I Remember It Well!, Part I
Return Of A Native Daugher- Revenge Is Sooooo Sweet Indeed!
The year was 2002. I decided to return to Collingswoods, my childhood home! I now have a thriving law practice in Beverly Hills, California. My clients range from movie megastars and producers to real estate moguls. Collingswoods is a suburb in Pennsylvania. Collingswoods was located just outside of Philadelphia. Its population according to the 2001 census was 15,000 people.
I chose to put Collingswoods out of my mind. I left there on my high school graduation in June 1972. I remember Collingswoods to be such a fragmented place. You knew your status and your so-called place there. When I grew up in Collingswoods during the 1960s and 1970s, there was a sharp demarcation along racial, ethnic, and class lines. Each group stayed and socialized along with their own respective groups!
During the 1960s and 1970s, Collingswoods' outer periphery section was composed of the most affuent and wealthy. Their socioeconomic status could be described from extremely upper middle income to middle upper income. They were the community leaders of the entire area of Collingswoods. Ethnically and racially, the outer periphery was composed of mostly English, Scottish, Germans, and Swedes with an extremely minute percentage of Irish, Italians, and even a smaller percentage of Blacks. Millionaires were common in this area. Many of the old aristocracy lived in this area. Many prominent executives, doctors, and lawyers called the outer periphery of Collingswoods their home.
The middle section of Collingswoods would be described as a typical middle income area with a cross section of both blue and white collar employees and professionals. Their socioeconomic status would be considered middle-middle class with a minute smattering of upper middle class individuals. This section was the most diverse ethnically and racially. This composition contained mostly Irish, Italians, Greeks, Slavs including Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Slovenes, Ukrainians, and Rusyns; a small smattering of Hungarians and Romanians, Jews, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians. There was also a significant percentage of Germans and Anglo-Saxon in the area! These people were considered the unsung heroes and the unappreciated backbone of the area. They also had a cross section of occupations ranging from managers and educators to construction engineers!
Now there is the upper left section of Collingswoods. This is the area where I came from. This area would be described socioeconomically as being from lower middle to upper lower income. area. The occupations of this area included service and clerical occupations, lower level white and blue collar jobs. This area was ethnically and racially composed of Italians, Irish, Greeks, Poles, Czechs, Ukrainians, Russians,Asians, Blacks, Latinos, and some Appalachians. The people in this area were the TRUE BACKBONES of Collingswoods if you know what I mean!
My name is Anna Zhurov. I was born on October 30th, 1954. I am the fourth of sixth children. My parents were Russian displaced persons who immigrated to the United States after World War II. They settled in a couple of places before finally settling in Collingswoods.
My father was a gardener for the wealthier people in Collingswoods and my mother was a nurses aide at a hospital in the upper left area of Collingswoods. Socioeonomically, we would be considered lower middle income. We were comfortable because we lived on a tight budget! All of us children when we were able contributed to the family income either by babysitting, selling lemonade, and/or having a paper route!
My childhood was idyllic. I, my siblings, and friends played outside, often until dark. Friends were always welcome in our home. My parents always told me and my siblings that this is our house as well as theirs. They also told us that friends were always welcome! We are also given the ultimate freedom; however, with this freedom came responsibility and accountability for our actions!
Even though my parents were not highly educated, they believe that children have equal participatory rights within the family structure. My parents can be described as a cross between being democratic and permissive! Because of this upbringing, I developed a sense of self-confidence and independence at an early age!
I will not digress regarding this. Even though my home life was fantastic, school was a different matter entirely! Since I can remember, I had scholarships to the more affluent schools of the area. The elementary school I attended was Hillcraft School, an all girls private nonsectarian school. The school specializes in offering an advanced curriculum which prepares one to attend a college preparatory high school!
I was one of the few children from the left area of Collingswoods to attend the school. Over 85% of the school population came from the outer periphery! I and the other poor students knew where we stood! We were the odd girls out to say the least! The rich girls were the queens of the school. No matter what they did, they were not punished for it! They were protected by the teachers, the headmistress, and the administration!
