Native Writes: Growing up a ‘nice’ girl

With Mother’s Day passed, I have been thinking about what it was like to be a girl when I was small.
We were told our only careers were motherhood, teaching or secretarial work. This was after Rosie the Riveter drew applause during World War II.

Women could wear pants but girls couldn’t wear them to school unless it was an extreme winter day. We had “overshoes” that pulled over our regular shoes, beanies or earmuffs and mittens of muffs. I was overjoyed when I received a pair of gloves with fingers one October and in dismay when I was given a muff to wear over them.

For the young and uninformed, a muff was a cylindrical item made of faux fur, maybe real fur or even knitted.

My aunts were mistresses of the “nice girls don’t” rules. Nice girls don’t climb trees in dresses.
Bet me. I did in an effort to never have to wear another dress. I was reminded that I had to wear a dress to school and nice girls took care of those dresses.

My first grade teacher, Mrs. Heilman, added insult to injury by requiring each girl to wear a hankie pinned to the front of her dress. I know we were expected to use them and I am aware that facial tissue was in its infancy, but did the utilitarian item really need an inch of lace around the edges?
Now, I knew girls who loved the dresses and frills but I wasn’t one of them.
Family finances limited my wardrobe, though one of my aunts was an expert seamstress and the other had more disposable income. Their contributions were based upon expectations. One of the aunts didn’t expect anything except cleanliness while the other dreamed of my becoming the new Shirley Temple.
By the time I was old enough to walk, Shirley was an adult and her movie careerwaned.
My aunt had magazines, though, so I knew Shirley was a wonderful youngster.

I was enrolled in dance lessons and got halfway into tap dancing when the instructor dropped a board on her foot and the program went into hiatus.

“She probably did it to get rid of you and Velma,” my dad observed.  He was usually on my side in the battle to become Shirley.

I always gave that aunt a frilly hankie for Mother’s Day, only to find it gifted back to me for the front of my dress or, later, in my purse.

“Give ‘er a bandanna hankie,” my dad suggested. It was his sister, after all, and he could be rude if he wanted. He seldom wanted, relying upon me to put holes in the frilly undergarments.

Nice girls didn’t engage in activities that would shred the slips.

My mom, always relying on “during the depression, we made do” used the torn undies as cleaning rags. I think she looked forward to using them on mirrors.

“See how nice you look,” she whispered when I wore something new.

By junior high, I wanted to look nice, so the crab apple tree wasn’t a hangout.

My aunt was on another tangent. She figured out that Shirley Temple wasn’t feasible.

I wore heavily starched crinoline underskirts so my circular skirts would stand out like Scarlett in Gone With the Wind. My aunts participated in this so there was peace in the Valley.

When I noted that the skirts made sitting complicated, I was told how nice girls sat.
When I growled back, the response was always, “Nice girls don’t talk like that.”

On Mother’s Day for more than 50 years, I have realized why God gave me sons.


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