Responding to daughter Judy’s comments yesterday reminded me of something. I mentioned “wetting my pants” while reading her comments and that at my age, a remark like that can be recklessly foolhardy. Next thing I know, one of my daughters might run out to obtain my first box of Depends.
Actually it won’t be my first. I have previously suffered the indignities of incontinence. I was incontinent till I was almost a year and a half old. Diapers will be no stranger to me.
After I stopped wearing them, there was the occasional mishap, including twice in kindergarten and once in first grade. I can’t remember much else about kindergarten or first grade, but those events are vividly embedded in my memory.
I attended St. Patrick’s School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. As did husband Gene, sister Joan, brothers Jimmy, Leo and Richard, brothers-in-law Don and Bob and sister-in-law Lorraine. We weren’t all there at the same time, of course, so I like to believe that none of them were ever directly exposed to my days of shame.
In the 1930s, kindergarten wasn’t the fun-and-games playground it is today. It was more like an educational sweat shop, and it was one we attended from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., five days a week. We had no winter or spring breaks that I can remember. By the end of the year, we were expected to be reading fluently, and our “counting” skills would make today’s Algebra I teachers squeal with pleasure.
I can’t remember what the boys wore in kindergarten but the girls wore uniforms: a dark blue gabardine middy top with a long red tie. The skirt was pleated wool serge and to top it off we were required to wear long lisle stockings pulled up well over our knees and held up with round garters. Kindergartners were dressed for business and we knew it.
Because of my September 6 birthday I was on the young side in the class. And it may surprise you to know that I was a short child. Very short. (This was long before I reached age 14 and commenced the explosive growth spurt after which my height peaked out at 5’2”.) I was also excessively bashful. It wasn’t till second grade that I was able to make eye contact with anyone in the school.
As for our kindergarten teacher, kindly Sister Mary Divine Heart (her true name), I was appalled and terrified. She dressed like a penguin with a square hood on her head and beads on a chain that hung from her waist to the floor and rattled when she walked. After my mother abandoned me to her, I tried to become as invisible as possible. I would have tried to take a seat in the back of the room, but, of course, this was parochial school. You didn’t just “take” a seat. You were ”assigned” a seat, and to my horror, it was at the front of the class.
There were many rules to learn. Among them was this: if you had to go out of the classroom to get a drink of water, you were to raise your hand with one finger – your index finger – extended up. Furthermore, if you had the misfortune to have to go to the you-know-where, you were to raise your hand with both the index and middle fingers extended up. I kid you not.
When it comes to the names of the bodily functions, this is where the expression “Number Two” derives from. The nuns originated it, but it has evolved into a popular misconception. Many people think that when you say “I have to go Number One”, you mean “I have to pee-pee.” No. It really means “I want to get a drink of water”. Or if you say, “I have to go Number Two”, you may think you are communicating “I have to poop”, or more coarsely, “I have to take a dump” but this is a common fallacy, The fact is that Number Two could mean EITHER poop OR pee-pee. The nuns didn’t differentiate.
To the good Sisters, Number One meant you want to go to the drinking fountain. Number Two meant you want to go to the bathroom. It was all about location, location, location. They wanted to know where you were going to BE, not what you going to be doing there.
In my cowardice, I wanted no part of it. If I raised my hand for anything, it would surely draw attention to me, a condition which I tried to avoid at all costs. I soon got used to being thirsty, but the other problem was more complicated. No matter how desperate I was, I could not raise those two fingers. If I did, everyone might look at me, and worse yet, they would know WHY THOSE TWO FINGERS WERE IN THE AIR. And just because they weren’t, the inevitable would happen . . .
Oh, the ignominy of it. In my mind’s eye, I still picture the puddle on the floor. In the front of the room. In front of Sister and the whole class. Wearing my wet wool serge pleated skirt. And my soggy lisle stockings.
I wish I could say this only happened once. I wish. I never did muster the courage to raise my hand, but like all good kindergarten and first grade teachers, the Sisters eventually learned to recognize my version of the tinkle dance. Whenever they did, from then on, I was quickly and quietly escorted out of the classroom.
And that’s how it was in the good old days. I hope I can promise it will never happen again, but at my age, it all Depends.