Cinda Williams Chima

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My Life as a Teenager

Little Rock

We moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, from Ohio when I was entering seventh grade. It was a real culture shock for our family. The rules we were used to living by were no longer operative. For instance, our first spring in Little Rock, we asked to go swimming in March. My mother said, “You can’t go swimming in March! You can’t go swimming until after Memorial Day!” But it was 90 degrees.

While in some ways life moved more slowly in the south, other things seemed accelerated. You could get a motorcycle license at 14. Girls dropped out of junior high school and got married.

I used to go fishing in the pond at the end of my street, catching sunfish and crappie and the occasional disgruntled turtle. I liked to hang out in the woods, slipping from tree to tree, hiding in ravines, pretending to be someone else.

Junior High School

My English/Social Studies teacher’s name in 9th grade was Mrs. Sloan. Usually I worshipped my English teachers, because English was my favorite subject. But Mrs. Sloan and I never got along. Skirts were very short in those days, and we used to roll our skirts at the waist to make them even shorter. Mrs. Sloan used to send us to the principal’s office if our skirts were too short. We would unroll them in the Girl’s Room on the way. After he gave us a note saying they were okay, we would roll them up again on the way back.

Carol Williams

Carol Williams

Early Literary Efforts

My girlfriends and I used to write romance novels starring each other. We all had pen names. Mine was Ellie Michel. My sister’s was Mickie Braddock. My friend Sandy’s was Patti Richard. Mrs. Sloan used to confiscate our novels whenever she noticed us passing them around. At the parent-teacher conference, Mrs. Sloan said, “Does Cinda write these…(delicate shudder) stories at home?” And my mother said, “I would think any English teacher would encourage that kind of creative activity.”

My mother was my hero.

Typing Class

I also took typing, which was an elective, so only girls took it. We worked on old manual typewriters and the teacher walked around to make sure we weren't looking at the keys. The girls who took typing often had their boyfriends’ varsity sports jackets draped over the backs of their chairs.

That’s where I learned to touch-type, but I wasn't very fast until I took a job typing ad copy in high school.

La Difference

My friend Sandy lived on Green Rd in a house with no central heating, but she had an electric guitar. She smoked Salem cigarettes and drank Coke for breakfast, which was unheard of in those days. There was an old root cellar or spring house in back of her house. We used to go there at night and light candles and hold séances. The ghosts always came. Sometimes we went outside and looked for UFO’s. We always saw them.

Photo of La Difference on stage

La Difference on stage

My sister and I bought $15 guitars and formed a singing group with Sandy and two other girls. We called ourselves La Difference (as in Viva). We sang a wide range of tunes, from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones to Peter, Paul and Mary. I sang lead and played tambourine. We didn’t get many gigs, except at Tommy Trent’s Fun Barn, a country music hall. We also played the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon in the middle of the night. My mother had to hang out with us there. We were hired for a party, once, and were paid $10. Even in those days, that didn’t go very far when you split it 5 ways.

My mother made us matching outfits, black corduroy shirts with long blousy sleeves and green-striped bell-bottomed pants and English newsboy caps. Someone once asked us if we were in a gang.


In the summers, my sister and I went swimming at Green Lake and Lake Nixon and took swimming lessons at the War Memorial Park. This had to do with the fact that my mother was deathly afraid of water. And I read everything: Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and my mother’s books from the library. Sometimes my sister and I still played Barbies, but she was never a teenage fashion model. Usually she was a spy or cat burglar. It’s pretty easy to burgle a Barbie Dream House because it has no roof. You just climb over the wall. We also built fortifications out of Funk and Wagnall’s encyclopedias.

There was always music playing, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones. My sister had a little transistor radio, and we would listen to KAAY. While we lived in Little Rock, we went to see Eric Burdon and the Animals and Herman’s Hermits, together in concert.

Bad Girls

We used to go to dances in the school gym. We mostly stood against the wall and watched exotic Mindy Barnes, who slow-danced with high school boys. She was very small, with long black hair and black-rimmed eyes. She had a reputation. She would stand in one place, face upturned, swaying, eyes closed, her arms around her partner’s waist. As if she were pretending she was somewhere else.

At my school, there were good girls and bad girls. There were no in-between girls, which is where I might have fitted in. I dreamed of bad boys and becoming a singing star.


One of my favorite things in high school was being in the chorus. We put on musicals every year. I was in Camelot and The Music Man. I never played any major roles; my voice was good, but not terrific. But I loved everything about being on the stage: the rough beginnings, with read-throughs in street clothes; putting on costumes (I always liked dress-up); being able to wear tons of makeup; rehearsing with the orchestra for the first time; opening night jitters and cast parties. I liked putting on characters and shedding them, relating to people differently than I did in real life.

I was also in the Drama Club (we did Thurber Carnival) and played a minor role in the Senior Class Play, which was Our Town. My sister played the lead.

Caught Red-Handed

I continued to read and write. I was caught reading Valley of the Dolls in Problems of Democracy class. That book was totally controversial in those days, and my teacher confiscated it. It belonged to a friend of my mother’s, and I had to go beg for it back. I also wrote poems and songs, mostly about faithless and tragic love.

More Music

We continued to sing outside of school. My sister and I used to play at the Needle’s Eye, a coffeehouse and folk music venue near Kent State University. I remember the first time we went there; we were scared to death; high schoolers playing for college students.

Eventually we picked up a third member, a guy Linda was dating. We called ourselves Cinda and Linda and Greg. One time, a friend of Greg’s drove us to a gig in Kent in his family’s station wagon. Linda and Greg broke up, and then Cinda and Linda and Greg broke up, but the friend stayed on. Years later, I married him.