I’ve sent the grandchildren on a scavenger hunt. They’re searching the house for my bejeebers which they scared out of me this morning. Happy Halloween!
At age 11 I attended parochial school. My home room teacher was a man. The circumstances would have remained the same had my teacher been female. I felt too ashamed to share my problem with anyone at all. The nuns paid close attention to our dress code. We were too poor a parish for uniforms but our dresses still met a modest and Christian criteria. My “uniform” consisted of a frock with a hem which measured 12 inches from the floor while kneeling. There were random tests using a special ruler capable of determining a girl’s modesty. And if the numbers were high, you were sent home. To complete the ensemble we wore long wool socks and loafers. Knee caps and hands were the only visible flesh. Makeup was forbidden. A sister tried her best to scrub the natural blush from my face on one humiliating occasion. I knew less than nothing about sexuality. I still played with dolls. My friends and I formed a cheer squad and assembled our own uniforms. We wore a knee length wool skort, a long sleeved v neck sweater with a turtleneck dicky beneath, knee socks and saddle oxfords. Once more, we were modestly dressed in 1968. But our teacher, one of the good sisters, took us aside and lectured us on the sins of the flesh . She told us that we were giving off signals.
I remember the first incident, my first ever #me too with total clarity despite the passage of time. In the classroom we were seated according to our height. I was seated last row from the door and second seat from the back of the room. The last seat was occupied by a boy, bigger than me, stronger than me and a year older than me. He was my tormentor. It is almost laughable to recall how innocent I was at that age. He began by leaning forward and grabbing at my clothing. At first I thought he was trying to tickle me! I do not remember how long this went on. I do know that by the time I found a solution to my problem, I knew what he was reaching for. He became more aggressive and used the same slang for female anatomy as the current sitting president and with the same immature and bullying delivery. It disturbs me still to recall the attitude that he was superior and it was his right to behave as he did and that I was behaving badly by refusing to comply.
I dreaded going to school. I told no one. I felt ashamed and scared and I wondered what I did to bring this on. I was surrounded by a wonderful support system of family and friends. But this was taboo. I was so ashamed. As far as I knew, he was not grabbing anyone else. There were a few times that my verbal objections and pushing his hands away got the teacher’s attention. But when he would approach and ask about the interruption, I could not answer. I never could. I did not tell anyone until just recently. I ended up telling the teacher I could not see the chalk board. I was reassigned and another girl took my place and I wondered if she became his next victim. I hoped not. But I was relieved that it was no longer my problem.
I wish I could end with a brave confrontation, a feel good revenge. Sadly, this same bully made another attempt at a later date off school grounds. Fortunately for me, I outran him. I never confronted him. I wish I had. My daughters have grown up with more confidence, self-worth, knowledge and strength than I had at their age. I do believe, despite recent events, we have made progress. It is an ongoing struggle for women and the accusations of late are a sign that the days of locker room and good old boy excuses are going to be challenged from now on.
Next time perhaps: my first feeling of empowerment. January 21, 2017.
As director of activities, it was my duty to provide games and prizes, cake and ice cream, stories and songs, entertainment and all things fun. There were visiting preachers, hairdressers, comedians and musicians and I was the gal who booked all the fun. So I was pretty much loved by all, even Jim.
In all fairness, it pleased Jim that I carried a lighter and provided him and the other resident smokers with their favorite activity of all. A couple of times a day, we closed ourselves into the smoker’s lounge and puffed away. It was perfectly legal and acceptable back then and a favorite activity of many. And as we performed said activity we would tell stories, sing songs, play games and reminisce.
Janine, the bingo queen loved to talk. She spoke often of her Mr. and what a generous and loving husband he’d been. I was Lila’s old roommate from far back in her memories.. We were a couple of party girls and would compete for the attention of the most handsome guy at the dance. According to her, I got the looker and she settled for the other fella. She was a loveable woman with coke bottle glasses that made her look like Mr. Magoo. One day we assembled bird seed balls and Lila proclaimed them unfit for consumption. I turned to see her grinning face covered in peanut butter and bird seed. Mary just wanted to go home to her kitchen and bake pies. Howard enjoyed a cigar and a game of checkers. John smoked a pipe and was quite the gentleman. Ray did not leave his room without a bow tie, combed hair and shined loafers. Suze seemed sweet so I gave her a handful of roses. She proceeded to slap me about the face and arms with the bouquet. Guess she preferred daisies.
Each day I asked for stories. The same folks contributed. Jim never spoke. With the exception of the phrase, “Baby girl, got a light?”
One day he arrived as we were sharing stories.. He sat and held out his cig. I lit it and someone began to speak. I was truly shocked when I heard Jim say “you want a story?” His face was inches from mine. At first I was thrilled that I had reached him. He was responding to me! And then he shared his tale. Goosebumps formed on my arms and the hairs stood on end. I was speechless and fascinated.
“When I was a boy down home, I was playing at the water’s edge alone. A group of white men came along and dragged me into the water. They held me under until I thought my lungs would burst. I was afraid and I was sure I was going to die. They tortured me for a while until they grew bored with the activity and left me. I was wet and scared out of my wits. But, I was alive. I ran home and told my uncles. They rode away on their horses and were gone some time. When they returned they said the men would not bother me again.
“Baby girl,” he said, “if you were to head down to this little town in Georgia and found your way to the old homestead and took a peek down the well…. The law looked for those fellas who played at drownin’ me , but they never did find them. Not to this day. Not that I know. Now, can I get a light?”
I don’t know if Jim shared a memory or made up a story to scare me. I always believed it happened. For one thing, silent Jim was as peaceful as a lamb until the male aides joined forces to give him a shower. He surely did not care for showers.
Some years back when my daughters went to school, I took a position at a skilled care nursing facility as Director of Activities. I would earn the grocery money by playing bingo, hosting tea parties and making bird feeders with the seniors. Thirty years have passed since I walked through those doors. I’m approaching my own senior years. And with the passage of time, I’ve not let go of the memories. I think of them quite often. I learned from them. I laughed with them and we grieved together. I’m going to share a few of their stories. Meet Mary.
Mary was one of those cute little old ladies. She was tiny in stature.. Her voice was tiny. The chair she sat in was tiny. Her bed was tiny as well. Each day as I headed down the corridor, I would encounter Mary sitting in her tiny chair in the doorway to her room. And each time I passed, she would reach out for my hand. I would stop, utter some cheery greeting, pat her hand a bit and pull away as there were activities to be carried out. Mary spoke gibberish. That is until a day when I asked if she’d like to play bingo or color a picture and please, Miss Mary, tell me what I can do for you. Her answer was quite clear and it broke my heart. She asked to be taken to Beautiful. I shall leave this here for Mary. I hope she got her wish.
Take me to Beautiful
where I might rest
my heart and soul there
you are my mother
you are my child
hello my dear friend
please stay for a while
we’ll bake some pies
and put on the tea
I’ll tell my stories
please listen to me
my eyes have now failed me
but I long to hear
the words from my lover
his letters are dear
you see an old woman
at the end of the night
a shell of the girl
with a passion for life
but I am the same
as I’ve ever been
my body has failed me
true me is within
take me to Beautiful
where I might rest
my heart and soul there
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