Thursday, February 09, 2006

It's the little things.

Ok, so Neal’s post ( got me to thinking about those little things that happen that have made all the difference in my life. Not the biggies – being born to my mother, marrying my husband, having my kid – but the stuff that at the time doesn’t seem to matter that later proves to be huge. So, here’s my Top Ten list (which, because I’m a historian, will be placed in chronological rather than rank order.) I’m going to do it in two installments because this takes more thought and time than I have in one day.

10. The happy accident of getting Mrs. James as a 1st grade teacher. When I got to 1st grade, I was already reading well-advanced texts and didn’t really want to do anything else BUT read. She was willing to let me zip through whatever work we had to do in the other subjects and then go to the corner of the class where I was invited to read whatever I wanted from a corner she had stocked with the most wonderful books. Great Expectations (and a lot of other Dickens books). Jane Eyre. Animal Farm. The Red Pony. And some of the best of children’s books – E.B. White’s work, a book titled The Far-Distant Oxus. Elizabeth Enright’s books. Stuff like that. She and my mom collaborated on developing the booklist and then I was loosed upon these works like a starving child at an endless feast of words. I would have gone up the wall in a standard classroom (as became evident the next year, in Mrs. Williams’ exceptionally standardized care). But she bought me one golden year of pleasure and sustained the work of my mom in opening up my head to books. With those books came nameless hungerings for a world beyond my little town, education beyond the ordinary expectations of a poor little redneck girl.

9. Punching Jay Curtis in the nose in 5th grade. I was a painfully shy, nerdy marshmellow of a kid, bookish with thick glasses, buck-toothed, vulnerable, prone to tears while other children picked on me. Jay was a boy struggling with short-man’s disease from an early age. There were three of us in the cloakroom, me and Jay and Cindy. Cindy was the only child lower in the classroom social order than me, a girl who always smelled a little like old pee because she was poor, slept in her clothes for warmth, and had to share a bed with her bedwetting little brother. When he pushed her and made her cry, something inside me just gave way. I flew into him with both fists pounding. He sailed backward and skidded to a stop, a confused look on his face. And then he ran away and never told on me. I never told anyone else, but I think he realized that I could and so neither Cindy nor I had any further problems from him. I realized that if I could stick up for someone else, I probably could and should be sticking up for myself. And that sometimes a little violence can be efficacious.

8. Winning the “If I were President” essay contest in 6th grade. My public policy initiatives amounted to “I think that every worker needs to be given safety glasses” and “we need to raise the minimum wage because this will have good effects on both businesses and individuals.” Nothing earth-shattering, but sufficiently explicit to win. Unfortunately, as the principal awkwardly explained to me, I was not really supposed to have entered the contest in the first place because I would never really be President. I guess I just hadn’t understood that this was a competition intended for boys only – and since it was blind-juried, the local Woman’s Club had been placed in a very embarrassing position by my transgression. They had concluded that the only fair way to resolve the issue (without lawsuit?) was to give the $50 savings bond (the stated prize for the competition and my only incentive to enter) to the boy who was runner-up, “so he could save it for college.” I received a beautifully illustrated cookbook instead. He got to attend the awards ceremony. I did not. Although this boy and I were good friends throughout school, I always took a little bit of delight after that in trouncing him academically. (He’s now a high school teacher in our hometown. I’m a college professor in the same discipline. Neither one of us is President. I still am not a very good cook.)

7. Trying out for the 9th grade school musical. The shyness hadn’t gotten any better, really and I seemed to be stuck at permanently pudgy. My best friend wanted to try out and wouldn’t go without me for moral support. I had no intention of auditioning, but the choir teacher (Mrs. Irwin) wouldn’t let me stay in the audition room unless I also took a shot. Who knew I could sing – I mean, really sing? I got a small part which later turned into leads, which later turned into voice scholarships. Who knew?

6. Meeting Dodie. She was a year younger, a junior to my senior. She was funny, sexy in an uncomplicated way, and unafraid of life. I learned a lot from being around her – to give things a try if they looked like fun, that honesty and kindness are not mutually exclusive, and that women who like sex are not whores by definition. In an era before we all rocked the body-positive thing, Dodie totally got the whole celebration of womanhood. She was a fount of accurate information about birth control, STDs, sexual practices, and all the other realms of knowledge that our small-town upbringing had tried to close off from us. And because she had a car, she could take girls to the county seat to get health care through the only Planned Parenthood in a hundred miles. As the lynchpin of my high school group, she probably didn’t realize that she was a feminist role model for us all, but she was. She was the first person other than my mother to tell me that I was beautiful and it was only years later that I came to believe that she was right.


Aunt B said...

I love this. What a good idea!

Karin said...

Hey, great blog. You're very honest, and you have a lot of interesting stories to tell.

I, too, was inspired by Neal's post. I posted 5 of my top 10 moments on my blog. Check it out!

listmaker said...

Bridgett, this is great and I can't wait to read the rest of your list. After reading yours and Neal's I've thought about trying this, but just can't seem to get started.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

I guess I just hadn’t understood that this was a competition intended for boys only – and since it was blind-juried, the local Woman’s Club had been placed in a very embarrassing position by my transgression.

wow. I don't think this would have gone down in my part of the country when I was in the sixth grade. I'm trying to figure out if I am younger than you or from a more progressive part of the world.

imfunnytoo said...

Snort. You're a better cook than *I* am... (she who cheerfully admits to *knowing* how to cook, but in her newer, less stable head, tends to get frustrated and throw wooden spoons around if the ingrediets are not within reach or not the right stuff)

I love this list...keep it going when you can...even though I'm already indirectly embarrassed :)

bridgett said...


I'm 41. My school district is now a bedroom community of Cleveland (very upscale), but was then a very socially traditional Catholic farm town with a lot of multi-generation families, so everyone knew everyone and had married in pretty tightly. Girls in high school had to take home ec; boys had to take shop. Girls also had to take an advanced home ec course called "family living" in which the main class activity was planning one's own wedding. (If you ever need to know how much ham feeds 40 adult carnivores, I'm your girl.) Now in some sense, this might have been a practical thing, since our school had a startlingly high premarital pregnancy dropout rate...but I think that the dead-end curriculum for girls probably caused "despair pregnancies." Yet another reason to say Yay for Dodie, since our only sex education instruction was given only to the girls, as part of the compulsory heterosexuality course. We were told by Mrs. Mayton that if we allowed boys to touch our breasts, we would lose all control and that as we were naturally less sexually arousable, it was up to us to remain "cool" as we were getting pawed.

It really is a wonder that I wound up sexually healthy.