Thursday, 21 June 2012
Personality, or the Lack Thereof
By Marcy Belson
We had just moved to the little Arizona town that summer of 1950. I started high school in the fall, age 13. My father's cousin and his wife came to visit and she and I stopped at the corner drugstore for lipstick or some cosmetic she wanted.
Next, we found two empty stools at the soda fountain. There was a group of high school boys and girls laughing and flirting, having soft drinks. Something was said and the cousin's wife replied and laughed.
As we walked home, she commented on one of the teens personality. "What a great personality!" she said.
I asked her what she meant and she tried to explain by saying it was the manner in which a person engaged with another. I worried about that for a long time.
How did you learn to have a good personality? Was I doomed to be forever without one? I simply had no idea where to start. Should I smile more? Talk more? Talk less? What made one person popular with others and another, not?
I was the new girl in town. I was younger than most of my classmates and socially awkward. I was also tenacious, to a fault.
Our freshman class was the last to have the freshman initiation rites. We were given a list of what to wear on that Friday morning. For the girls, braids with bows, a pajama top worn backwards with jeans.
When each person arrived at school, a green F was painted on their forehead. We were then herded onto a school bus and driven out of town to a small hill. On the side of this hill, prior freshmen had placed rocks and painted them white, so that the school initials could be seen from the nearby highway.
The bus dropped us off and we were positioned along the trail to the rocks. We then spent the morning passing cans of paint up to the boys who were doing the actual painting of the rocks.
We returned to the school about noon and spent the remainder of that horrid day assigned to an upperclassman. We carried their books from one class to another; we had to go up and down the stairs backwards. We were treated as warts. The saving grace was that we knew that the following September we would be the ones laughing at the poor, new freshman class.
Of course, that was not to be, for some reason, it was the last year the school allowed the practice. Maybe someone had a lawyer for a father. I don't know.
Do you know the very worst of this experience? That F on our foreheads? We were sunburned from the morning on the mountain and when we washed our faces, the face was burned but the F under the paint was white as snow.
We carried the imprint for weeks. At least, I did. At 13, I was only wearing a little pink lipstick. Pink lipstick and a big white F on my forehead.
It was a tough year. I was a baby who had to learn to sink or swim. I joined a church, I went to summer camp. I joined the Spanish Club and endured the initiation wearing the ugly dress and shoes I thought appropriate for the occasion.
Looking at a photo, now, 50 years later, what a sad little girl.
Usually, I sat alone, I ate alone, I couldn't figure out how to become part of the happy group of girls, I was the outcast. I can hear a group of students sitting in the shade of a tree yelling as I walked by, "Bird Legs! Bird Legs!" and laughing.
I think it took about two years for me to grow up a little, slim down a little and grow a tougher hide to deal with life. It seems that as I cared less, others saw me as a more desirable friend.
So, was that the answer? I still don't know.
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