

Loving v. Virginia, 1967

 

Frances graduated, Summa Cum Laude, with a degree in political science in May 1967. Her mother, father, Lisa, and Johnny stood up and clapped until their hands were sore.  She was starting law school at Columbia in the fall. 

 

That summer, that last long summer of freedom, however, was for Kellerman’s.  They were paying Johnny a ridiculous amount of money (he could command that now, his work was talked about, people wanted to see what Johnny Castle had to offer) to launch their new “World of Dance” program.  The program was the first of its kind: fully immersive in multiple styles of dance, geared toward people aged 18-30, hands on and rigorous, and, oh, yes, fully integrated.  It was also booked all summer long, by the kind of people who never knew Kellerman’s existed five years ago. 

 

Neil beamed with pride over the success of the program, even as Max wrung his hands.  Neil and Johnny had spent the spring collaborating on promotion and programming and World of Dance had people making reservations from as far away as Paris and Rome.

 

So, it was another summer at Kellerman’s, so different from the first summer that Frances wasn’t sure anything would be the same.  But Johnny had them put him in his old cabin and the first night back, she snuck inside and he called her “Baby.”  She felt that feeling, the one she was afraid might go away and knew now never would.  She melted into the familiarity of the man who had always, always, caught her and lifted her up.

 

There was a summer wedding that year at Kellerman's.  A slightly unusual occasion, but after a wildly successful summer of modern dance mixed with the mambo and integrated couples dancing body to body on the main floor, nothing was impossible, or even that surprising, at Kellerman's.

 

Right before Labor Day, under a trellis of roses, Lisa Houseman married Billy Castle. Her maid of honor told everyone in the toast she couldn’t be prouder of her older sister, the interior designer and new head of programs for Kellerman’s Entertainment.  In his toast, the best man said his little cousin had great taste in women and the World of Dance would have never happened without him.  Somewhat cryptically, he then thanked him for the decision to bring a third watermelon to that party.

 

After the last dance of the year, Johnny twirled her off the dance floor and outside.  They stood under the stars and Johnny held her hands and thanked her, for a whole world of dance (not just this summer’s worth) and love and faith and trust and passion.  Then he asked if maybe she wanted to stop sneaking into his cabin and marry him.

 

Frances said she never wanted to stop sneaking into his cabin.

 

But she’d marry him anyway.

 

Roe v. Wade, 1973

 

Dr. Jacob Houseman died of a massive, sudden heart attack on the tenth hole.

 

Frances Houseman-Castle, Esq., found out the news at her office.  She knew something was terribly wrong from the time Johnny walked in, his face a mask of grief, the baby bouncing on his hip and screaming her head off.

 

Her first child, her little girl, had been born only a year before.  Her parents had beamed at their first granddaughter.  Her father had said he was so glad to have a girl in the family again, for Houseman girls were a force to be reckoned with.  Johnny nodded appreciatively, grinning from ear to ear, and the baby reached out for her grandfather’s hands.

 

Frances and Johnny named her Graham, since Frances had told him Martha was a terrible name to saddle a baby with.  The people who thought this was a strange name for a girl never got to be outraged about that because they were too busy being upset that Frances had the baby and went back to work at her law office while Johnny took Graham to his work with him and his dance company and changed diapers between rehearsals and carried her on his back while choreographing routines. 

 

That terrible day she found out about her father, she picked up Graham from Johnny’s arms and tried to soothe the baby’s cries, rocking her as she continued to scream.  Johnny ran his hand up and down Frances’s back and told her what a good man her father had been, how proud he was of her.

 

And though it didn’t lessen the grief, Frances knew that was true.

 

She worked for equal rights, parity under the law, and protection for those who could not protect themselves.  She had dedicated her life to the principle that everyone counted.

 

Shell-shocked, Graham crying the whole way, her little family made their way home.  Frances talked on the phone to her sister and briefly to her mother, who was too stunned to say anything, as Johnny packed for their trip.

 

She walked into the bedroom and gazed at her daughter, finally exhausted and asleep in her crib, and then to her husband, folding clothes with a single-minded focus.  He looked up and caught her eyes and gave her a soft smile.  He didn’t have to say a single word; the past decade of loving him and growing with him told her everything she needed to know.  She had, indeed, found a guy as great as her Dad.  He was, as always, her partner.  And she knew he would be with her, step by step, for whatever came next. 

 

She thought of the doctor’s offices she’d ushered girls into, both in Massachusetts and New York, doctors her father had found and spoken to and usually paid for.  “It’s the right thing to do, Daddy,” she’d said “the moral thing to do.  We’re saving women’s lives.  Remember what the Talmud says, if we save a single life, we save the world.”

 

Her father had saved the world, had taught her how to do the same.

 

Now she would teach Graham.

 

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The story title is Johnny's response when he finds out Baby's real name: Frances.  That's a real grown-up name.

The section titles are from landmark United States Supreme Court decisions from 1964-1973.

Griswold v. Connect, 1964: Landmark ruling regarding birth control and the  right to privacy that overturned “a law which, in forbidding the use of contraceptives, rather than regulating their manufacture or sale, seeks to achieve its goals by means having a maximum destructive impact upon [marriage].”
Miranda v. Arizona, 1966: “If the individual indicates in any manner, at any time prior to or during questioning, that he wishes to remain silent, the interrogation must cease.” Landmark ruling regarding self-incrimination and the Fifth Amendment. 
Loving v. Virginia, 1967: “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”  Landmark ruling regarding interracial marriage and the Fourteenth Amendment.
Roe v. Wade, 1973: “…the abortion decision in all its aspects is inherently, and primarily, a medical decision, and basic responsibility for it must rest with the physician.”  Landmark ruling regarding abortion and the right to privacy.