Monday, April 14, 2008

Forty Years and a Lifetime

1968 - another glorious California summer was fast approaching. I was about to turn twelve.

The man in the moon had no American flag jabbed into his cratered face, a far-away nation called Vietnam occupied America's consciousness, Watergate was simply a hotel complex, and Bob Dylan had pretty much gone silent.

My chubby inner ugly-duckling had become a swan, I was taller, leaner, stronger. Five feet five inches, one hundred five pounds of tanned, slim, robust health, yet my siblings called me fat.

But I was happy. What was mine was mine. Bike riding, roller skating, tree climbing, swimming, going to Vacation Bible School for a week, Sunday school and church on weekends. Life was good.

Looking back, 1968's summer seems like a personal last hurrah.

If only I'd known. Yet, knowing would have merely stolen the golden joy, it could not have changed a thing.

In the fall I would begin Junior High where bullies were prevalent, and gym class meant mandatory group showers. What was mine had to be put on display every day and I resented it. While my gym teacher faithfully 'observed' with her 'friend', I had to replicate what to me felt like Jews going into 'showers' that were gas chambers. Herded. Forced against my will. Five days a week. Though I live to tell the tale it doesn't help to find out later that my ever watchful gym teacher and her 'friend' were lesbians. To them I was nubile delight.

A year later we moved to Oregon and I lost my social connections. Friends, gone. Familiar neighborhood, gone. Youth group, gone. Aunts, uncles, cousins, gone. Safe neighborhood streets for bike riding and skating replaced with a high, narrow, private hill-top with nothing but down and a long up again should I descend at any point. I blew my bicycle brakes within the first month by squeezing them as I coasted down the steep, skinny, gravel driveway hoping to miss cars as they ascended in my direction.

Our secluded Oregon hill-top felt like prison. To walk the oak and madrone dotted fifty acres of 'down' meant tediously straining to avoid plentiful poison oak and searching my body for bloodthirsty wood ticks upon return. The cons soon outweighed the pros. With both parents frantically working away from home, life became a housebound venture of homework, TV, snacks, and slow, steady weight gain.

But alas, it did me good to face a harsher world.

Still, I miss my innocent summer of 1968.
"Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong." ~~ Winston Churchill


Gardenia said...

I think our kids are fighting the weight battle today because we are afraid to send them outside! I fear those healthy wonderful dreaming days for children are a thing of the past. My weight loss guru is telling me that walking three miles a day for the rest of my life is what it will take to keep the weight off. Egad - does he know how old I am and how hard that will be? Yah, he does.

I love your post, and am sorry about the school experiences. We also had gang showers - they are humiliating and even worse when you have lesbian gym teachers who peer - we did too! Also a horny male gym teacher who loved it when we did certain acitivies What a scandal that was - yet our parents did not protest.

Bullies - have destroyed many a life - however you have risen far above - your photos, your writing are wonderfully talented. And I hawe a feeling you are a very cool person that I would love to be friends with.

Wandering Coyote said...

Lovely post, Cherie.

I absolutely cannot fathom having group showers after gym class though - what a horrible, terrible thing to put kids through. I never had to deal with that, but gym was always traumatic for me, fat or not, and I was bullied everywhere, fat or not. I would never go back, knowing what I do now.

Cherie said...

Gardenia, thanks for your empathy.

Why was it that our parents didn't protest? I still don't know. Oh well.

The bullies in my jr. high didn't bully me much but I was such a sensitive soul - still am - that the bullying of any kid wounded my tenderness for I felt for them all.

You know, I have a feeling you are a very cool person, too. Let's do be friends, shall we? ;D

WC: Did you go to a public school in Canada? No group showers? You dodged that bullet and I'm happy you did. Childhood can do a lot of damage, eh, but it does serve its purpose I suppose. There is much wonderment within for children find it somehow.

Thanks to you both for sharing and for understanding. Friendship goes a long way toward healing.

Momentary Madness said...

I had horrific school-days. My part was I learned to be tough, and I would have faught the Devil himself standing my ground.
Bullies, and bullied- is there any difference when it all amounts to sadness/loneliness for all in the end.
1968: "Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground, Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down." and ..... "stop children what's that sound, everybody look what's goin' down."

Wandering Coyote said...

Yep, I went to public school. Gym was one period a day, always rotating when because of our semester system. We got changed in 5 minutes, did gym for about an hour, then had to quickly change again to be on time for our next class. No one had showers; we simply didn't have time.

Cherie said...

