Emerging Writers: New Non Fiction
New Non Fiction on "Growing Up"
A girl growing up on a farm in the late 1950s was destined to be a mom, a housewife/helpmate on the farm. If she could not secure a man, then she would be a teacher or a nurse or, if she was not from the richer class of farmers, she could be a secretary, bank teller or beautician. Those were my choices and anyone who dared to defy those choices paid a heavy price.
From the beginning, I was unable to accept these constraints. I was lucky enough to be born when the philosophies of the nascent feminist movement could fuel my ambition and allow me to be different. Back then, I was painfully skinny with overwhelming eyebrows, a protruding forehead and a square jaw. My sisters had always been beautiful, my brothers handsome …but not me. So I spent my childhood and pubescence memorizing the New World Encyclopedia.
When asked what I wanted to become, I answered “physicist;” I didn’t really know what that meant, but the word sounded very important. It was not that I didn’t want to fit in…I just couldn’t. Compromise was a character trait that I would learn over time…but I did not possess it as a young adult. So the skinny, awkward girl lived in a world of books and dreams of leaving.
After a while, my face grew together and my pretty blue eyes took over. But what I lacked in beauty, I was compensated in a thirst for knowledge. I had a quick wit and an uncanny ability to learn quickly; much to the consternation of my parents and relatives who cared about my ability to find a husband. Husbands didn’t want women who declined to hide their intelligence. Teachers tried putting me in the back of the class, where I would draw and draw and draw yet still knew the answers. So they learned to ignore me too.
I grew up in a small farm community where Germans bought farms from the English in the late 1800s. The conservative Lutheran church taught me to fear God and meant it. God was a father, watching for and punishing me for my infinite mistakes. When the preacher called out “you are a dirty rotten sinner” and pointed at an unlucky and guiltless boy, we all slouched down in our pews. The boy turned a bright red as his parents turned toward him…this would not be a good Sunday dinner for him. The German community believed strongly in “spare the rod; spoil the child.” Fortunately, my mother’s Scotch-Irish family had no such inclination. But raising children in fear has a way of perpetuating fear and doubt; I feared each thunderstorm was the beginning of my eventual march to hell for all of my unknown misdeeds. It was an easy place to rebel against.
I remember walking down the lane to my home, watching the dust from the parched ground rise with each footstep, the frustrated farmers staring at the sun while praying for rain. I could feel the dust between my toes like a fine powder. It was late summer, and the searing sun relentlessly beat down on the scorched crops that sizzled from the drought. At night, the farms would be serenaded by hissing locusts that took what was left. But the unpredictable weather would not plague me the way that it beat down the farmers. Mine would not be a life of dirt and children. I had a great advantage; my family was middle class, which meant that I would be going to college. I knew that I would be able to leave; and every day was a countdown.
College was my utopia and I discovered that my gift was a hunger for knowledge. So after graduation, I pursued a doctorate…all paid for by hard work and scholarships. But, college does end, no matter how much I tried to prolong it. So I went to work at a prestigious research facility, and my parents’ collective fears were realized…I had neither a husband nor any prospects.
These were the days when sexual harassment was only a concept in some radical feminist’s academic paper; and it was open season on feminists, those of us who defied what a woman should be. I endured nefarious proposals and threats along with ignorance, disproportionate raises and opportunities…but I endured and conquered. Each battle, while not always won, was a battle that I would not shrink from, even if it were not always the best course of action.
So there I would have remained moving forward into battles, my sole absorption my career, but for my friends, who saw that one of the skills that I did not possess was the ability to charm men. I was pretty, I was strong, I was smart and I was intimidating. My sisters and brothers married, to our parents’ delight, but I remained single, as my parents had predicted…until my friend decided it must end. So she introduced me to Jeff.