Life Is a Test
was a “fat” child—even before the days of fast food and hormone-injected
burgers. If you could survive all the fat jokes and unkind
remarks, then you passed the test. Oh, you don’t know you’re being
tested until you become an adult and wonder how you made it through
those times. At least today, kids can blame their weight on their eating
habits and the fact that both parents are forced to work and don’t have
time to cook nutritious meals…in my time, my mother stayed home
with us and cooked all our meals.
My dad worked in a raft shop for ninety-nine cents an hour. With
four kids to feed, he used to “appropriate” things…like that word?
That’s a new word my husband taught me that he uses when he brings
things home from work that he didn’t buy. Anyhow, my dad
“appropriated” the canned rations that were used in packing life rafts.
It was like Christmas when he brought them home—those cute little
tins with food inside. How fair is it that you can you get fat on rations
that starving people, adrift in a life raft, eat to survive?
My mom had a strange habit of cooking one extra piece of meat. My
dad was a meat, potatoes and salad kinda guy, so that was our menu
most of the time. Can you say “cholesterol”? There were four kids and
two adults in our family, and no matter how big the pieces were, she
always cooked seven of them. I don’t think anyone wanted a second
piece, but there it was, lurking for whoever could eat the fastest. It was
like a contest you really didn’t want to enter, and you didn’t really want
the prize, but you were compelled to perform. It wasn’t until I had
stomach surgery and had to learn to chew my food that I actually
realized food has a taste.
Being fat as a child is exceptionally hard on your ego. I was always
the last picked in any recess games. That’s how you really learn to
manage stress. You are forced to line up while two team captains,
usually the slimmest and richest kids in class, single you out…one at a
time. The line gets shorter and shorter until you are the only one left.
That in itself does some severe damage to your self-esteem, but when
they start offering you to each other’s team as a nicety…that’s the
worst. “Okay, we have enough, you can have her for your team. No,
that’s all right, you take her…it’s only fair.” Fair, schmaire! What
would be fair is if you didn’t have to play those stupid games of dodge
ball. What fat kid wants to run around trying to dodge something that’s
as round as they are?
Face it…growing up fat is tough, no matter what age you are. Once
I actually survived grammar school and moved into junior high, it
didn’t get any easier. Now, in addition to being fat, you have to deal
with puberty on top of it. Girls today don’t have any idea how easy it is
for them in comparison. Today, the sanitary pads have “wings.”
They’re light as a feather, and all you have to do is stick them to the
crotch of your underpants. In my day, once “your monthly visitor”
started coming around, you had to have a “sanitary belt” to hold your
pad in place. Did I say pad? It was more like a chaise lounge mattress,
but I digress. The sanitary belt was specifically created for girls who
had flat stomachs and no layers of fat around their abdomen. If you
were heavy, the belt rolled up into a thin, razor-sharp strap and rubbed
your skin until it bled. That’s where the phrase, “rubbed you raw” came
Then there’s your hair. You’ve reached an age where you want to
look good but your mother keeps experimenting with home perms. I
actually believe I was the inspiration behind the “Chia Pet.” Women
today have no idea what frizzy ends really look like. It wasn’t only my
ends that were frizzy, my mother twirled those rods so tight, even the
new growth came out curly. It wasn’t until the “teasing” or “ratting” era
came around that my mom quit torturing me and let me torture myself.
Ah, I remember those days well…see how high you can get your hair
to stand up and just how stiff you can spray it. Of course, my spiffy hairdos only lasted till my first period class in chool. I had the good fortune to have swimming as first class of the day. God, I hated it. I tried everything to keep my hair dry. First I put a plastic bag on my head, then I put one of those magic turbans around it,
then I put on two bathing caps. As soon as the teacher made me dive in,
the magic turban sucked up 1/4 of the pool water which in turn filled the
plastic bag, which in turn soaked my hair. It’s a wonder I didn’t sink to
the bottom of the pool and drown, but I guess my fat kept me buoyant.
