“Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn't supposed to be doing things that required pants. Aunt Alexandra's vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-A-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine in my father's lonely life." ~ To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Poor misunderstood Scout. It’s no wonder that I related to her so much when I was a child. Little girls might be made of sugar and spice, but when God was mixing my DNA, He threw in some salt and vinegar. The fourth girl and youngest child, with three older sisters and an older brother, I was not a girly-girl, but I wasn’t as bold and adventuresome as my sister Jackie, so I didn’t exactly fit the tomboy mold either. She got hurt a lot; I only got hurt once in awhile, like when I face-planted in the driveway after running my bike into the side of my mom’s car. I took more risks than I should have as far as riding my bike with no hands and exploring places I wasn’t supposed to go, but I never swung out across the road on a rope when a car was approaching. I wasn’t afraid of bugs or snakes or any animals at all, other than bats and roaches. I wasn’t afraid of swimming in deep water after taking swimming lessons at age eight, but I was terrified of heights and the dark and all of the weird monsters and aliens I read about.
I liked a lot of things that were not considered “girly”, such as mud and dinosaurs and Hardy Boys books. I was never good at sports and hated P.E. at school, but I did play baseball and kickball and sometimes even tackle football with my friends from the neighborhood. In fact, one day when I was ten, my mom looked out the window just in time to see me going down, clutching a football, with a swarm of boys on top of me. She shrieked in horror and I was dragged into the house and treated to a lecture on why this was now inappropriate because I had Become a Woman several months before. I was not at all thrilled with the early onset of puberty and was bored with all of the trendy teen-angst books that the girls at school were passing around. I thought Nancy Drew was an idiot and preferred Trixie Belden, and my role model in Little Women was not prim and proper Meg, snotty Amy, or shrinking violet Beth, but , of course, the volatile and unpredictable Jo.
Two of my best friends, Heidi and Holly, lived across the street and were always wanting to paint my nails and do my hair. We had fun together and I realize now that I pretty much always got my way because I was terribly bossy. I would deign to play Barbies as long as I got to make up the stories, which generally involved transforming Barbie into someone else, like Laura Ingalls. Great tragedies and disasters inevitably ensued. Once, Barbie and Ken’s plane crashed on a desert island and they had to survive by any means necessary, which ultimately included cannibalizing the other passengers. I was always trying to shock Heidi and Holly but they were such good sports that they went along with my bizarre imagination and seemed quite fascinated. I also dragged them along on various bicycling adventures, many of which did not end well. Imagine being eleven years old and being chased by two vicious dogs and a gun-toting old lady. Heidi lost her shoes that day-both of them-as we frantically pedaled away.
I once did an experiment to see if I could grow my own maggots in a pile of rancid dog food. It worked quite well, leaving my parents wondering why there was a sudden fly infestation around the back porch. Then there was my pottery project. My fourth-grade teacher instilled in me a love for Alabama history, and I decided that I wanted to use the red clay in the backyard to make pots like the Choctaws did. They turned out okay, but they cracked so much when they dried that I couldn’t paint them. This was fine with my mother, since I had already ruined two pairs of pants and several shirts with the clay. I also loved to collect critters-turtles, lizards, caterpillars, ants, the occasional grass snake-and this required a lot of crawling around on the ground. Jeans were a must, but I insisted on the boy jeans for many years.I didn’t think it was fair that jeans for large little boys were called “Huskies”, but jeans for large little girls were called “Chubbies”. I thought husky was a nicer word. My mother did not understand this logic at all, but she got me the jeans I wanted.
My logic extended to my reading of literature. If Flicka made a miraculous recovery and she and Ken lived happily ever after, then why did Gabilan in The Red Pony have to die? If Rascal the Raccoon was set free in the wilderness and survived to father many generations of little Rascals, then why did Bertie in The Year of the Raccoon end up as “a battered body in a box”? Wilbur the Pig was not slaughtered, yet the pig in A Day No Pigs Would Die was-in graphic detail. So why was the book called that? At seven, I had not quite grasped the concept of irony. Imagine my disappointment when I learned, after many years of weeping copiously over the demise of Jack the Faithful Old Bulldog in the “Little House” books, that in real life he was given away when the Ingalls family settled at Plum Creek! Or my shock and anger when I read the real story of the Sager orphans, which was nothing at all as depicted in On to Oregon. It was a long time before I came to understand what “inspired by actual events” meant.
According to my family, I was speaking fluently at thirteen months and reading fluently at three years. Since I don’t remember not reading, the latter is doubtless true, but I wonder about the former. Most experts in child development say that the facial muscles have not matured enough before about fifteen months for a child to say more than a few words-although they acknowledge that in rare cases, children begin speaking in clear sentences earlier than that. Thus, if my family is remembering accurately, it is merely one more freakish thing about me. It also explains why I thought kindergarten was stupid. I did not voice this opinion at school-in fact, I rarely spoke at school-but at home I was very vocal in my disdain for formal education. I wonder to this day if I would have benefited from “unschooling”, but on this point my parents were firm-I had to go to school. In retrospect, they were probably right. I would have been too weird to function had I not been forced into social situations.
My own kids have some of the same struggles I did, but they handle them with greater grace and humor. Despite their exceptional intelligence, they are friendly and sociable and relate well to their peers. To be fair, by the time I was eight or nine, I was reasonably socially adept, but I always got along better with boys than with girls, even in high school. Nevertheless, I had plenty of friends of both genders and, while not particularly “popular”, I was not a complete social outcast. I learned not to always blurt out the sardonic, witty comments that popped into my head a hundred times a day, and, by God’s grace and under the loving instruction of my parents, the compassion that I had for others blossomed despite the bullying and cruelty that I often faced.
I still find the world a confusing place at times, and I wonder where I fit. I still seek acceptance even though I know in my heart that I am accepted and maybe even lovable. I read and write to try to make sense of things that seem backwards, sideways, and upside down. I still am the little not-quite-tomboy in the Husky jeans seeking the caterpillar than will eventually transform into a butterfly. I am a combination of all the things that made my parents as well as some things uniquely mine. I am sugar, spice, vinegar, salt, and maybe a little nutmeg. I am not everything nice, but neither am I everything terrible. God creates us each from a recipe that makes us a little different, while at the same time we all have the desires and qualities that make us the same in our humanity. That’s the beauty of His design.Unity-and diversity. What a lovely collage we are.
“The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.”
― Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
― Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry