Thursday, July 27, 2006

Baylor Girl, I Mean Woman, and the Raincoat Rule

Soon after arriving on the Baylor campus as a freshman many years ago, I noticed several things. First, a lot of the boys were very short. But that's not what I want to write about today. I kept seeing the phrase "Baylor Woman" everywhere. No more Girl. I certainly didn't feel like a woman and I knew for sure my parents didn't think of me as one.

Baylor Women, I soon learned, didn’t smoke, drink, or stay out past 11:00 on weeknights, 12:30 A.M. on Friday nights, or midnight on Saturdays. I really had no interest in smoking or drinking, and there wasn’t all that much to do on campus or in Waco past curfew. So no problem there.

What seems remarkably strange now, as it did even back then, was the Raincoat Rule. Baylor Women wore skirts on campus, not slacks and certainly not shorts. The dilemma of issues such as P.E. and leaving campus was addressed by the Raincoat Rule: wear a raincoat over your shorts or slacks. Uh, a raincoat??? I suppose any sort of overcoat would have sufficed, but it’s far too hot in Waco much of the school year for a heavy coat. Hence, the raincoat.

I didn’t own a raincoat. Raincoats have never been cool, and they weren’t then. But somehow I ended up with a wrinkly/crinkly, vinyl thing. It couldn’t be see-through, of course, and mine wasn’t. It was greenish gray. It could be folded into a small satchel when it wasn’t in use. Sadly, though, it was often in use.

A raincoat could easily cover shorts, but what purpose did it serve for slacks?

You can probably answer that question, and I can now. The Raincoat Rule existed to manage and protect. In a word: CONTROL. Even though we were women and not girls, we needed to be controlled. Baylor men/boys, on the other hand, did not. Curfew-less, they roamed the campus and Waco late into the night. They smoked in their dormitory rooms. In fact, they smoked all over campus, wherever they wanted to. And they had maids to clean their rooms! Yes, maids.

When questioned about the obvious disparity, a Dean reassured the skeptics: “We provide the men with the services and the women with the protection.”

I am not making this up. Ah, the good old days…

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

10 Things I Used to Not Think About

I was pleased when I finally realized, or was told, that “blog” was a shortened form of “web log,” which meant an online journal. A diary! I understood diary. Like many girls of my generation, I often received a small leather, or fake leather, book for Christmas. On the cover was written “My Diary.” It had a small band attached to the back cover that curved to the front. At the front end of the band, a gold clasp could be fastened to the front cover. Best of all, the clasp could be locked with a tiny gold key! I might even lose it! The dramatic possibilities were thrilling. Of course, since the band was only about an inch high, and the diary about 6 inches, it was very easy to read most of the writing on each page. But no matter, the key meant that it was WRONG for anyone else to read it. My entries usually consisted of January 1 and 2. January 1 likely read, “Today was a boring day. We took down the Christmas tree.” (January 2, I forget.)

They were always vaguely interesting to me, but now I often think about one in particular. It’s a beautiful place just outside Waco. My mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great grandmother, and—yes—great-great-great grandmother are buried there. Several grandfathers, and some favorite aunts, uncles, and cousins are as well. I think of how my maternal grandmother watched as her 23 year old daughter was buried. And of my great-grandmother who stood at the graves of two of her daughters, both under the age of 25. When did I start thinking of it? Probably after seeing my mom’s gravestone and wondering how it could be possible. Somehow, standing in that place—sad, bewildered, and silent—has been profoundly moving to me. And then there have been the fun times! My cousins and aunt and I visit “our people” (as a 4 year old cousin called them) and tell stories as we clean, replace flowers, and wander around. My aunt said they used to have picnics there on designated clean-up days. She said we should bring sandwiches sometime. Maybe we will.

Root Beer Floats
Honestly, I have to give credit to my friends in the nursing home where I once worked. They requested them during the summer months and promised immediate refreshment to anyone who partook. I dipped and poured many floats. Slurping floats was such a joyful activity that I took the idea with me to the next place I worked, a home for retired Catholic nuns across the country from the first place. The Sisters already knew about root beer floats and happily agreed to drink what I fixed. So now the root beer float—not Coke, not Dr. Pepper—is a favorite drink, especially when it’s 100 degrees outside!

We used to put it on our noses and shoulders, sometimes, and the “suntan lotion” container didn’t have an SPF number. Most of the time we didn’t use it at all; we knew how much better we looked with a tan. About 20 or 30 years after I stopped obsessing about my tan, or lack thereof, one of my closest friends died of melanoma. And now I think about sunscreen.

In 1986 I stopped sleeping well. In fact, I stopped sleeping. For several years, no medication helped. I sleep much better these days, but never again as I did pre-1986.

I know there are places that make better coffee, but Starbucks is a favorite chain. I look for Starbucks when I’m on the road. I rejoice when I see the green letters. I sigh after taking a first sip. I don’t complain about the price. I’m not really embarrassed about the coffee stains on my shirts, though I pretend I am.

Sock Monkeys
In the mid-90s I saw an old sock monkey in an antique shop. I wanted to buy it but the person with me laughed and asked, “Why?” Since I didn’t know, I didn’t buy. I began seeing more and more sock monkeys in the next few years and realized my childhood had lacked something. I had teddy bears and dolls, but no sock monkey. For a while I collected old ones, then began wistfully looking at “make your own sock monkey” instructions on the internet. Since I don’t sew, it seemed impossible. Now when someone talks about miracles, I nod and say I believe in them. Because I learned to make sock monkeys and even sold them on Ebay. Sock monkeys are comfort creatures, like comfort foods. Mashed potatoes, pound cake, banana pudding, sock monkeys=Comfortable Miracles.

Since very few subjects are as fascinating to me as Myself, it was probably inevitable that I would eventually discover my forbearers. My mother’s ancestors and my father’s ancestors chose to come to Texas after stops in Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, among other states. Farther back, some lived in Ireland, Scotland and England. There is a lot I do not know. But now I understand why I was born in Dallas, and that the reason is more complex than the fact that my father happened to work in Grand Prairie at the time.

Life Groups
When I lived in England, I was a member of a British Baptist church. It had “house groups” that met in various members’ homes once a week. We prayed, sang, and studied scripture. We talked about our problems and laughed at our messy lives. Now, twenty years later, I attend a church that encourages “life groups.” Usually there aren’t more than 8 of us. I love the quietness, the candlelight, and the silliness. I love the diversity. I often think about my friends during the week.

Border Collies
We’re dog people but had never had a border collie. We inherited her. She needs Prozac, I’m quite sure, and I think about that a lot. Especially when I look at the fifth chewed-up rug.