Thank God gym didn’t last all that long—I’m certain the pressure from
two bathing caps and a magic turban could be detrimental to your
health. Then you have fifteen whole minutes to dry off, dress and get to
your next class, which, of course, is always on the other side of campus.
Ever try combining wet hair saturated with hair spray…I don’t
recommend it. It’s true a tornado couldn’t move a hair on your head, but
the “after swim” style isn’t all that flattering.
I can see that things were much easier on mothers back then. They
weren’t bombarded with designer names everywhere they looked. You
didn’t have to wear just Nike, Guess or Vanderbilt. Oh I’m sure rich
people knew about designer clothing, but we sure didn’t. People didn’t
kill each other over tennis shoes like they do now. We wore what we
could afford, and the only so-called designer name I can recall was a
tennis shoe called KEDS, and that’s because I got a new pair every
September for school. If people were going to kill over tennis shoes,
those ugly KEDS would have never been the cause of anyone’s death.
Yep, every September, my mom used her cherished Sear’s charge
card, and we went on a school shopping spree. The girls (3 of us) got
five dresses, new underpants, socks, and shoes. My brother got the
same amount of clothing, only suited for the male gender. He wore
those Sear’s tough skin jeans, the ones guaranteed not to wear out. It
was true, no matter what he did, the knees of those jeans were
indestructible. If they could build cars out of that stuff, we wouldn’t
need body repair shops. On the flip side, some talented person said, “If
they can make a space ship to withstand the heat of re-entry, why in the
heck can’t they make pantyhose to withstand a single hangnail?”
My mother had another weird ritual—waxing the floors. Back in the
50s and 60s everyone had those wonderful dark tiles that showed
everyone’s foot prints no matter how many times they wiped their feet.
My mother used to wax her floors until you could see the reflection of
your underpants when you walked on them. I always thought it was
because she was unusually clean, but later I learned it was her way of
keeping tabs on what happened at home when she was gone.
I didn’t get to stay home alone until I was in high school. My parents
actually trusted me enough to leave me at home while they spent the
night at my grandparents’ in a neighboring community. I didn’t have
any intention of having a party—it just happened. You know, you’re
talking on the phone, you happen to brag to a friend that you’re home
alone and the next thing you know you are so far from being alone it’s
not funny. Nobody wants to be considered uncool, so how do you
handle turning people away? I didn’t have a clue. Luckily, I lived in a
small town…I only had so many friends.
I was having a great time until it dawned on me…the floor! My mom
will know people walked on her floor. I started counting the scuff
marks—my heart pounding like a drum. Around mid-night I told
everyone they had to leave. I had to have time to repair the damage. I
made up an excuse that the neighbors called the police. I never saw
people exit so fast. I spent the next three hours on my hands and knees
waxing that stupid floor. I kept adding coat after coat until I could see
my reflection! I thought I was safe. I’d pulled it off.
I was beat. All I had to do was finish straightening up the living room
and I was home free. At least, so I thought. Removing the beer cans and
papers from the coffee table, I happened to glance into my mother’s
fish bowl. Her gold fish were her babies and, although I will never
understand that mentality, she loved them. I figured I should feed them,
so I added a little food to the water and waited for them to stick their
little heads up top and start munching. I kept watching…watching…watching. I put my finger in the water and moved the mock sea weed around. They were all floating right beneath it—belly up! The water smelled of wine. Oh my God, I’m dead. I got the tea strainer and pulled them out of the bowl. I threw them over the back fence, changed the water, put the sea weed back in place and hoped she
wouldn’t notice for a day or two, or at least until I could come up with
Okay, so I had a party, someone gave my mom’s fish an overdose of
Sangria, and scuffed up the floor. What could happen? My mother
happened. The minute she walked in, she knew. Despite my attempt to
hide the evidence, evidently my buffing skills were not as good as hers
and she could tell exactly how many people had walked on her floor. I
got put on restriction, which wasn’t all that bad since there wasn’t any
place to go where I lived anyhow. The good news was it took her the
better part of a week to notice her fish were gone. I still feel guilty for
fingering the cat. Poor Tiger got beaten with the broom and had no idea