In 1962 I was a 10-year-old girl, spending my time doing the same things my contemporaries were doing in rural Arkansas. It was the year Chubby Checker’s The Twist hit the radio waves and a Catholic sat in the White House. My dad declared that the whole country had gone plumb crazy.
Nine months of the year I went to school, riding the bus about an hour each direction and reading my way through the miles. My favorite books included Island of the Blue Dolphins, Heidi, and Old Yeller. I was a master at hopscotch and jacks and also excelled at spelling, hula-hooping, and jumping rope. I could beat anyone who challenged me in the best card game ever: Authors. Television shows I routinely watched included Dr. Kildare (I had a secret crush on Richard Chamberlain.), Bonanza, and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. The Disney show aired on Sunday nights, so usually I saw only half of it before having to leave for evening church.
Sunday mornings at our house were as predictable as the muddy roads that followed a big rain. I was the oldest of four children and therefore was responsible for helping my mother get my younger siblings ready for church. My 5-year-old brother was the easiest to get ready on Sunday morning but the hardest to keep ready. Mom or I helped him get into his Sunday pants, shirt and shoes, rubbed a little Butch wax into his flat-top haircut, and searched his person for contraband such as frogs, whistles, and paper rolls of caps from his cap gun. In decent weather, he was then sent outside with strict instructions: “Stay on the porch and don’t get dirty until the rest of us are ready to leave.”
My baby sister had to be wriggled into lacy anklets and shiny Sunday shoes (black in winter and white starting on Easter Sunday) and then wrestled into a frilly dress with tiny buttons down the back and a big bow that had to be tied to perfection. Matching short bloomers were pulled on over a fresh diaper and plastic pants; barrettes were fastened into her fine blonde hair. Her hands and face were wiped again and her pink cheeks were kissed repeatedly. We couldn’t resist.
Then my 7-year-old sister and I concentrated on getting ourselves ready. Baths and shampoos had been taken care of the night before. We had also chosen the next morning’s outfit, shined our patent leather shoes with the middle torn out of a biscuit, and washed any needed hair ribbons. The ribbons had dried overnight wrapped around a drinking glass so they would be wrinkle-free and ready for use the next morning.
After washing my face and hands, brushing my teeth, and “fixing” my hair, I then chose the appropriate slip to wear. Selecting the right slip required a certain amount of deliberation. If my dress had a full skirt, I chose a can-can, also called a crinoline, a stiff, heavily starched, birdcage-type affair that assured that the skirt would flare appropriately. For slimmer-fitting dresses, I had a half-slip, which was made of nylon, had an elastic waistband and simply prevented anyone from “seeing through my skirt.” If I chose a full-slip, my mother used a needle and thread to tack the slip’s straps to the inside of my dress at the shoulders, lest anyone get a glimpse of the straps.
Exposing a slip strap was a social faux pas equivalent to letting one’s slip show beneath the hem of her skirt. A girl was discreetly informed that this breach of etiquette had occurred by hearing whispered into her ear the words, “It’s snowing down south.” I as yet had no need for a bra but was certainly looking forward to the day when I would. Those Jane Russell Cross-Your-Heart bra commercials on TV were not wasted on this pre-adolescent girl. I also eagerly anticipated owning my first pair of nylon stockings, which wouldn’t come for several more years. We had never heard of pantyhose.
As we left the house, I checked my mom’s stockings for runs and her hair for any “holes” in the back. She checked the corners of each child’s eyes for sleep, the edges of their mouths for crusted food and their fingernails for dirt. We then stepped out onto the front porch. There Mom persuaded my brother that he could not take with him those things he had been playing with for the past half hour: an old boat anchor, his safari helmet, his cap gun, and Dad’s hunting dog. She then re-tucked his shirt, wiped the dust off his shoes, and gave his face a good spit bath. After patting him down once more for concealed objects, Mom herded the four of us into the family vehicle for the two-minute ride to church. She deserved a gold medal.
1 Samuel 16:7 tells us, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In 1962, my mother had a genuine concern for both the inside and outside of each of her children. I am glad she did.
Today Mom still worships in the same stone building whose every cranny I investigated as a child. She sits on the same wooden pew that has on its back the marks left by her teething babies. The faith she instilled in my siblings and me resides in our hearts to this day.
We still clean up pretty nicely, too.