Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Body and Head

I was in the Methodist Youth Fellowship. Every teen in our village was. We joined the Greater Lowell girls’ basketball church league, and because there were so few girls in our MYF, I got to play. My parents purchased a protective mask for my glasses – thick leather and heavy iron, like half an old-fashioned catcher’s mask, the only one of it kind in the league. The mask and my extreme lack of athletic grace made me stand out in the crowd. I hadn’t known this at the time, but a year later I was at Mount Holyoke College when another girl who had been in the league, playfully told me why she recognized me immediately. At MHC we had to take physical education for two years. We had our choice of activities, and one semester she and I took Modern Dance. One at a time we were to leap across the gym floor in Martha Graham style, and as I was finishing I looked up to see my friend and others laughing uncontrollably, and the realization came to me that I was a comic figure indeed. Strange to say, I never minded these indignities. I always tried hard and I wanted to win, but I wasn’t sad about my lack of ability.

My parents bought me skis one Christmas, but I seldom used them because I had so little fun, spending most of the time trying to get up from the snow after I’d fallen. I would come home soaked. Skating was painful – my ankles and face ached, and there again I spent most of the time getting up off the ice.

My father was a powerful swimmer – he told us of his many feats, swimming across a large lake, winning races. He had been a swimming instructor and a lifeguard. He tried hard to teach me to swim the conventional way, but he couldn’t. So he cleverly devised a stroke I could manage. This stroke amused onlookers. I complained to my father that my brother was allowed to go swimming alone at an age a year earlier than I had been allowed, but after he explained why, I didn’t argue further, because I could see it pained him to have to tell me that Robin was a strong swimmer and I wasn’t. I don’t think I ever really minded not being graceful and athletic. Somehow my parents had brought me up to be comfortable in my own skin, at least in that regard. In the physical aspects of life that really count, I do fine – had my three babies easily, breast-fed them easily. I’ve been healthy all my life – just one bout of pneumonia and one small cancer removed from my breast put me in the hospital.

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