I recalled one incident in October 1963. The day in question was a particularly crisp, fall day. I remember the teacher, Miss Kipp, an extremely stern teacher in her early 50s. She had platinum blonde hair which she wore in a bun with cold blue-grey eyes. She was extremely tall, short of 6 feet tall. She spoke in a harsh, German accent. It was rumored that she was an SS guard in some sort of women's labor camp in Poland during World War II. She came from a landowning family in Silesia, Poland. Some students named her "the Nazi".
Miss Kipp had a strong animus against Slavic, Italian, and non-white students. She also believed that poor students had no place in this school. It is fair to say that any student who was in the periphery of her orbit had much to fear. Miss Kipp was a devotee of using harsh, especially corporal punishment, especially on the more ethnic and poorer students. Even though I was an excellent student, I was often on the receiving end of Miss Kipp's discipline!
Miss Kipp would punish me for no reason. Let me discuss the October 1963 incident. I was in 3rd grade. Well, one of the wealthier girls of the school, Karolyn Buhl, imitated my voice and called Ms. Kipp a pejorative and derogative name. Miss Kipp turned abruptly around from writing an arithmetic equation, sternly and menacingly inquiring, "Who was the culprit?" No one answered.
Then Karolyn and some of her friends, Elizabeth Cannon, Charlotte Howes, Grace MacNish, and Carlyle Hunnicut continued with the aforementioned tirade which included some expletive language. Miss Kipp dropped the chalk, turned around, sternly and menacing inquiring," Who did this? You are little ladies, not gutterrrr rrrrats!"
Again there was silence! Then Karolyn stated," Miss Kipp, it was Anyoushka Zhurov and her friends as usual. You know she is from the slums of Collingswoods. These slum girls do not know any better!" Karolyn then laughed a devilish laugh! Miss Kipp narrowed her eyes and hissed, " Miss Zhurov since you are the leader of the group- you will stay after school for one week. In addition to that, you will write,' I will not disturb the class a thousand times'. "
I was totally nonplussed. I told Miss Kipp that I did not do this, it was Karolyn and her friends who did this. Karolyn interjected, calling me a liar. She demured that she would NEVER do such a thing. She had a halo effect on teachers, especially Miss Kipp, and administrators alike. Nothing Karolyn and her friends were ever wrong. It was her delight to get people into trouble, often serious trouble.
Karolyn was also known as a school bully. Of course, nothing was done to remedy the situation because her parents were extremely wealthy and contributed to the school. Furthermore, the Buhls were also Germans from Silesia and were acquaintances of Miss Kipp. It is rumored that Miss Kipp was probably a fifth cousin of the Buhls. So Karolyn is COVERED!
Although I was an excellent student, there was no respite and peace in my school life. It suffices to say that Karolyn and her friends made the lives of those they deemed more socioeconomically disadvantaged H-E-L-L! Karolyn was a pretender and an actress. She would go to one of the poorer students, smile, and ask them what was their lunch. She would then take their lunch and brazenly eat it much to the dismay and chagrin of the students in question!
Karolyn was the empress of Hillcraft School. She was extremely beautiful. She was tall for her age and very slender with light blonde shoulder length hair, aqua eyes, and ivory skin. She was also known in the child beauty pageant circuit. She had an exaggerated sense of her importance which she was never loathe to use. Even though she was a B- student, the teachers loved her and considered her the smartest and most personable persons around. In other words, she was a perfect angel to all concerned!
As the years progressed, things did not get any better for me and my friends. Karolyn and her friends ODIOUSLY HATED us and it was their intent to make our school lives as miserable as possible! I endured it the best way I could. If I reported the bullying incident to any of the teachers, they would pooh pooh me and maintain that Karolyn was not as bad as I imagined! I imagined! What was happening to me and my friends was REAL, not a product of my so-called imagination!
One day I could not take any more, so I informed my parents of the incident. My father and his brother went to Hillcraft, insisting to speak to the headmistress, Mrs. Cole. Mrs. Cole seemed annoyed, explaining that Karolyn was not the type of person to harass anyone! In fact, Mrs. Cole told them that it was I who harass students, especially the more privileged students. My father just simply glared at her while my uncle called Mrs. Cole a few choice words in Russian.
