In May, just as school was out when I was in 7th grade, I was the next to shortest girl in my class, about 5’2”, I think. Of course, we would compare ourselves to each other in millimeters so there were a lot of girls just a ‘hair’ taller than me. I was a quiet, shy little girl with good grades, and those four good friends told of in earlier chapters. When we went to junior high in the fall (my sister reminded me we called it junior high, not middle school as it is called now) for 8th and 9th grade, I was 5’7” and three quarters, where I was to remain the rest of my life (until a couple of years ago when to my surprise, I found out I was 5’6” due to aging and bone compression in the spine). I was a tall, lanky thing who towered over most of the other girls and ALL the boys who obviously hadn’t reached puberty over the summer. I soon just told everyone I was 5’8” as when they would say, “How tall are you?” with that surprised tone I learned to hate, and I would say, “5’7” and three-fourths”, they would say, “Oh, you’re taller than that!” No argument. I guess they just heard the five seven part. So I acquiesced and told them what they wanted to hear, case closed, no more arguments.
Anyway, I hunched over my books while walking in order to lose myself in the ranks until my Father’s sister, Aunt Gladys, told me one time when we were visiting, in a sharp tone, I might add, “MaryHelenWitt, stand up straight! You are too pretty a girl to hunch over!” From then on, I carried myself tall and proud, and people have always thought I was taller even than I said. Even my own sister, Linda said to me recently, “I always thought you were taller than that.” It has made me feel when people questioned me that they thought I was shaving off inches for a reason. I was thin too, and I do find that thinner people look taller, and I teased my dark hair high, so maybe that was it. Then it bothered me, but finally, as I became an adult, I learned to appreciate height, and the admiring looks it brought me, and not to mind when people thought I was taller than the tape measure said. (Although truthfully, many times when they questioned me, I would re-measure myself to see if I had grown unbeknownst to me). Taller people can also carry more pounds as I came to appreciate in later life.
However, for a fourteen year old girl who is dying to have a boy notice her, and they are looking at someone they didn’t have to look up to; it was a cross to bear! I did find one friend who was about a ¼ inch shorter than me, so we could still put our heads together and whisper and laugh as we walked to classes, that helped. And HER boyfriend was in high school, so we could both look up to him in more ways than one!
My friend and I stuffed our bras with tissue, anxiously awaiting the day when we wouldn’t have to do that. Unfortunately, that tissue fell out at the most inopportune times and a girl could be lopsided all day if she wasn’t careful. Don’t remember a whole lot about school either, except one World History Class taught by a man who looked as if he had lived most of it. Looking back, he probably wasn’t more than fifty, but to our fresh eyes; he looked as if he was going to dry up and blow away! And he brought to his classes the same dry delivery; in the late afternoon class it was not hard to drift off into a cloud of daydreams and almost dozing. It was amazing to me that the class was so uninteresting as I loved the words that leapt off the page at me, and could easily dream of living in any time we were studying. But alas, our lectures and learning were reduced to the dates, names, places of the fascinating stories. I still remember the row I sat in that class and looking to my left, could see out the window, the bright sunshiny day beckoning me to live life and not study it! The drone of bees pollinating the flowers outside the open window, adding to the stupor we all fell into.
At home, my mother was pregnant with my third brother, Jack, the fact of his gender unknown at the time, of course which is strange to today’s young people, but there were no sonograms whatsoever. My brother, Raymond, had been born when I was in 7th grade and 12 years of age, and had been the delight of our lives. He was a darling blue eyed baby and basked in all our attention, grinning all the time. The same grin he was to carry into adulthood. I loved to carry him on my hip and play with him. At times, I “watched” him for my mother as she completed her chores in the house, but I was never really responsible for him as I was to become for him and the other babies to come as I got older. So now, two years later, we awaited another baby. I began to get a glimpse of how this would change my life when my mother had to go into the hospital two months before her due date for bed rest. This is one of the times I wish there was someone to ask exactly what was happening. I just remember being told she had to rest or “the baby could die.”
Memory as we all know with age becomes sketchy and I don’t remember much of the days while she was in the hospital and who took care of the younger children during the day. Perhaps my grandmother? But she and my father weren’t the best of friends, so can’t imagine that she stayed there. Maybe she took Raymond to her house? Maybe we had one of the myriad baby-sitters that floated in and out of our lives. I do remember going to see my mother in the hospital; who took us? That’s not in the picture; just walking in and seeing her sitting in bed. She looked fine to me; I wasn’t worried.
