Midge, GI Joe, Nuns, & Tonsils

As a child of the 60s, I had a front row seat to the changing roles of gender in society. Sometimes they were about serious stuff like Moms working – sometimes they were about things that didn’t really matter at all.

Mom in the living room, between bouts of tonsillitis

Mom in the living room, between bouts of tonsillitis

My mom had terrible problems with tonsilitis when we were young. Max and I got sick pretty often, we would give it to mom. We bounced back but she didn’t.  One of us would get sick and pass it on, about the time we all got well one of us would get sick again. It was a constant recurring cycle that only got worse once I started school. Our family doctor told her that a tonsilectomy was pretty serious for an adult, but was simple and safe for children. Max and I could have ours taken out at the same time, all we had to do was wait until Max was old enough and we could break the cycle.

I'm sure I was asked to show the photographer my tonsils in this shot

Here I am showing off my huge tonsils

I was in Kindergarten when the time came. I was at an age where I was all about playing with Barbie. I loved all the accessories. The first Barbie I had was a hand-me-down from the neighbor across the street. It was a Midge doll. I didn’t really care for her. She had brown hair and freckles, I thought she looked too much like me, I hated my freckles. My mom loved her for the same reason I hated her. My mom’s name was Barbie and she loved the idea of a fashion doll, so she was thrilled when Midge came our way.

Freckle-faced Midge - I couldn't wait to trade her in on a newer model

Freckle-faced Midge – I couldn’t wait to trade her in on a newer model

Skagg’s Drug Store rand a trade-in promotion when the new Barbies with the twisting waist came out. Bring in your old Barbie, and get the new one for a buck and a half. I knew mom liked Midge too much to let me trade her in so I managed to get Grandma to take me to trade her in for the newfangled twisty Barbie. Mom saw me with the new Barbie and I could tell she wasn’t happy that I made the trade, not because Midge was a wonderful doll that might be worth more than a discounted Barbie, mostly because she hoped having a beautiful doll with my features would be good for me. Me – I wanted the twisty waist and was glad to see the freckles gone.

Who wouldn't dump Midge for this new Twist-and-turn Barbie?

Who wouldn’t dump Midge for this new Twist-and-turn Barbie? Real eyelashes! Bending legs! 

Max had just gotten a GI Joe and I was smitten – I mean Joe came with all kinds of cool accessories. Guns, knives, goggles, scuba gear – you name it Joe had it. Next to Joe, Ken was a wimp. The thing that put him over the top for me was that Joe could do one thing Ken couldn’t – he could ride a horse. I guess Ken could as long as he rode sided-saddle with his legs sticking straight out, but how much fun was that? I was wishing that Skagg’s would have a Ken trade-in. I wanted a Joe! I asked my mom for one and she told me that GI Joes were only for boys. I just didn’t get that, after all why would it matter. I could play with Ken and he was a boy. Eventually I just started playing with one of Max’s Joes.

Not much of a manly man - Ken couldn't even ride a horse.

Not much of a manly man – Ken couldn’t even ride a horse.

What does all this have to do with tonsils? I’m getting there, I promise.

My brother and I went into the hospital together. It was a Catholic hospital and many of the nurses were nuns. I had never seen a nun before and my first impression was that they were kind of scary. As soon as we were admitted to the hospital they wanted a blood sample. I had never had anyone take blood before, and having a tall nun in a black habit come at with a huge needle freaked me out. She grabbed my arm so I pulled it away and locked my fingers together behind my head so that she could not get at the inside of my elbow. She called for help. Two more nuns, a doctor, and my mother came and forced my arm open while I kicked and screamed bloody murder. Max sat on the stool next to me wide-eyed watching this all play out. I think I was upside down facing the floor when they finally got my elbow open. Things had not started well.

Max and I - That's my new Twist-and-Turn Barbie

Max and I about tonsil time – That’s my new Twist-and-Turn Barbie

That night my Grandma came to see us after work. She would stay with us until we fell asleep. She brought some things to keep us occupied with her. She brought Max’s favorite GI Joe along with a new accessory kit. For me she brought me my very own Joe sailor with a scuba diving kit. I was ecstatic – so far it had all been worth it.