I'm sorry to hear you had horrid school days, Sean. Not surprised you learned to be tough. A lot of us did in our own ways. It's a cryin' shame we were forced to abandon the fleeting freedoms of youth in such ways. Appropriate lyrics, as usual. Thanks!

WC, ah. It's a different policy and priority. I think it's a fine idea to have showers available for those who want to use them, but they could have been more private, and optional. The thing with the group showers is that most of the girls felt as I did. We didn't really shower, we just got close enough to call our number off and fool, er, uh, satisfy the teacher that we were in proximity to water and soap, then we'd quickly go back to our lockers in the smelly locker room to dress. There was plenty of stink left on most kids, along with the 'powder fresh scent' of deodorant.

There was a dress code, too, and we girls had to wear dresses which required panty hose once we were in high school. The rush to get dressed in such attire, for those who showered - or didn't - left us all sweatier than we were from the exercise. Always red faced and hot from perspiration we'd head for our next class in a hurry, pantyhose often in a twist for the rest of the day. We had something like 8 minutes for showering and dressing and trying to fix our hair and for those who wore it, re-applying make-up. It had the effect of souring some of us on the concept of physical exercise by giving us bad experiences. Really dumb.

cecily said...

Cherie, what a pensive post... I'm feeling sad for your joy and innocence lost.

I went swimming with some of the grade 3/4/5 girls last week. (about 8-10 years old) They shower and dress in an open change room, but we adults just duck in and out to help the slower girls keep a move on... And hold towels on request for the shy ones! There is some privacy at least, and they aren't quite to the totally self conscious age yet.

Cherie said...

Yeah, Cecily, I remember having shower time at camp when I was quite a bit younger than I was in the post and it was not traumatic to me. More private, optional, no glaring lights and snooping adults - and no time pressure. And yes, not quite at that self-conscious age.

You warmed my heart when you mentioned holding towels for the shy girls - so kind and considerate of you.

I feel sad for my lost joy and innocence, too, but am finding that - to a degree - I am able to reclaim aspects of it. And protecting those things in my kids for as long as possible because of what I went through, well, it's rewarding in its own way. We all find the glimmer of life dulled as we go along - part of the broken world.

Thanks for being a tenderheart, Cecily. You and me, kid.

Pam said...

Cherie, I have thought back to those junior high days so often and wished I had felt like I could stand up for myself. You see, my asthma often prevented me from participating in gym and do you know what? They still made me shower. While they watched. I didn't like it, never told my parents, and felt like I had no choice. But I think it's those kinds of experiences that led us to choose homeschooling in the early years, and then the classical curriculum school we ended up sending the kids to later. No gym class. No health class. No hidden agendas or ways to humiliate the kids. They get enough of that just being with their peers.

A very touching post. You need a hug, so ((hug))...

Cherie said...

Thanks for the much-needed hug, Pam. You always know!

Yes, P.E. and the showers was one of the many reasons I opted out of public school. Or at least one of the reasons I've been quite satisfied that we did. The kids thank me over and over for not having to undergo the humiliation of gym class.

I'm disgusted that your teachers made you shower anyway. Disgusted. What the heck? I mean, why?. Makes no sense.

Thanks for the encouragement, Pam. As always, your timing and your words are perfect.

Wandering Coyote said...

Pam: my heart goes out to you. When I read your story, I was so stunned and revolted...I cannot believe that was allowed to happen. It was abuse, pure and simple. I'm so sorry you had to endure that.

Cherie said...

When I told Tom about what happened to Pam he was stunned and revolted with us, WC.

It makes you wonder what sort of stuff happened in schools all over the country which, as children, we suppressed but which manifests itself now in different unpleasant ways.

Pam said...

Thanks WC & Cherie (& Tom too!) You are right, WC, it WAS abuse. But no one talked about abuse back then and good kids didn't buck the system or talk back to adults. So I didn't. I didn't think I could.

Cherie said...

I hear you, Pam! Good kids just did what they were told no matter how uncomfortable. It's just the way it was. And talking back to adults - big NO NO. I didn't think I could because if I did balk there'd be hell to pay.

Are we older and wiser? It'd be nice to think so. Maybe in some ways.

Anonymous said...

Very melancholy post Cherie. It stirred up some things for me. Oh and the physical education trauma was mine as well. I wonder along with you why our parents didn't protest. Did they not know?

tshsmom said...

