Those Childhood Memories
““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.