Those Childhood Memories

Source: intrique.ie

“Little children must be seen and not heard,” was an unpleasant refrain as I was growing up. That was the way of the world in the 1950’s. What made it more difficult for me, was that for the first six years of my life, I grew up in a joint family surrounded by my parents, brother, grandparents, unmarried uncles, an unmarried aunt, and of course, 3 cousins.

I was the youngest, and got into trouble because of my inquisitive, daring nature. Eyebrows were raised if I spoke out of turn, and I was constantly reprimanded for some wrong doing. I was just a child, but the grownups didn’t seem to understand that.

My poor mother tried her best to teach me what was appropriate, and what was inappropriate behaviour. I got tired of rules and regulations, but was obedient or else I was punished. All eyes were always on me, at least that is how I felt.

One day we went to visit my grandaunt and granduncle. It was a pleasant visit until I supposedly did something very wrong. A childless couple were also visiting at that time. This dear couple loved children, so the woman kept calling me to talk with her. I refused to go to her, much to my mother’s dismay. The more she smiled and beckoned, the more I turned away.

When I was questioned as to why I didn’t want to go to her, I said aloud, “She has dirty legs!” My mother promptly gave me a little pinch to indicate that she didn’t like what I said. Once again I spoke loud enough for everyone to hear, “Don’t pinch me, but she has got dirty legs.”

The room went suddenly silent. All eyes looked at what my little eyes had already discovered. The woman’s dirty legs were actually a bad case of varicose veins.

What ensued was another dressing down, and being told that I should never say anything bad, when I saw something that I thought was dirty on someone.

Several weeks later, we were visiting some family friends. While everyone was busy conversing, I found my way to the host’s sister, and sat next to her. I was unaware that she was self conscious of an ugly birth mark on her hand that was raised and rather hairy. I started to stroke that very spot and said, once again loud enough for all to hear, “What a lovely hand you have!”

My mother whisked me away, and I received another scolding. I was bewildered. I did what I was told to do. What was the matter with these adults?

I embarrassed my mother time after time with my actions and my interesting comments. Sometimes I caught the shocked looks of those present. At other times I’m sure I heard adults giggle in the background. Many had smiles on their faces. Seeing their reactions made me think that I wasn’t such a bad girl.

After all, I did pray every morning with my grandmother. It was a ritual still vivid to me. Nana would ask, “Viola, who made you?” to which I replied, “God made me.” Then came the next question, “Why did God make you?” and my daily answer was, “To know him, to love him, to serve him in this world, and to be happy with him in the next.” I knew my Catechism well.

But that was not all. We said the Rosary every day out on the verandah. If I got the chance, I climbed onto the rocking chair, and gazed out at the people and cars passing by repeating the Hail Mary’s and Holy Mary’s endless times.

After lunch I stood by my grandfather’s bed looked at the picture of the Sacred Heart and recited the Anima Christi. I learned that prayer very quickly, and find myself today saying it after receiving Holy Communion.

So I must have been good, even when I pouted, threw the occasional tantrum, and did those naughty things that upset so many people. Well, what are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice. Right? Like Eliza Doolittle in the musical “My Fair Lady” I could argue “I’m a good girl, I am.”

Some people didn’t think so, for on one birthday I was delighted to receive a gift of a pretty red and white purse. So what did I do? When no one was looking, I threw the old, blue one out the window. Unfortunately for me, it landed on the gardener’s head, and he promptly brought it back to an upset parent, again!

My escapades were harmless, and make for good story telling several years after the facts. Despite the many reprimands I received, I knew that I was loved. The moments of singing around the piano, and family concerts when I was included, little as I was, are etched in my memory.

My eyes always popped, when on Christmas night my grandfather poured brandy on the plum pudding, and lit it. While the flames danced on the cake, all the family present linked hands and sang, “The more we get together, the happier we shall be.” Ah! those relatively carefree days when this little child was seen, and made sure she was heard.

Viola Athaide is a student in the Windows of Theology program at Regis College, Toronto. She currently teaches Scripture at her local parish church.

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7 Comments
  • Tonis Kilp
    Posted at 08:13h, 10 September Reply

    What a lovely story from days gone by, things seemed to be easier then, thank you very much for sharing this, much appreciated, it is a vey nice way to start my day, blessings to you and all your loved ones, best, tonis.

  • Marian Taylor
    Posted at 09:20h, 10 September Reply

    Delightful Viola. Your memories of growing up in extended families in the 50s will resonate with many. It brought back many memories of Arcadian family gatherings – so humorously recounted. Thank you for sharing.

  • Noel Fernandis
    Posted at 15:28h, 10 September Reply

    Out of the mouth of babes… What a refreshing and delightfully recounted short story of your early years in the Rego/Arcadian family life. What a naughty but truthful little girl you were! It was so hard to please grown-ups when we were little. Your escapades remind me of the poem:
    THERE was a little girl,
    And she had a little curl
    Right in the middle of her forehead.
    When she was good
    She was very, very good,
    And when she was bad she was horrid.
    (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
    It is clear that the love of God and faith learned at the knees of grandparents and parents stays indelibly imprinted on us.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 15:31h, 10 September Reply

    Thank you Viola!

  • Lorraine Majcen
    Posted at 20:04h, 10 September Reply

    Thank you Viola, you are such a great story teller. Thanks for sharing with us so delightfully, those good old days when you were seen and not heard. You though, being your own kind of person Viola, were certainly seen and as you described, indeed made yourself heard. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog Viola. Such a blessing!!

  • Christine Domingo
    Posted at 23:22h, 10 September Reply

    This story will put a smile on the countenance of many a contemporary friend, Viola. It speaks of an era when children were expected to be on their “best behaviour” when adults were around. The surreptitious pinch when we yawned in Church; and the “big eyes” from our Moms when we did or said something untoward is a memory that many can relate to. I so enjoyed reading your light-hearted article. Thank you.

  • Leanna Obirek
    Posted at 09:45h, 13 September Reply

    Viola, I think you were a refreshingly intelligent little girl. Ahead of her time. And look at where all of that lead you today!
    I appreciate the way your mother was embarrassed, but really, she was lucky to have a little girl who thought for herself. You weren’t bad; you tried very hard to please! (“Oh, what a lovely hand you have.”)
    What a great post.

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