And worry was not necessary although when Jack David Witt made his appearance on Oct.4, 1957, just 16 days shy of Raymond’s 2nd birthday, he did weigh third to the least of all the six babies my mother had. But that was still 9lbs and change. He and my mother were fine, came home, and my life changed radically. I guess at 12 and one baby; my mother must have hung up all the diapers on the line, folded them and changed them but when I grew those extra inches, I was lucky enough to be able to reach the clothesline, evidently smarter enough to learn the intricate folding process, and obviously old enough to be trusted to change BOTH babies as Raymond was still in diapers too. I remember once, rinsing out one of the cloth diapers in the commode (no, pampers had NOT been invented yet) before dropping in the diaper pail, thinking, “I bet Elizabeth Taylor doesn’t have to rinse out dirty diapers!”
So life in our small house continued although we were lucky enough to remodel the one car garage attached to the house, and my sister, Linda and I had that room for awhile. I felt very modern as it was painted a pale aqua and the curtains were pink, aqua, and brown print and we had matching bedspreads. It was the one and only time in my childhood that I had a decorated room that I was proud to show my friends. Soon though we would give it up to share the largest bedroom that my brothers were in so that we could put a crib in for the next baby, born two years later.
Meanwhile, I walked to and from Stockard Junior High with my brother in Ninth Grade (my brother, Buddy was a year younger than me and a year behind me in school, so for Eighth grade, we had walked to the end of the long block we lived on, and at the corner of Ravinia, he turned north to Leila P. Cowart, and I turned south to the junior high. But when he was in eighth and I in ninth, we could walk together as long as I could get him out of bed. Our mother always went to work before it was time for us to walk to school, and Buddy was very hard to wake. I may be repeating myself from earlier chapters, so forgive me kids, if so, but I would have to get a sopping wet washcloth, throw it on his face, and then jump back because he would come up swinging! He wouldn’t stay mad at me though; when he would come to and see me standing there, he would grin, just like Raymond….and our father, the three Witt men with blue eyes, and the famous Witt grin. Jack had it too, his eyes were just brown. Of all six of us, three were blue-eyed and three were brown-eyed, varying shades of hair. Mine was always very dark brown almost black, as was Jack’s; we both had brown eyes. Raymond and Buddy had dark brown hair, blue eyes, and Linda, blue eyes, blonde hair as a child and Susan, brown eyes, blonde hair as a child. Mother and Daddy both had dark hair; mother’s appearing black like mine, and Daddy’s was black; Mother with brown eyes, and Daddy blue.
So this two year’s of my life was fairly uneventful; I remember that as I’ve said in previous stories, we all sat down to eat together at night; the fare was plain and simple but there was always something to eat. One time though, Mother counted out change to buy a lb. of beans, and a lb of ground meat, and sent me to the store with explicit warnings NOT to buy anything else so I know money was tight. One night, we sat down to eat, and Jack, bright black eyes of a 2 year old looked over the table and said, “Where’s the beans?” Mother used beans so much to stretch the meal and make it filling that he didn’t think it was a meal until the beans were on the table!
One night, I got in serious trouble when Raymond was about 17 months old. I was in our small bathroom and gazing into the medicine cabinet mirror as was my wont to do; hoping I guess if I stared enough I could perform a type of miracle and would look like Elizabeth Taylor! Anyway, Raymond was crawling around behind me as he usually did, trailing behind as babies do, and he crawled up on the commode seat. I looked over just as he lost his balance and fell….onto the porcelain tub; his chin hit the side of the bathtub, and blood spouted from his lip. He started screaming, of course, and I picked him up, got a washcloth and wet it and was attempting to clean him up, but of course, he would have none of it, and was squirming and crying and trying to get away from me. My father suddenly appeared in the small space and towering over me, said, “What happened?” As I stammered and tried to push past the fear of my father’s anger and answer, he roared again, “Why weren’t you watching him?” Having no answer to that, I sat dejected with my head down. My mother came to all of our rescue. She took Raymond from me, patted his mouth with the wet cloth, saw it was just a small cut, and said, “He’s ok”, giving me a gentle look and slightly moving my father out of the small bathroom. She seemed to always be able to make any situation disperse like that, without saying much. Unfortunately, for myself and my children, I was more like my father in terms of always having something to say. I inherited my mother’s gentle nature in a lot of ways, but not her way of dissuading without words.
