Went out on a double date with Rip and Virginia and The Doll. We went up to the Riverside Rancho and Bill was a bit under the influence and he started getting all sentimental and telling me "He loved me and he’d never look at another girl", "I was his one and only", and "I was wonderful and he had eyes only for me," and a bunch more words. Oh brother, the things you have to listen to when you have ears! But I liked it though, I mean really. Tommy was up there too and danced with me.
Sunday July 27, 1952
Bill came down today and we went to Baldwin Park today. Stayed with me tonight and said a bunch of sweet things to me. Also Mary Alice came over.
Monday July 28, 1952
Got another letter from Charles mother, says he’s still overseas, and is alive and fine but he doesn’t write to anybody. I don’t know what the heck it could be, my last letter to him was rather cool, I have a sneaking hunch that it is that. I don’t mean to be conceited but he does love me very much. I am going to write to him tonight.
Tuesday July 29, 1952
Billie Jean called me tonight and told me a bunch of things, and she said she is scared stiff. All she hears is women screaming in the night and I am real worried about her.
Wednesday July 30, 1952
Bill came down today. What a man! What, a man?
Thursday July 31, 1952
My little brother Bobby is 13 today. Got him a beach ball for his birthday. He likes it.
Friday August 1, 1952
I stayed at home tonight.
Saturday August 2, 1952
Bill took me to The Stomp tonight, then we went to Nick’s Love Nest and also The Pioneer Café. Got in at 10 after 4:00am. Mary Alice and Glenn went along with us. Joe broke up with Mary Alice and she is real hurt. I hate Bill’s dumb butt, he kissed Mary Alice right in front of me to get me jealous, and I wish he would just shove it.
Sunday August 3, 1952
Bill Took me to the beach today, just me and him. Ahhh to hell with him!
Monday August 4, 1952
Bill picked me up from the bus stop today. Big charge you know.
Bill took me to a drive-in and we saw "Jumping Jacks". HATE HIM!
Wednesday August 6, 1952
Bill and Jim breezed in at 10:00pm tonight. Some nerve showing up so late.
Thursday August 7, 1952
I'm 18 years old today. Bill and Jim took me to work this morning. I had a real nice birthday, I got a lot of nice presents and had an enjoyable day.
Friday August 8, 1952
I broke up with Bill tonight.
Saturday August 9, 1952
Went to the beach today with Bill. Mary Alice and me went to The Stomp tonight and we sure had a flawless time. We went to The Pioneer Café after the dance and I went in there with three escorts. Man I had the time. Then two guys walked me home and they both kissed me goodnight, we were all feeling so good, and they have my phone number up at work. Man I don’t know what I’ve been missing. Bill was up at The Stomp with some girl, but he still danced several dances with me. Told me he loved me and to be careful.
As Vilma and Bill’s hot and cold, on-again off-again relationship twists and turns day-by-day and hour-by-hour, let’s delve into how Billie Jean is coming along. And exactly what's up with those screams in the night? We know her due date is on August 10th, so she'll be giving birth any day now!
As we recall, our 15 year-old Billie Jean discovered she was pregnant by her 20 year-old still married boyfriend Donny, a local kid living in a nearby El Monte neighborhood. By this time Vilma and Billie Jean had already been the best of friends since middle school, but Vilma had already seen the signs of discontent in Billie’s life over the ensuing growing years:
- When Billie was only 13, her good mother passed away from a sudden illness.
- Her father was a stinking drunkard/philanderer who had re-married by the time Billie was 15.
- She was sexually molested by her father and a local parish priest. (more on this at a later time)
- And for the cherry on top: she was a budding shoplifter.
Is it any wonder Billie Jean ended up in this delicate predicament? Did she ever really have a chance?
The Maternity Home
As soon as Billie Jean started showing at about four months pregnant, and as soon as the rumors began stirring, she was promptly whisked away to St. Anne’s Home for Unwed Mothers, in the heart of Los Angeles to be exact. Billie also received the finest send off party from her family too! (not really) Her father called her a “whore” and her sister, who was so ashamed of her, exclaimed in a fiery fit of rage that she “couldn’t wait for her to get the hell out of the house”. One could only imagine how utterly alone and afraid she was in this moment in her life.
Established in 1908, St. Anne’s began as a small twelve bed hospital for pregnant, unwed, young mothers under the patronage of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart. By the 1950’s the facilities had expanded and served up to 400 women annually. The brilliant actress/philanthropist Loretta Young even served as President of the St. Anne’s Foundation for a period of time.