Mrs. Cole's face suddenly turned ashen. She abruptly got up and summoned four security guards. She maintained that the reputation of one of her "PRIZED" students shall not be tarnished by a bunch of lower class ingrates. She refused to hear the explanations of my father and uncle! They were rudely escorted from the school!
By the actions of Mrs. Cole, Karolyn and her friends were given carte blanche to harass and to bully students who they considered to be either outsiders, odd girls out, and/or generally undesirable! In 6th grade, Karolyn and her friends harassed a Black girl, calling her all types of racial epithets.
She was a new girl to the school and recently transferred from a public school. Her name was Belinda Jones. Her family was just transplanted from the rural section of Mississippi. Her ancestors were either farmers and sharecroppers. Her father was a maintenance person and her mother was a clerk at a nearby department store. She was the middle of four children. She also lived in the upper left section of Collingswoods.
She was fresh fodder for Karolyn and her infernal friends. She was derided because of her race and Southern drawl. At one time during music class, Karolyn, thinking that it was cute, put some black shoe polish on her face and braided her hair. She affected a Southern accent and started to sing. The music teacher, an outsider, Miss Kerwin, walked in on the class and yelled at Karolyn to leave the class permanently!
For the first time, Karolyn was shocked! After music class was finished, Miss Kerwin, a no-nonsense woman of Irish descent went to Mrs. Cole's office to report the incident. Mrs. Cole, of course, did not believe Miss Kerwin. She then summoned Karolyn, asking her what happened and if what Miss Kerwin said was true. Karolyn demuringly replied, " Of course not! How could anyone accuse her of being prejudiced-how ridiculous indeed!" Miss Kerwin retorted," I saw Ms. Buhl in blackface, singing a derogatory song in a mock Southern accent and I have PLENTY of witnesses!" Mrs. Cole refused to listen to Miss Kerwin, explaining that it was time for her to sever the relationship with the students and the school!"
Miss Kerwin was incensed. Mrs. Cole summoned four security guards! Secretly, Mrs. Cole knew what occurred but preferred to ignore it because it was Karolyn. Karolyn was considered untouchable and above reproach because her parents were one of the main contributors to the school. Karolyn knew this, smiled, and walked away!
However, two weeks later on the way home from school, Karolyn decided to make a detour and walk in a different area. Her father warned her not to walk in certain areas of Collingswoods because there are areas that are more dangerous than others. However, she decided as usual not to heed her father! As she approached a somewhat desolate area in Collingswoods, four girls jumped her. Without warning, one of the girls, Belinda's cousin from an adjacent rougher area nearby, pummelled her! The girl stated that if her cousin is harassed again, she would need hospitalization! The girls suddenly left !
Karolyn was stunned, bloodied, and crying. She ran home and as the maid answered the door, she fell to the floor. The maid screamed, calling the ambulance! Karolyn was taken to the private hospital in Collingswoods. Then the Buhls were called. When they saw Karolyn in the hospital bed, the mother screamed and the father become incensed! The father wanted to know what happened to her!
Karolyn become frightened, stating that she fell and severely hurt herself. For the first time, she was apprehensive. She was truly afraid of the four girls, knowing that if she told, the girls would find out and she would receive a worse beating! I remember from that time on, Karolyn and her friends left Belinda alone.
However, such was not the case with me. Karolyn and her friends continuously harassed me. My friends and associates told me to fight back. I elected not to fight back because of my temper. When I get angry, I have an extremely volatile temper which could be deadly! I was deathly afraid that if I do fight Karolyn back, she would end up permanently disfigured. When I related this to my friends, they said so-she deserves a good whipping!
I decided to concentrate on my studies and to ignore the stupid pettiness which is rampant among the rich girls at the school. In 7th grade, I was the subject of malicious gossip by three groups of rich girls of the school. Karolyn was the leader of the three groups which subsequently merged to become one group.
According to the rumor, I had a disreputable reputation. I do not know how I could be a subject of such gossip. Besides that, I was considered poverty stricken and unhygienic. Each time I passed by a certain group of girls, they held their noses. Once I discovered that someone placed a bar of Dial soap and Arrid deodorant on my homeroom desk! The rumor become so bad, I and my friends were totally excluded! My academic life kept me emotionally above water............