Lasting Damage

This post is in response to the current RemembeRED prompt at The Red Dress Club: Take us back to an embarrassing moment in your life. Did someone embarrass you, your parents perhaps? Or did you bring it upon yourself? Are you still embarrassed or can you laugh at it now? Check it out here and perhaps post your own entry.

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Winter 1957-58: My second grade class was lined up two-by-two on the stairway of the school, waiting to go up to our classroom. There was just enough room between where the paired up children stood on the left side of the stairs for our teacher, Sister __________, to move along the right edge of the stairwell from the bottom of the stairs to the top. We had just come in to the school after mandatory morning Mass. Everyone was bundled up in coats, hats, and mittens, and all the girls had pants on under their dresses to protect their bare legs from the bitter cold of the North Dakota winter.

Suddenly I felt a sharp rap on my head and heard “You ought to be ashamed of yourself! How dare you wear socks with holes in them to school?” Naturally my classmates all turned to see who was in trouble with Sister. A few of them turned away quickly but most of the others laughed out loud, probably relieved they weren’t the subject of Sister’s ire. [I will admit that these weren’t small holes…basically, the entire heel of each sock was entirely worn away.]

Today: Some 50 years later, I’m not even sure I knew then that holes in my socks should be a problem. I think it’s more likely I was glad to have them, holes or not. Our parents were at a place where they were struggling to provide for themselves and the four children they had at the time. Though they probably couldn’t afford it, they had taken on the additional burden of parochial school tuition for my brother and me and later, when she was old enough, our next younger sister.

Am I still embarrassed about this? I guess I must be, because as I think about it, I still get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Then my adult self responds, trying to comfort the 6-year-old me, with the assertion that there was little such a young child could do to about what socks were available to her. Looking back, I just wish that teacher could have been sympathetic enough to ignore my hole-y socks and perhaps offer help rather than scolding, but that’s not the way it turned out. I doubt that I mentioned the incident to my parents, opting instead to pull my socks down toward my toes so that any holes wouldn’t show to that eagle-eyed nun.

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9 thoughts on “Lasting Damage

  1. Wanda, I felt a real sisterhood with you when I read this. I am from a large family. Writing these memoirs has me remembering all kinds of little (?) things like your story. Shoes, socks and underwear were the budget stretching items for us. We wore them until they were way past their prime. I remember so clearly thinking one of my best friends was the luckiest girl I knew because her knee socks always had elastic with stretch and hold left and the sock part looked so thick and not at all threadbare like mine.
    Your piece is written with such honesty that I easily could substitute myself in your place. Just beautiful.

    • May, it never occurred to me when I was a child to wonder whether we were poor or not. Hole-y socks aside, I don’t remember any serious deprivation. We were always warm, dry, and fed. Of course, it also never occurred to me to think that others might consider us rich. I didn’t learn that until a recent family reunion when one of my cousins said he was always envious of my family because we kids had store-bought toys (his parents farmed, so cash was usually in short supply for them).

  2. How incredibly insensitive of her! As a teacher, she should be about supporting and lifting up her students, not shaming and embarrassing them over something they can’t even help.

    Such a sad story but well told! Stopping by from TRDC.

  3. One teacher like that can leave a lot of hurt children in her path over the years. I just wonder how many kids feel like you do? It’s a shame but thank goodness you don’t have to find your worth in what an old nun from 1956 thinks of you huh?

  4. As a former teacher, I was angry when I read this! That nun should be the one who was ashamed. That certainly wasn’t a Christ-like thing to say! I still hurt for you.

    • CE, Julie, & Katie–I’ve often wondered how well our nuns were trained and suited for teaching. Did they join their order expecting to teach children or did they think they would do something else very different? To me, teaching is as much a calling as the one these women had to the sisterhood. Hopefully most of them actually enjoyed teaching and made a positive difference in their students’ lives.

  5. This post just makes me sad. it’s also a great reminder that you just never know someone’s whole story.

  6. The Sister thought you should be ashamed of your holey socks, but you didn’t even know there was something to be embarrassed by until she pointed it out! Isn’t it interesting how the words people use affect us so deeply?

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