WHISPERS OF YESTERDAY
Now if you believe that, you will believe anything. As I grew up, I had no self-confidence at all. In one way, I was the spoiled brat of a big family. In another way, I was a poor farm kid, with homemade clothing and bad teeth. I couldn't measure up to the rest of the girls, who seemed like beautiful starlets to me.
Later, one of my older brothers and sisters paid for my tooth repair. After hours sat in the dentist chair, I emerged with new, white teeth. Except for one. One of my front teeth was laced with gold. I was devastated! My smile would be like a flash of precious metal, its gleam bouncing off the walls and windows. I solved the problem by smiling without showing any teeth or holding my hands over my mouth area. It took great effort, but I thought the gold tooth made me look like old tobacco-chewing goldminer.
The first sexual experience I ever had...if you can call it that, is when a young man, a few years older than me...asked me for a date. My criteria for dating was that the fellow have a car and this one did, so off we went on a date. He even met my parents before we took off, this well-mannered fellow who even wore a suit and tie to take me out.
After our dinner, he asked if I wanted to go for a drive. Sure, I said, agreeable that I was. We explored the area, the hills, the valleys, the sideroads. Then he drove to an area I think was called Ploss Lake and stopped the car. I was looking around when I glanced over and saw that he had unzipped his trousers and what emerged was an apparition I could have easily mistaken for a garden hose, so to solve the problem of what and why....I simply opened the door, got out and walked home.
That same year, on Halloween night, Sis and I were knocking on doors, gathering up a large sack of candy, to be enjoyed for hours later. We knocked on the door of a cute little white cottage and who opened the door? None other than my former suitor, whose face betrayed his surprise. Behind him stood his pregnant wife, holding a baby. At her knees was another toddler hanging onto her skirttails. Sis laughed at me all the way home as I fumed over that lying rat whom my parents had dubbed "a nice young man!"
Experiences like this didn't bolster my confidence at all! Nor did they help me have the self esteem I needed to have to become accepted as one of the leaders of my class.
Oh, I tried! One day, one glorious day, I was allowed to join a group of popular girls, girls with fuzzy new sweaters and salon-clipped hair. I felt as though I had been anointed by some High School God who had taken his sceptre and placed it on my shoulders, saying "Let there be light!"
At the lunch I attended, one of the girls, whose name was Joan, as I recall, said, "I need help in the library today. I have to tabulate all the books in Section C."
I was like an eager puppy, tail wagging! Here was my chance to further my membership in this elite group. "I'll help you!" I blurted, an eager smile on my face.
Joan regarded me as though I was a scrap of food left on a plate, an imposter trying to infiltrate her kingdom.
"I'll let you know," she said, in a haughty tone of voice.
Curses on Joan with her arrogant air! She has since moved northward into Canada and lives on an island off the coast! At our Class Reunions, the moderator always says..."We have had a note from Joan, and she's the same sweet girl she always was!"
Thus, I was once again relegated to my status as a lowly farm girl. Nor did I ever again get an invitation to join the Elite for lunch. You can take the Farm Girl away from the farm, but you can't take the farm away from the girl. Those childish rejections, those schoolgirl ways, cause teenaged girls to shed bitter tears and it takes years to shake off the feelings of inadequacy, but when one does this, if it's possible, it's a wonderful feeling of freedom to be oneself, like a butterfly emerging from a dark cocoon.
I told Bud about this experience and he was sympathetic, telling me of his own younger years. Of all the people in our large family, it was Bud who should have been able to finish school, go on to college, earn his degree, and contribute to the world. Instead, he had to find his niche by reading books, through experiences, and joining groups like the school board to be recognized as the intelligent man he was.
Hubert, on the other hand, was gifted with a panache that served him well. He covered up the Farm Boy with a veneer of charming sophistication. He smiled easily and made his way on sheer personality. He chummed around with our brother, Hjalmar, who was so quiet one could hardly remember him saying a thing. They were totally different, but stayed close for many years to come. They would earn money playing Poker and, one time, were faced with angry men who were convinced they were cheating. One time they ran across the back area of a hotel, believing they were running across a cement tennis court, and both of them ran right into an empty swimming pool. Bruised and battered, they climbed out and kept escaped.
Undoubtedly, the prettiest woman among my four sisters was Hazel. She had the face of an angel, but struggled all her life with weight, as so many of us do. She had a melodious, lilting voice, deep and passionate, with a terrific range. We used to gather around to hear Hazel sing. When I graduated from high school, I used to stay at Hazel's house, using it as a base to make it an easier trip to reach my job at a local hospital. Hazel never got angry with me, this young girl always scrambling around, late for work, taking off in a flurry of dropped clothes, a piece of toast clutched in her hand to eat along the way.
I was young and silly and totally irresponsible. Of all things, they put me in charge of Birth Certificates. In my area, there are white babies born who are recorded as black or Oriental, and vice versa. There are babies whose births are not recorded at all. There are mix-ups and foul-ups and the buck lands right on my desk. I was far more interested in a cute young doctor than I was in doing my job. Thankfully, jobs were easy to find back then. I would leave or get booted out of one job, just to get another and go on with my fumbling, bumbling style of life.
When did I shred the Farm Girl and become a responsible adult. I'm not sure I ever have. The ghost of that shoeless girl with her flying, tangled hair and complete ignorance of the world around her stays with me like a ghost from the past, like a whisper in my ears, like a summer breeze touching the cheeks and rustling the hair. Do we ever escape the miseries of high school? Do we ever grow past those teen-aged years? Well, maybe some do. Some of us don't, but we muddle through the best we can, pretending a confidence we never had and that may never fully arrive.