OMG! We have THIS in common too?! My Jr High gym teacher was a lesbian too! My friends have NEVER let me forget that I was one of her favorites. I thought it was due to my athletic prowess. At that innocent time of my life, I didn't know there WAS such a thing as lesbians.

In High School, this teacher's partner substituted for our regular gym teacher. We all refused to take showers with her in the room. There's NO NEED for a teacher to watch the students take a shower!

You're not alone Pam! My best friend broke her leg in high school. The school INSISTED that she dress for gym, even though she couldn't participate! Her mother raised the roof, as her gymsuit wouldn't even go over her cast!
She still had to be physically present in gym class...sitting in the bleachers. STUPID!

Cherie said...

Annie, I don't think our parents - or at least mine - took the time to imagine what it might be like on us kids. They trusted. I don't.

Tshs: Yikes! And you were a favorite - ew. I'm sorry to hear that you had this problem, too. I didn't know what lesbians were either till much later.

I am shocked that your friend was told to dress down for gym. Psychos! I'm glad her mom went to bat for her. Why not let the poor child go to the library and have a good study time? Oh wait, THAT makes sense.

tshsmom said...

Her Mom wanted her to have a study hall. The school said it was LAW that she be physically present in gym class. Dumb!

Cherie said...

A LAW - oy. Dumb is right!

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to offend anyone with what I'm going to say, so please don't think I'm trying to be hostile.

But I think it's a bit of an exaggeration to compare showering in school with female classmates to what Jews experienced in the death camps.

My Junior High and High Schools required us to shower after gym class too, and I myself never had a problem with it. In fact I can safely say that most of the girls didn't have any problem with it. I would have hated not being able to shower after getting all sweaty in gym class.

I'm NOT a lesbian, so I DON'T mean this in a sexual way, but I thought it was kind of fun in a way to shower in the group showers with my girlfriends at school. It can be kind of fun being able to be nude in a group of girls knowing that there aren't any guys that are seeing you, and that what your doing is not sexual in any way. And I never felt that I had nearly as good of a body as many of the other girls either. In Junior High I had some of the smallest breasts in my gym classes, and envied the girls who had bigger breasts. And then in High School I had put on too much weight, and was heavier than most of the other girls. So I clearly was never trying to show-off a great body. But it was fun trading shampoo and body-wash with your friends and walking around nude in the locker room.

I observe the right that you other ladies had to feel embarrassed about your locker room nudity issues. But it was actually a positive and fun experience for many of us.

Take Care


Cherie said...

I appreciate your point of view, Sarah. (Do I know you? I know many Sarahs.) No offense taken.

I am guessing you are younger than we ladies who've commented here as we didn't have body wash when we were younger - just soap. Perhaps our trials paved a way for a better experience for you. It was a different time - the 60's - we were coming out of the prudish 50's, the sexual revolution had yet to take solid hold on everyday families.

To compare school showering with the concentration camps is more than "a bit of an exaggeration." I hope you'll go back and read that I said: I had to replicate what to me felt like Jews going into 'showers' that were gas chambers. Herded. Forced against my will.

See, I'm not actually comparing my experience to the reality of the horrors of the death camps, I'm sharing that in my 12 year old mind that's what it felt like, like all those movies we had to watch, the nightmares they gave me...I related in my youthful mind to the forcings and the humiliation in my young mind.

Sorry if that wasn't clear.

Glad you found something interesting enough here to comment. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...


No,we don't know each other. I was doing a Google search about Jewish death camps, and I came across this thread, but decided to post here even though it wasn't what I was looking for.

I apologize if I misunderstood what you were saying. And again, I don't mean to try to downplay your embarrassment about group showers in school.

I attended Junior High and High School in the 1970's. I don't recall if the liquid body soap we used back then was referred to as "body-wash" at that time or not? But it was the same kind of stuff that my daughters like to use now and call body-wash. I've heard them say body-wash so many times that I called it by that name.

I will say that when I first found out about a week before I started the seventh grade that we were going to have to shower nude in front of each other that I was shocked by the idea. I remember telling my mother in a very shocked way that I found out from our neighbor girl who was a couple of years older than me, that I and the other girls in my gym class were going to have to shower nude in front of each other. I was expecting my mother to be shocked at that "news" too. But she looked at me with a very plain expression and said "I know, everybody does."

My mother was in High School in the late 1940's and they too were required to shower in gym class. She told me that it wasn't a big deal, we were all girls with the same parts and it was nothing to be embarrassed about.

I would say that maybe the first shower or two in school was kind of awkward. But after the first few showers I had totally adjusted and never gave it a second thought after that.

