From my earliest memories I felt that I was a disappointment to my parents. As the first child I was a girl. I wasn’t valued as I believed I should have been. For example, when it was time for bed Mom let me get in by myself while she turned the lamp wick down low. When the wick sputtered out I would call her and she came back into my room where I slept alone to relight the lamp and again turn it down to a sputtering glow. I didn’t wonder why she didn’t tuck me in or why she didn’t take time to play with me. I just thought I wasn’t worth the time.
Mom’s parents lived across the street from the town school where I attended first grade. There was an iron stair fire escape from the third floor to the ground and when there were no classes we played on the metal stairs. One day Mom called me to her and told me I couldn’t climb the fire escape anymore because the boys could look up my dress. I was mystified. Why was that an issue?! No explanation was forthcoming but I felt left out of the fun.
Later, at a one-room country school to the sixth grade, we all played together, boys and girls. One day I played particularly rough and noticed stained underpants. We lived just north of the school so I asked permission to go home and change clothes. Mom helped me clean up and sent me back to school. There was only the ominous comment that this was going to happen once a month from now on. Because I was a girl.
As my body matured I caught the attention of my father who thought I might be fun to play with. Fortunately he reached for me in front of Mom who was preparing the evening meal and she spoke his name sharply (which she rarely dared to do) and he immediately stopped. I was still playing with paper dolls and made clothes for them which I designed. The dresses were deeply cut in front to show cleavage and Mom was so upset when she asked to see my clothing designs that she cried.
Stamps were an adult commodity and very closely controlled but I managed to get one when I was around 12 and wrote to my favorite male singer asking for his photo. When it came in the mail Mom nearly had a stroke and made me promise to burn his picture. By this time I realized that she was keeping things from me but I didn’t know what, so I was becoming rebellious against her unreasonable restrictions. At least, they were unreasonable to me.
My sisters and I were not allowed to attend school functions or date, so my sisters learned to be deceitful, but I was passive. The fights were not worth getting things I wanted, such as playing in the pep band at home games or being in the high school chorus and class plays which required night practices. We could not catch rides with classmates or their parents, only with older adults who had no children in school. I learned to be afraid of the opposite sex and disrespected my own gender because of the perceived weaknesses in the adult females I was acquainted with. This attitude stayed with me throughout my adult years.
In my 30s I learned to upholster while the United States was in a recession. Since I had no routine, I bought a horse which I broke and trained myself and showed. I bought a horse trailer and towed it behind a station wagon. A station wagon extended over the rear axles making turns and backing up difficult while towing but I had an ability to gauge distances so it was fun when I pulled into a show grounds towing the trailer. Men would come running to offer to park my car and trailer for me but I smiled and retorted, “No help needed.”
As you could guess, my heart was stone down inside a misleading exterior. My attitude was, “Anything a man can do, I can do, even to heavy lifting and strength (within reasonable limits) as a farm kid. I don’t have to look or act like a man to do those things, either. I can still look and act like a lady.”
During my time in China it was a revelation to me that not all men behaved like my father or most American men do. Because my education was in the sciences, the Chinese government placed me in positions of teaching English scientific vocabulary to mostly research scientists and engineers – men – who treated me with great respect. God knew years before, when He called me to China as a ten-year- old the healing I would need. Slowly the transition from a stony heart to one of flesh began.
Part II next week.