“I’m a Southern”

Gearldean Bruton, Kate, Teresa Oliver and Donald Proctor, pause on the steps of The Met, as their tour guide, Kate, informs them of NYC’s best attractions.

It all sort of started out when Aimee Proctor used her tuition money to fund a road trip to Woodstock ‘99. When she and her friends stopped in NYC she says that it only took one look at the city that never sleeps and she knew that she wanted to be there. “It turns out that I don’t actually like living in NYC,” she laughed. “I just like to visit.” 

Aimee, something of a whiz kid, should have graduated from LCHS in 1995, but she tested out in the tenth grade and started Calhoun. “I had the GI Bill because of my Dad’s service in Vietnam,” she explained. 

She was disciplined enough to home school herself, and she went on to college at the University of Alabama. 

By 2001 she was living in Switzerland, making a living as an au pair.

“I came back and went to work in a temporary staffing industry because my dad (Donald Proctor) said that if I could get a job ‘helping other people get jobs,’ that would be a good thing,” said Aimee. 

 “3M  is the first big business deal that I landed,” she recalled. “I can remember them asking me how I felt about 3M (they were looking for a local vendor who actually cared about the people and the company) and I said “3M paid for everything I ever had.”

She got the contract.  Her dad worked for 3M until he retired and her brother and cousin work there now.

In 2004, Aimee once again packed up and moved, this time to Atlantic City. “I was a corporate recruiter for the casinos,” she said. “I lived a block from the ocean. I thought that it would be impossible not to love living by the ocean, but it’s not that much fun when everyone else is on vacation and you aren’t,” she laughed. 

Like most of us, Aimee was very spoiled by our Southern beaches, “I often complained about the beaches in France and New Jersey, because they have sand fleas in France.  It is gross. Also, the water is cold and the sand doesn’t look like sugar,” she said. 

Being so far away from home has its drawbacks, as well as its advantages. Some of the worst times to be away from loved ones are the situations when family members could be in danger and there is so much distance to cover to reach them. When she got the call about the tornadoes in February 2008, Aimee filled a laundry basket with clothes and started driving from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Alabama. “I remember trying to get directions and someone not giving them to me because I had an out-of-state tag.  On my way back to Pennsylvania, I met someone in an Athens Wal-Mart parking lot and bought a golden retriever. He made the trip back with me more than once.  Boy, I loved that dog.” 

Another move from Atlantic City took her to Pennsylvania. “I started out managing half of the Greater Philadelphia area for Kelly Services, working my way up the contingent workforce planning ladder when I was assigned to manage more than half of Nike’s supply chain and 30% of Nissan’s workforce in 2010,” she explained. 

Up until then, Aimee had been laser focused on her career. But sometimes, something happens to women along that journey and they realize that their priorities have changed. So it was with Aimee. She had always wanted a family and she actually sat down once and described a child she envisioned in her dreams. “I described her exactly, well, everything but the blonde hair. I said I wanted a baby girl just like my niece,” laughed Aimee, “It’s hard to get blonde Asian babies.”

But that’s exactly what she has in Kate, whose father is of Jewish Asian descent. And in this little bundle of big eyes and dark hair, Aimee found her real purpose in life. It was a plus that her job allowed her to travel with her baby. “In retrospect, I honestly don’t know how I made it with a baby and a demanding job,” Aimee admitted. “Kate’s dad got a job with a major radio station in NYC when she was two, and I was a single mom. I had a nanny, Kate was in daycare and my golden retriever was in doggie daycare. I can remember feeling like I was executive Barbie sometimes and I recall the sweat, literally, and stress of feeding and dressing a baby, walking the dog, dropping her off at daycare, making sure I had packed everything I needed, doing my hair and makeup, packing the retriever’s food and heading to the airport by 9 a.m.”

