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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.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Growing up was such a pain for so many; never knowing right from wrong, what type of clothes to wear, cut one's hair or leave long, wear make-up or not. Thankfully we all grew out of that awkward age bu for some it took much longer.

I thought your description of the difficulties you perceived during adolescence is so accurate.
You seem to be asking; Why, 2 years later, did others see me as a 'desirable friend'? Was it because you 'cared less' and 'grew a tougher hide'?

Personally as I seem to be speeding into/through the 'Elder Aging process,' I am confronted with questions. How should I dress for my age? Should I be as outgoing in groups or more sedate?If I ask for help, will people think I am old and not want to spend time with me? Gradually I am resolving the issues as they arise. I watched my mother find her place as an elder after entering a 'total care' facility. I hope I am able to do as well as she did.

I am currently reading a book by Sharon Kaufman entitled THE AGELESS SELF, Sources of Meaning in Late Life.
She attempts to answer some of the questions that we ask ourselves as we reflect on our life journey.

How sad, and how dopey it was to add insult to injury while in an age that is usually painful and difficult for all teens anyway. Where were the adults in all this? I do remember some occasion where the freshmen had to drink cider from a baby bottle, and hammer nails into a board (I remember that because my father was the building trades teacher there and I was teased for hammering with two hands!)Thank goodness hazing is pretty much outlawed now(at least I hope so).

There is such pain in your voice. We forget how painful those years of transitions can be. I'm glad they got rid of these "rites." Nowadays they call it "hazing."

How do any of us manage to get to adulthood with any sanity left?

I remember being teased by the bigger kids all through my early years, but somehow I survived and outwitted them and became a happy teen-ager by losing myself in books.

Books took me to another place where my tormenters weren't, and where I could be happy and fulfilled....

Thank you for all the great comments! Yes, Nancy, I spent
my weekly one dollar allowance on books!

Like you I was an awkward teen seemingly on the outside looking in. Once a popular boy asked me to a party. Heady feelings of excitement filled me as I spent hours getting ready that night. We arrived and it was a shock to see the in crowd smoking, drinking, acting and dancing in lewd movements. And it was boring. It was a good lesson early on. That greener grass was just a lot of fertilizer.

I have discovered that I was a people pleaser - as a kid- trying to fit in with the cliques...that never happened and all through my life I kept trying but I just didn't fit. So now that I am free from all that stuff - I have become more or less lost in my own world and I LIKE IT - no need to prove anything to anybody or to be the life of the party. It seems that my husband agrees as well. We have our world and we like it...only thing needed is $$$$$ and good health.

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