My two daughters are both in High School right now. They said that their High School doesn't require them to shower after gym class like yours and mine did, but they said that most of the girls do shower by choice. My 17 year old is on the girl's swim team, and she said that all of the girls on the swim team are so used to changing in and out of their bathingsuits in front of each other that their completely used to being seen nude by each other that they don't bother wearing their bathingsuits in the showers after swim practice.

I am aware that some women or girls are embarrassed by having to be seen nude in a locker room, and I do sympathize with them if they are indeed embarrassed. I myself (and I think most of my girlfriends in High School)kind of thought it was fun running around in the nude in the girls locker room. Again, please don't misunderstand what I mean by that, I'm NOT homosexual! But thinking back I think it was kind of cute how we would prance around our nude little tushies throughout the girls locker room. But maybe I'm just fondly remembering being a teenage girl without a care in the world?

One thing that I never gave a second thought to at the time that my daughters are sure would never be allowed to happen now, is that when I was in the tenth grade our gym teacher used to shower in the locker room with us after gym class because she still had to teach her health classes the rest of the day. My daughters seem to think that a teacher might get in trouble if she were to now shower with her students? We never gave it a second thought at the time. Our female gym teacher had the same parts as us, so I don't see that there was anything wrong with her showering in the locker room with us.

Sorry for rambling on and taking up so much space. I just decided to check back to see if there were any responses to my first post here, and I hoped that I didn't offend anyone! I enjoyed what I've seen of your blog. Keep up the good work.

Take care.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, I forgot to ask this. Could you have asked your parents to talk to the teachers about not making you shower?

Or were you able to face a wall during showering in the locker room?

My Junior High and High Schools had showers that were completely 100% out in the open. So there wouldn't have been anywhere to hide if I had wanted to.

We had these 8 different polls that had 4 shower-heads each that were in a circle. Which meant that you always had one girl facing you directly from about 4 feet away, and you always had a girl to each side of you who were also only a few feet away. So you couldn't possible be any more exposed than that. But I've seen some locker room showers that are along a wall where you could face the wall as you shower. Not that that is much more private, but at least it's usually only your backside that would be facing the other girls.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I remember the dreaded showers in middle school and high school.Our middle school and high school were connected to each other, and the high school had several girls from the high school take turns as shower monitors for the middle school girls. It was their job to make sure that we showered for at least five minutes after each and every gym class. The worst part was that a couple of those shower monitors would stare at us in the showers and tease us about breast size and even how much pubic hair we had or did not have.

In high school it was the female gym teachers themselves that would make sure that we showered. After each shower we had to walk up to the teacher and take off our towel and spin so that they could see that we were wet all over front and back. When they saw that we were wet all over they would check off our name on their clipboards.

I don't know why the schools could not have had private shower stalls in the locker rooms?

I'm amazed every time that I swim at the local Y how many women and girls choose to walk around in the buff!

Cherie said...

Nancy, thanks for your comment.

I had the same situation with the teachers making us twirl sans towel to assure we were wet all over before checking us off. Our school also had older students monitoring younger students during shower time, snarky comments and all.

Our city's public pool never ceases to amaze me as well. I've seen middle-aged, buck-naked women sitting on the shower floor with feet up in the air as they washed and pumiced! Disgusting. And this with my little girls in tow. It is enough to keep me out of public pool situations.

There just must be a better way for those of us whose modesty and sensibilities are uncomfortable with such situations.

Again, thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I had assumed that it was just the weird gym teachers at my high school that made girls remove their towels and twirl around. What, was there some universal rule book that gym teachers had that instructed them to do that? One thing that I forgot to mention in my first post is that one of the high school girls that was a shower monitor at my middle school was my next door neighbor. Thankfully, she was not one of the ones that would tease us as we showered. nevertheless, it was still awkward having to bare it all in front of my neighbor girl.

At the Y that I swim at there are women who even blowdry their hair naked standing in front of the mirror, and do their makeup naked in front of the mirror. When I was in middle school many of us were not at all thrilled to have to shower in front of each other. But in recent years I will even see girls in that 10 to 17 age range that walk around in the buff at the Y. Thankfully, I have never seen anyone sitting naked on the shower room floor. What in the world is wrong with them that they would sit naked where hundreds of other people have their bare feet, and that wash there sweaty bodies on?

I wish for your sake that you didn't have to go through the same embarrassment that I did in school gym class! But at the same time it's kind of nice to see someone else who can relate to the embarrassment that I went through.