“I can remember my neighbor yelling out, “Are you traveling AGAIN?” But I fell in love with Memphis, all over once more, and Canton, Mississippi. I got used to airports; there was a time when employees in Memphis and Philadelphia would say they knew it was me because they could hear my heels. I was chasing the Vice President path and it just wasn’t available for women. I was trying to break the glass ceiling, and eventually I did, but not in that particular job.” 

The little girl who played with her cousins in the woods and caught frogs in her backyard pond in Lawrence County has traveled all over the US for work. “There are very few major cities that I haven’t visited for business. I became accustomed to saying that my home office was the airport,” she joked. “Accepting the job with Nike meant that my company would pay for me to fly back to Alabama and bring my daughter. That perk meant so much to me that I took my first Nike business trip when Kate was only four weeks old.” 

 Until Kate was too old to fly for free, the two of them racked up lots of frequent flyer miles, and were on a plane to somewhere or other constantly.  “We would fly into Huntsville or Muscle Shoals and she would stay with friends and family while I drove to Memphis for work.” 

Things changed when Kate started kindergarten in Manhattan at the age of four. She attends the same elementary school that J.D. Salinger, Lennie Kravits and Peter, from Peter, Paul and Mary, once attended.   

Even with her fast-paced life and her daughter’s school and activities, coming home to Alabama was important to Aimee. “When Kate was four (she hadn’t been to Bama in two years) I told her that the whole state of Alabama was going to decorate and dress up for her,” said Aimee. “We had a connection in Atlanta and sure enough, there was someone on the plane in a UA shirt. Of course, when we got to Huntsville, everyone was wearing Alabama gear. She truly believed that the whole state dressed up just for her.” 

Aimee wanted Kate to know her Southern family and see the places Aimee knew as a child. “Kate loves Alabama,” said Aimee. “It’s her home just like Park Avenue is her home. I recently heard her on a Zoom call telling her friends about Najee Harris’ jump.  She said, “I’m a Southern”, not “I’m a southerner,” just “I’m a Southern”. 

It was good to hear Kate talking that way. There was a time when Aimee worried that she might never talk. In fact, she never uttered a word until she was almost three years old. “Then on a final trip to the beach in Gulf Shores, she opened her mouth and said, “But I don’t have on any shoes.” 

When she was seven, Kate flew home by herself for what was supposed to be a week-long visit, but turned into a month-long stay. She learned a lot about life in the South on that trip, “She will tell you that her favorite food in the world is either the Cardinal or my brother, Jeremy’s house, and she does enjoy NeSmith’s,” laughed her mom.

On April 27, 2011, Aimee was in Memphis working with Nike while Kate was in Alabama with a cousin. When the tornados hit, Aimee bought what was probably the only generator between Memphis and Moulton, and brought it home. When she got here she and her best friend loaded up the five kids and evacuated. Vacations like that were rare. They all enjoyed their time at the beach. 

Kate was young when Aimee first began to notice that there was a difference in her daughter and other children her age. 

 “She’s a very different kind of kid,” said Aimee. “She’s only been dirty once in her life and that was fishing with Daddy. She stopped “playing” at four.”

Instead of making mud pies, Kate has already made plenty of real cakes, “But she never even played with her American Girl stuff,” said Aimee. “She liked getting it, but most of the time never took the dolls out of the boxes. She watches documentaries in her bedroom in her free time.”

But this is a child who, you’ll recall, was flying at an early age, so meeting people has never been a problem, as is sometimes the case with only children. “She isn’t socially awkward at all, thank goodness, and has a ton of friends, but she seriously just skipped right past the childhood phases.”

Both Aimee and Kate love reading and spend hours with their favorite books, especially since COVID has kept Kate at home and Aimee is now working from home, as well. Some of Aimee’s favorite books are JD Salinger’s 9 Stories, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien, Vietnam book), and both of them love The Velveteen Rabbit. Kate’s reading material also includes and reflects her mom’s love of Salinger, although she didn’t care much for Catcher in The Rye. “At the age of seven, Kate sat through a one-woman show about Harper Lee,” recalled Aimee. 

