On Being A Late Bloomer

This Sunday in PacificNW, the magazine section of the Seattle Times, a piece of my past was right there staring back at me in black and white. A month or so ago, a columnist there, Erik Lacitis, wrote an article about Seattle’s old time diners, the late night joints that operated twenty-four hours a day. One of those was the Dog House, a dive in the Denny Regrade, which was a staple in the early Beau books where it functioned as his home away from home.

Why was that? Because the Dog House was a place I knew well. I was still in the insurance business back then, and the restaurant was only a short walk from my office at Sixth and Stewart. For a single mom raising two kids, the prices couldn’t be beat. For five bucks I could get a tuna melt, endless cups of coffee, and a scoop of ice cream all for five bucks, tip included. The waitresses—definitely not waitstaff back then—were a kick. My favorite, JL, always had a racing form tucked into the pocket of her apron. The steaks served were affordable, but a warning on the menu reminded diners that “tenderness was NOT guaranteed.”

After the original article appeared, several of my fans contacted Erik, telling him that they had learned about the Dog House from reading my books. He sent me a note, asking if I’d be interested in weighing in on the topic, and that’s the article that appeared this past Sunday. Here’s the link, if you’re interested: J.A. Jance Adds Her Memories..

What struck me about the article was seeing that picture of me from back in 1987.My forty-three year-old self was seated in one of the Dog House’s many tattered booths, holding forth on some topic or other. Those were pre-LASIK days, so the lenses in my glasses are thick enough to accommodate my 20/850 and 20/900 vision. That’s a long way from 20/20.

Not surprisingly, the outfit I wore in the photo brought back a slew of memories. In black and white, you can’t make out the details of my light-weight gray wool suit, including the pale flowers woven into the material. It came with a tight fitting bolero style jacket and a flared mid-calf skirt. I remember that I was wearing a dark green, satiny blouse at the time. The black and white photo doesn’t reveal that either, and I often finished the outfit with a pair of high-heeled gray boots.

I bought the suit from Loehman’s back in the old, pre-QFC days when that particular shopping center in Factoria was called Loehman Plaza. That expensive impulse purchase soon became one of the mainstays in my book-signing wardrobe. If you attended signings way back then, you probably saw me wearing it in person. But I loved that outfit, and I wore it for years, until, sadly, the size of my waist no longer matched the size of the skirt.

Now we fast forward seven years from 1987 when the above photo was taken to 1994 when I was coming up on my 50th birthday. I learned from my daughter that Juanita High School had a reading-for-pleasure program in which the whole school shut down for twenty minutes each morning and everyone—teachers, students, staff, administrators, cafeteria workers, and custodians—were required to read something for fun. The only rule was that the reading material had to be something completely unrelated to work. Since I write books people read for pleasure, that was a program I thought I should support.

So I called the principal. I introduced myself, telling him who I was and what I did for a living. I went on to explain that, in honor of their reading-for-pleasure program, I wanted to come to Juanita High School and do an all-school assembly. Not only that, I was prepared to do that for free. I also told him that I wanted to do this presentation on my 50th birthday, the 27th of October.

His reply? “Who are you again? Are you aware that we have a wonderful auditorium that seats 400 people?”

I told him I was offering to do one assembly rather than four and that I was willing to do it for free.

Some time passed after that initial phone call, but eventually he called me back. “It turns out you have a lot of fans here, so you’re welcome to do an assembly, but October 27th won’t work. That’s the day the shop teachers do their pumpkin carving contest.”

I repeated, one more time and for the record, that I wanted to do the assembly on October 27th. I thought it was a no go, but a few days later the principal called me again. “It turns out, some of the shop teachers are J.A. Jance fans. They’re willing to move the pumpkins carving contest to another day.” So it was now a done deal.

At the time, my daughter was working at a movie theater where some of her fellow employees attended Juanita High. The night before the assembly, she came to me and said, “When you go to Juanita High School tomorrow, you should probably wear a long skirt.” It seemed like she was giving me serious advice, so I paid attention. The next morning, I pulled out my trusty gray floral suit with the long flared skirt as well as my high-heeled boots, and off I went.

It turns out that one of the shop teachers at Juanita wasn’t just a fan, he was a huge fan. In honor of my appearance, he had borrowed a Porsche—the kind of vehicle Beau was driving at the time. He loaded me into it and drove me into the gym homecoming queen style where he then handed me out of the vehicle, gave me a bouquet of flowers, and then introduced me to the waiting students.

For someone who had never been homecoming queen material back in high school, it was a very heady moment, and that was the day I learned for good and all the wonderful miracle of being a late bloomer. And last year, when I was invited to attend the Ballard High School 1961/62 reunion, a retired teacher from Juanita High told me that assembly was one of the favorite memories from his teaching days. Wow!

Now, almost thirty years later, I’m a whole different kind of late bloomer. For years, during annual physicals, when doctors asked me about my exercise regimen, I generally told them I got most of my exercise from jumping to conclusions. It was a good joke, but I’m not sure the doctors actually appreciated it. But then, one of them finally made a lasting impression on me, and that’s when I started walking. I don’t know exactly how many years it’s been exactly. I know I started ten-thousand-steps-a-day journey with a FitBit. Eventually I moved on to first an iPhone and finally to my Smart Watch. I’m still not sure if any of those FitBit steps ever made the transition over to the phone.

Today, before sitting down to write the blog, I went outside and finished my steps for the day. In the process I crossed another stepping milestone by moving just past the 21,000,000-step mark. I’m attaching a screenshot as my official report card. If you can enlarge the image enough, you should be able to see the score at the bottom—21,000,006 steps and 8800 miles. That’s a lot of worn out pairs of Skechers, but I’m still walking, and hope you are, too.

Let’s hear it for late bloomers!