My first experience with the unpredictability of the great outdoors, the time when I fell in that snow drift at nine months old, didn’t deter me in the least. From that day on, weather permitting, and Momma permitting, I was outside every minute I could be. I needed plenty of room to flip and jump and roll. Sometimes I would roll alone…down a grassy hill or off the corn crib loft into a pile of hay. Sometimes I would roll around with a pet or with one of my brothers…and sometimes I would roll and tussle with some other little boy.
“Don‘t you know that boys don‘t like girls that look and act like boys?” My mean sister Betsy would scold. “Momma tell her that she‘s getting too old to keep being so stupid. She needs to stop before she embarrasses herself and embarrasses us all!”
“Katie, I don’t agree with Betsy, you don’t embarrass us. But it’s true that you might have to find out the hard way that most boys don’t like rough girls. But remember that rough and tough are not the same. You can still be a lady and wear britches. You can still know how to survive but seem like you could use some help. The right kind of boys will offer you help when you need it. And remember, it‘s ok to accept help even if you don‘t really need it. A man needs to feel needed. That’s about the best gift you can give a man. ” Momma smiled at me, and Betsy and Sharon huffed loud sighs of disgust and rolled their eyes, furious that Momma had not agreed with them and the way they saw me. First Betsy, and then Sharon following suit as always, noisily stomped out of the kitchen.
Momma didn’t mind that I wasn’t ready to trade in my coveralls for a dress, but she warned that as long as I showed that I was tough, that boys were constantly going to be challenging me to races and arm wrestling and even full body, down in the dirt brawls.
“Even good boys don’t mean to, but I think it is human nature for all boys to want a girl to know their place. It’s not something you should take personally, boys are just prideful… especially when it comes to physical games… and they sure don’t want anybody to be a witness to their weakness. Smart and confident boys will think it’s alright for you to be beside them. They will admire you and respect you for who you are…even if you are strong. But no boy wants you to be out in front of them. As long as you can out run them or out wrestle them, they are going to keep trying to pull you down and put you where they think your place should be. If they can’t do it by force they will try to do it by wits. Beware of both types. And be scared of the one who insists that your place is beneath or behind them. One day when you are older you need to make sure you choose a man who can let you be beside. One day you will meet a man who you feel safe letting be in charge sometimes. If somebody really loves you the right way, then you can know that they are going to look out for you… that their intentions are good. It’s alright to not have to be the boss with the right man. If you are with the right man, you will be able to trust him because you will know that he cares about you as much or even more than he does himself!” I was pretty sure I didn’t want to hear anymore of this talk… I didn’t want to think about growing up or choosing a man.
“Please don’t roll your eyes at me, young lady. I mean it!” Momma was adamant that I hear her on this. “ God made us to be equally yoked…two side by side. Working together…the weight of the task divided equally. No one is greater. We might be different and have our own roles that compliment, but a man and a woman are supposed to be joined together side by side… together as a pair. That isn‘t a burden either. It‘s a gift.”
When I was young, I didn’t know what my Momma was talking about. I didn’t want to be equal to any old boy. I wanted to be better than all of them and I never even considered anything else… Maybe it’s true that “pride go-eth before the fall”. Anyway, at that time I just knew that it was fortunate that there weren’t many boys dumb enough to challenge me in speed or strength…but a couple did keep coming back again and again. Usually the first time a boy got beat he couldn’t believe it. He figured it was a lucky coincidence for me and an unlucky accident for him. So he would try again and sometimes again. Some boys just don’t ever know when to give up.
I wish I could say that I felt sorry for those boys who kept trying to get the best of me, but they should have been able to tell that I would rather die trying to win than to lose. Some folks that didn’t know me or my family gossiped and criticized, “Why would a nice little girl’s family allow and encourage such behavior in their baby daughter?” People that did know us understood that I had a gift…even if it was a bit odd…and it would be a waste not to use it. “Not let Katie race and wrestle!” My Granddaddy would say, “Why that would be akin to puttin a light under a bushel…and that isn’t gonna happen under my watch. That girl has a light that I for one want to see shine! If nothin else it is entertainin!”
“ …You are just not normal. In fact you’re a freak. You should go and join a freak show!” Betsy liked to encourage my leaving the family every chance she got. Momma and Daddy decided that I must be the way that I was because I had an important lesson to teach… or learn. Granddaddy and Tommy figured that any boy who would try to beat up a girl in the first place was gonna get somehow some way exactly what they deserved.