After exchanging a few emails with Kris this morning, my mind started wandering back through childhood; this sentimental journey really had little to do with our conversation, but it was somehow triggered by it.
And I realized that a person can be marked for life by the wrong words.
I recall lots of happy memories, but there are a few incidents that for some reason I've held onto that perhaps helped form my perceptions of myself. Keep in mind that I was pretty much raised as an only child; I had an older sister and brother, but they were both grown and gone by the time I was three. Maybe that's why it didn't take much to hurt my pride... I never had to put up with the kind of insults that many kids get from their siblings, growing up, to make them tough.
In the first memory, I am probably five years old, in primary (kindergarten) grade at a one-room school in Iowa. It's recess, and three or four of us girls are playing in the snow. There's quite a pile of snow drifted in a ditch, and we're hollowing it out to make a cave, or house. Excitedly, I say, "Let's play like... blah blah blah," and then I'd get another marvelous idea and say, "Let's play like... blah blah blah" again. I must have repeated it several times, because finally a girl said scornfully, "Play like, play like; is that all you know how to say?"
I don't think I said much else during that particular recess. I may have quit playing, I don't remember. All that sticks with me is how humiliated I felt.
Scene two: I'm still only five or six, and I'm at a birthday party for a little girl who attends my school. (I wonder if it was the same girl?)
We're making dolls out of hollyhock flowers, and I'm having lots of fun. I don't know what the discussion was that we were having, but the birthday girl said, "Do you have to be so loud? I can't hear myself think!"
I was probably around the same age when I asked my mom, dead serious "Am I pretty?"
Mother laughed and said, "Heavens no; you look too much like me to be pretty."
When I got older, I realized she was just trying to make a joke, but at the time it was like a slap in the face. When I had children, I began telling them how good-looking they were before they could talk.
Let's fast-forward to scene four. I'm sixteen, and I'm taking driver's training. The way it was done at good old North Kansas City High was that three students and the teacher went together in one car, and the students took turns driving. I had never attempted to drive, and I lacked self-confidence; everybody else seemed to have had some experience. When I got under the wheel I was terrified, and afraid to get up much speed at all.
Mr. O'Dell, the teacher, said, "Haven't you ever driven a kiddie car or a tricycle or anything?"
Keep in mind there were two other students in the car to hear this.
Another time, he said to me, "I'm going to let you pass this course; but please call and let me know if you're going to be out on the road, so I can stay home."
I've never attempted to get a driver's license. I've never driven a car since, and I'm sixty-five years old. I'm not blaming Mr. O'Dell, by the way. People have overcome far worse handicaps than humiliation to get their licenses.
The thing is, everybody has had things like this, and far worse, happen to them. I doubt they even remember rude things said to them in the first grade.
I wonder why such long-ago words have affected me so? It reminds me of the Maya Angelou quote that's at the top of Kris' blog: "I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."