It has been a challenge keeping her gifted child occupied and focused during the COVID era. Because of Kate’s advanced curriculum, she needs lots of stimulating challenges. “I think my dad once said it best,” Aimee summed up raising her daughter. “Well, good, Aimee. She was born with that, now you have to work on everything else.” 

Aimee credits Kate’s amazing grandparents for their help, and says that although challenging Kate academically is dramatically difficult, otherwise, everything else is just really easy. 

Aimee has made sure to encourage Kate’s artistic abilities. From an early age, Kate could draw and has had her work featured in the Washington Post, as well as exhibits in local art galleries in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She also loves to write and is currently working on a graphic novel about three very different friends. 

Kate has the best of both worlds most of the time, with visits to family here and her school, social interests and civic responsibilities in the city. “I am exposed to different cultures and lifestyles in NYC, but in Alabama I get more fresh air and I get to farm and do tons of different stuff,” said Kate.  When Kate was stuck in NYC because of the COVID pandemic last year Red Land Cotton sent her several of their masks.

“My kid amazes me all of the time,” Aimee wrote recently. 

Aimee doesn’t rule out coming back to the South someday if the right opportunities come along. “I honestly can’t say that there is anything better about living in a metro area other than job and educational opportunities, maybe some sightseeing, versus rural life,” she mused. “To this day, if someone asks me if I made it home safely, I respond with, “My home’s in Alabama, but yes, I made it back to my house in Pennsylvania.”  

This is a resume about a middle school student, written by the student herself. Kate has already mastered many of the skills taught in high school and college. She is now 10 years old. 

Dear Ms. Finkelstein,

I wanted to inform you of my accomplishments through the last few years, regarding my middle school applications. I’m not sure whether or not I am heading in the direction of private school, but wanted to have this in case. Here are my accomplishments:

•Art published in the Washington Post twice

•STEAM Competition Winner 

•Competed in International Math Competition.

•Three years in Honors Russian School of Mathematics. 

•Exhibited art at a local gallery in PA.

•Exhibited and received recognition for displaying art and photography in NJ.

•Active fundraiser and participant with Artworks Trenton (in conjunction with the Roebling Museum) for three years.  Raised money for over 95 kids to take art classes with Artworks. 

•Volunteers to review books for PJ Our Way before they are distributed to other kids, i.e. members of the PJ Library Advisory Committee. 

•Recognized by Johns Hopkins University as an Honors student for scoring four grade levels ahead in Math and two grade levels ahead in ELA. 

•Qualified as a Duke Talent Identification Program participant (currently delayed due to COVID).

•Published award-winning poetry for Potential Plus in the United Kingdom. 

•Raised money for the Trevor Project.

•Became an Arizona State University student at nine.

•Completed Mensa for Kids Excellence in Reading program at eight.

•Joined Mensa officially at six.

•Won Morrisville, PA Mayoral award at six. 

•I have supported the homeless by giving out food

•I read Huckleberry Finn, the Great Gasby, The Hate You Give, and Animal Farm. (All Z books)

Things I do after school:

•Gymnastics

•Writing Classes

•Social Justice Classes 

•Algebra/Geometry

•Art

•Piano

•Ukulele

•Cooking

I wanted lastly to make a special section for my Roebling Museum and Art All Night participation and funding. I have been fighting to make art easily available to less fortunate kids. In areas like Trenton, NJ, kids are less fortunate. I have a fundraiser (GoFundMe) going straight towards Art All Night. Every five dollars a kind person donates, one kid can go to art class. I also participate every year in Art All Night, an art exhibit showcasing art. Three years ago, (my first time showcasing) we missed a shooting just by a few hours. But the next year I got more active. Every year I do a Roebling piece. That year I did a Brooklyn bridge and the year after I did the Roebling bridge as a political statement of how important Emily Roebling was to the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Thank you for your time,

Best regards 

Kate

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