Maternity homes served a very special need in the community, and thankfully they still do! In the 1950's however, unwed pregnancy was still considered shockingly scandalous. Maternity homes were often regarded as ‘hiding places’ for young women, where girls came in shadowed secrecy in order to conceal the shame of their pregnancies from their hometown, and even from their own families.
Nuns in traditional full habits, who were also trained nurses and midwives, assisted young girls in delivering their children and made the arrangements for their subsequent adoptions. For the time period, it was just a forgone conclusion that adoption was the best choice for these young girls. Since women were not primary breadwinners, they had little resources to maintain a single parent home. Almost 90% of all babies born at St. Anne’s alone were given up for adoption.
While in the Maternity Home, Billie was abandoned by all of her friends, and not surprisingly, the man who fathered her child. But then there was Vilma...
Vilma once declared Billie Jean’s middle name as capital T-R-O-U-B-L-E for many a good reason. But wasn't that also precisely what their friendship was? It was trouble to be associated with her when word got out of the scandalous pregnancy, trouble to stay friends when she was arrested for shoplifting and on her way to reform school, trouble to stay friends with a girl with a tumultuous family life, and trouble to stay friends when Billie was “way ahead of her” in the sexual category.
Vilma was warned by her own mother on more than several occasions to “stay away from Billie Jean” as she was convinced she was going to be a bad influence on her eldest daughter. Who could blame Vilma’s mother though? After all, she witnessed Billie Jean’s shoplifting firsthand. Holding her youngest daughter 8-year old Mary Jane in her hand, Vilma’s mother stood from afar peering over the store shelves with pursed disapproving lips, while Mary Jane’s eyes turned as wide as saucers as they watched the store detective catch the unruly curly-haired girl in the act.
The Gift of A True Friend
Vilma had her mind made up. Although the nagging pressure of her mother was a constant drumbeat in the background, she dismissed her mother’s concerned pleas and refused to abandon her friend in her time of need. Going back to the very first “diary episodes,” it was Vilma’s words written long ago that set the tone for how she would treat Billie Jean, unequivocally declaring that “she is a good friend, and I won’t let her down”.
Well, we can see that Vilma didn’t just write down empty words, if she wrote it, (about Billie Jean, or anything else for that matter) it was important to her and dog-gone-it she really meant was she said! Though determined not to let her friend down, there really wasn’t much Vilma could do for Billie Jean but the simple things that make up a friendship. Over the months that Billie Jean has been hidden away, and now almost ready to give birth to her child, she has been in constant contact with her: writing letters (as they did in those days), calling on the phone and sending baked goodies with thoughts of well wishes. Simple things indeed, but to a vulnerable young girl in crisis it meant the world to her.
Billie Learns the Hard Way
For all of Billie Jean’s sexual experience, she was still an immature and naïve girl of 15. With her mother being long gone at the crucial point of transition from girlhood to womanhood, sadly she had no one to teach her about the proper aspect of the birds and the bees, the massive changes her body was going through, nor the process of childbirth itself.
Case in point, on one of these early August mornings Billie Jean took in her usual shower, but something was different. She looked down and what she saw astonished and confused her: a strange white substance was flowing down her body which was being washed away by the stream of shower spray. She suddenly realized it was emanating from her very own breasts! The streaming flow continued for a while, but the only words she could squeak out were “Well what on earth is this?” Poor Billie Jean only learned of the purpose for this mystery liquid after her child was born: it was merely the female body preparing mother’s milk to nourish the child.
Needless to say, Billie Jean is in a place where she is alone, filled with shame, and hurt by all of those around her, but absolutely more terrifying than the “milk episode” is what she hears in the wee hours of the night. SCREAMS. Screams of torment, agony, sobbing and gnashing of teeth. Primordial, yes. It is other women in labor.
As this naïve girl gently puts her hands on her warm protruding belly and feels the child inside kicking and moving about, not knowing what her future holds, she can’t drown out those incredulous sounds as they echo through the halls of the facility. Perhaps pulling up the covers over her head will help? No, not so fast! For she knows soon, and very soon that she will be one of these same women screaming out on a hot summer’s night, giving birth to her child as our mothers have done for us since the beginning of time.
I’m happy to report that St. Anne’s still exists today and is still serving local communities, providing a supportive atmosphere that women in crisis need more than ever. Maternity homes and local pregnancy help centers of today provide women in crisis free medical care, continuation of education, job training, low cost housing and free food and clothing. (But typically are no longer run by those nuns in full Habits).
What’s next for Billie Jean?
Will her boyfriend Donny ever show his bad boy face again? Does she keep her baby? Were the nuns mean to her?
...And is Vilma finally ready to toss Bill to the side of the road?
We’ll find out these burning questions and more in the coming diary episodes!