I traded in my tonsils for my very own GI Joe

I traded in my tonsils for my very own GI Joe

I could hardly sleep that night, not because I was having surgery in the morning, but because I couldn’t wait to wake up and play with my very own Joe. Sister Helen came in to get us ready to go to the operating room. I asked if Joe could go with me and she told me that he was a boys toy, I should be playing with a girls doll. I know I shot her a look, no nun was going to tell me what to play with. I hugged Joe close in case she decided to take him from me. Max and I both had our Joes as the wheeled us to the operating room. They told me to count backwards from a hundred and I think I might have gotten to 96 before I was out.

When I woke up I had the worst sore throat of my life. It hurt to even try to talk. Worse yet, Max had his Joe, but mine was nowhere to be found. The nuns asked me how I felt, but had no interest hearing about my missing Joe. They offered ice cream as a distraction – at least that’s what I thought at the time. No one thought that finding my Joe was a priority.

Have you seen me? I may have been kidnapped by nuns!

Have you seen me? I may have been abducted by nuns!

Grandma came by again to spend the evening with us, finally someone who understood the urgency of my situation! She hunted down that nun and got my Joe back for me. I think she may have given her a piece of her protestant mind while she was at it. I ate some ice cream and tucked Joe under my pillow for safe keeping. Grandma made sure all my accessories were safe – now I could go to sleep. Late that night Max woke up and needed to go to the restroom. I pushed the call button and a male nurse came into the room. Max insisted that a man couldn’t be a nurse, only girls were nurses. He would wait until morning when a proper nurse could be found.

"No - I want a real nurse!"

“No – I want a real nurse!”

In the morning Max, Joe, Joe, and I were discharged with sore throats and lots of accessories. Mom’s throat issues got a lot better, I developed a healthy skepticism of nuns, and I got my very own GI Joe.

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Just like Momma Used to Make

My mom was a seamstress and a pattern cutter. She was able to look at a dress in the store and go home and make me one just like it only better. Until I was about 11 or 12 she made almost all my clothes. At the time I wasn’t crazy about wearing home-made clothes – I longed for Levis and t-shirts, mom was giving me ruffles and lace.

Me and Max in our home made duds.

I think I was like a baby doll for my mom. She dressed me and curled my hair and generally fussed me up. By the time I started school I was mussing up those perfect outfits with shorts I wore underneath those skirts so I could hang upside down on the monkey bars. As I developed my own style I made myself less prissy by combining those crinolines with tennies or cowboy boots.

When I got my first Barbie she finally gave up trying to cover the tomboy in me and started decking out my fashion dolls instead. She once made my Barbie an amazing dress – it was pink satin and had an asymmetrical bodice that was off one shoulder. If Barbie did the splits you could lay out the skirt on the floor in a full circle – it was elegant in it’s simplicity, red carpet worthy, plus – it was reversible! My mother was a genius.

Barbie - sans that amazing dress

Barbie – sans that amazing dress

That Barbie dress was a masterpiece, but Mom had more up her sleeve. She could tailor menswear and she cut suit patterns. She took aim at making something very special for my brother’s GI Joe. When we all saw it we recoiled in horror. There were patch pockets on the chest and at the bottoms of the front of a jacket with incredibly long lapels. Below were slacks with a wide waistband and bell bottoms hemmed to expose just the soles of Joe’s combat boots. It was a sea of periwinkle polyester. Yes, it was a leisure suit.

This artist’s recreation of the heinousness that was that leisure suit

At the time I thought it was an abomination to upholster the most manly doll on the planet in baby blue polyester. Today I think I may want to reconsider my position.

Think about GI Joe. Was there ever a more carefully groomed man? His hair was cut so perfectly, it was almost like it was painted on. If he grew a beard each whisker was perfectly trimmed to a uniform length. His skin, silky smooth save for that scar worn like a mysterious badge of courage.

Every whisker groomed to perfection - check out that manicure!

Every whisker groomed to perfection – check out that manicure!

Look at his physique – definitely in shape, but lean and strong. Clearly he was working out regularly, probably free weights and either yoga or pilates to maintain flexibility. He’s cut but not bulky, definitely steroid free. Manicured and pedicured in the most manly fashion. Chest hair and gold chains? Not on Joe, he was waxing away that chest and back hair decades before manscaping was invented. GI Joe was built a lot like James Bond – I’m thinking the Daniel Craig era Bond.

1970's Manscaping

1970’s era Manscaping

He would have been comfortable in fashion and fit enough to save the world with the action team.

Now that I think about it, I believe that GI Joe may have been the world’s first metrosexual.