I made my first significant journey in utero, swapping being born in Dallas, Texas for making my first appearance in Fort Wayne, Indiana by only 3 months. A bit less than 4 years later, I got packed up with my new baby brother and headed north to Oklahoma City. We would stay in and around that city for 6 years, but in that time would live in 3 different houses and neighborhoods, where I attended 2 or 3 different schools.
I don’t remember minding the actual moves and the new houses were always fun. We were definitely on the way “up” and since the babies kept coming, too, we needed more space as well. The new schools and leaving behind newly-made friends wasn’t so easy, but being the oldest, it was always up to me to “set the example” so I learned to keep my trepidations to myself, and found solace in books, butterflies and chasing horned toads which I was convinced were baby dinosaurs. Ages prior to Jurassic Park, this kid knew she wanted to be a paleontologist!
I had just gotten settled into the last Oklahoma school when devastating news came down from on high–we were moving again. This time to the far-off, unheard of land of Georgia. I remember leaving the dinner table in tears, trying to figure out some way to stay and making half-formed plans in my head to run away later and come back for the next school year.
I was a Sooner kid, raised on the wild, windy prairies of a table-flat state. I proudly wore my jeans and cowboy boots to school with few comments (though one teacher did ask me once if I was ever going to wear a dress; I happily told her no, but the class photos of that time will show me in “girl garb” with barrettes in my hair). I reveled in riding my bike all over the school yard (we lived right across the street from the school), playing war games with the boys and was the 3rd grade champion in tether ball.
In Georgia, in 1967, girls were NOT ALLOWED to wear pants to school.
I was in 1 school for 4th grade and then another when we moved yet again, to another school district, finally settling into the house that both my parents would live out their lives in. By then, I had become a seasoned traveler and, if not a happy loner, then at least mostly content to be a peer group of one. The times my mother tried to push me to be social did not work out too well. Girls can be vicious, and more times than not I cried after the lights were out from the lovely comments about weight, hair, glasses, teeth, whatever, that got tossed my way. I guess it was hard for an extrovert like my mother to raise an introvert child who really was happiest off in her own mental world, not having to deal with the rest of flock. I never have been good at staying in the “pecking order”.
By the time I reached high school, I was a lumpy, grumpy, pubescent blob. I began high school in the 8th grade, in a school of over 1000 students, being the lowest of the low on the totem pole. In a way it was good being so completely invisible. I remember being vastly intimidated by the seniors who seemed absolutely HUGE in my eyes–grown already and straining to take on the responsibilities of being an adult. I felt that was something I would never attain. I was lost most of the time, and still longing for the one safe place I had found in that last house and school in OK City.
My 8th grade year was memorable only for a PE teacher who seemed to have it out for me from day one. When she came bounding into the classroom in a field hockey skirt with a massive bunch of keys at her waist, I knew I was in trouble. At least they let us change clothes for gym class. I had spent the last 4 years being afraid to move because of being in a skirt all day. I mean, they expected us to play freakin’ KICKBALL in a SKIRT!
After her brusque introduction, “My name is Miss BLANK. There are three things you can say to me, ‘Yes, ma’am’, ‘No, ma’am’, and ‘I don’t know, ma’am’!” she herded us all out to the track where she proceeded to run us for a mile. A MILE! Today, I think nothing of walking 4 or 5 miles before breakfast, but then, my God, it might as well have been to the moon! This lady dismissed me as hopeless as I huffed and puffed along well behind the rest of the “sub-freshmen” which is what we 8th graders were called.
At the end of the term, she happily gave me a D in her class, which caused all my other teachers to call me to their desks to verify the grade, as I had straight As academically. Since 2 of my other teachers were coaches, there was a bit of a lecture there, too–sound mind/sound body, that kind of thing.
The next term, winter, I shocked Lady Battleaxe when I aced all the tests in the health class, i.e. bones in the body, health terms, etc. I also got an actual public compliment on an oral report that I had to give about strokes. Thanks to my mother, who should have been an acting coach, I was as well prepared as any first-year medical student.
Something happened in 9th grade. I don’t remember exactly what, but I think it might have been that the state of Georgia FINALLY allowed girls to wear pants to school. I began, finally, to feel like myself in clothes that I wasn’t afraid to move in. I realized that I had begun having conversations with some girls in different classes. I actually giggled a little bit. I know there was one girl I went to school with who also went to the same church we did (before I quit going to church at age 16), and so we had that in common. By the end of that year, I had actually made a couple of friends, felt more comfortable with the teachers and pegged myself squarely in the round hole of “the smart one”. It worked for me.
As the years passed, eclectic as ever, I tried my hand at the school paper, the year book, drama club (on stage and off), and even worked for the head coach keeping score for baseball games and taking money in concessions. I made friends with the counselors and spent a lot of time in their offices. I wrote articles and took pictures. I rode my bike back to school after hours and watched football practice, track practice, baseball practice. I got braces. I grew 5 inches and lost 50 pounds. I hosted sleepovers and went to sleepovers. I started to feel at home, but knew that shortly, I would be on the road again–to summer jobs, to college, to life–but this time I looked ahead with anticipation instead of dread.
My nomadic life has given me many gifts, but I think the most important one is the ability to listen to my own heart. Even thought it took me a while to figure out that I needed to BE out, once the decision was made, there was no looking back and the sailing has been as smooth as anyone could hope for since then.
I’m still looking ahead. There are so many roads to travel and places to go. Even though my life is very settled here with G, and the kids and grandkids, I believe I was born with a nomadic spirit, and I hope to let it carry me on as many journeys as I can handle before I’m done. Perhaps we will meet along the way. If we do, the coffee’s on me!