Of course, my mother did have a limit, and it happened also about this same time in my life. As I went through all the momentous changes in my body and my life (well, momentous to me)!, I became quite rebellious in tone at least to my mother. I had quite a bit of repressed anger and it felt safe to let some of it out in front of my mother, never my father, of course! Now I know that a lot of what went on with me was hormonal as I entered puberty and stood on the threshold of womanhood, but then I was just at a loss to know who this stranger was that occupied my body. I never knew when I woke up in the morning who I would be? So one time, my mother either asked me or told me to do something and I must have said something very rude as I was sitting in a chair reading, and she was standing over me, and she just reached over, and SLAPPED MY FACE! I couldn’t believe it, but I do remember not even getting very mad at the time, so I must have known I deserved it. It was the one and only time my mother ever hit me. Oh, except for the whipping when I was five or so with a small branch off a tree. (Now readers and my family, forgive me if I’ve already told this, but don’t think I have. If I have and you’ve read it, or will read again in the future, I apologize; just toomuch trouble to stop writing and go read and besides it’s a prerogative of getting old that you’re allowed to repeat yourself).
When I was five, I had done something that I don’t remember, and my mother went out to the back yard and pulled a very small, slender branch from a tree growing there and stripped it. I had followed her out either because she told me to, or because I was curious, and she turned me around and began to slap at my bottom with the branch which was limber and whipped around. I had on a full dress and the stick ineffectually hit my dress and made it flutter around my legs, and tickled me! I began to laugh, and oh, my mother’s face when she saw that. My mistake. She said, “I’ll give you something to laugh about, young lady!” And pulled up my dress OUTSIDE IN THE BACK YARD, and applied the limb to my backside. My panties were cotton and thin, and my bottom began to sting! Between the stinging and the mortification of having the neighbors see my punishment and my underwear, the required tears began to flow, and that was that. Only remorse was needed by my mother, it seemed. She told me that she didn’t like to punish me like that, and if I would do what I was told; it wouldn’t have to happen again.
Evidently, I had been the requisite good little girl for at least the next nine years for my mother hadn’t had to use corporal punishment until the night she slapped my face. Funny isn’t it that I can’t remember either time what I did or said to make my mother lose her temper? But it never happened again, although trust me, in my teen age years; she should have popped me many more times! I guess that old saying that parents say, “This hurts me more than it hurts you” was true for her, and she chose not to hurt herself again!
So one thing I need to tell on myself about that I didn’t get punished for was that same night that I was sitting in the chair and got slapped; I was reading a book I wasn’t supposed to. Had always been a voracious reader and had read lots of books in my parents bookcase that would have been off limits to me had they known. My mother was reading the controversial novel “Peyton Place” by Grace Metalious. There was a lot of hype about it and even in my 1950’s protected world, my friends and I had heard about it. One day, I picked up my mother’s paperback copy and started reading it. My mother jerked it out of my hands and told me in no uncertain terms that it was not ok for me to read it! I told my friend Deanna, and even though she really was not a reader, it most certainly fueled our curiosity. In Deanna’s family, there were only two children, and her father owned a small grocery store, so she always seemed to have spending money, which I didn’t. Deanna and I went to the local shopping center, to the drugstore, and bought 2 copies of “Peyton Place”. We wrapped it in a brown paper book cover like all our school books were wrapped in, and read it everywhere, under our parents noses, in school, on the bus. Truthfully, I learned all I would ever be told about sex from that book, most of it quite shocking to me, and today I know that my mother was right; it was not ok for a 15 year old girl to read that book!
Another Deanna story I had was that she and I went shopping one day to the department store in the shopping center and bought a pair of shorts each; matching, short shorts in a blue plaid, and they were very short -the style of the day. They cost $3.99 apiece and I thought my mother would croak when I came home with them. She couldn’t believe that I had spent that much on the shorts, albeit it was my own money (from where I have no clue) and was really angry with me, but I kept them, although I had bought the same size Deanna did, and she was a little smaller than me so they were not comfortable to wear, but stubbornly, wear them I did. Funny the things we remember and the things we don't. So now I am moving into time to go to high school, and I will save that for another chapter.