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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Lorri Anna Banana

I got my middle name, my love of antiques, and my smile from my Grandma. She was Minnie Anna Carter. As a little girl she started calling me Lorri Anna Banana. Soon Mom and Pops could be heard calling “Lorri Anna Banana” when it was time for me to come inside and eat dinner. It was my second nickname and to date it is my favorite.

Banana – as in Lorri Anna Banana

When I started kindergarten my mom had a toddler and an infant in tow. She had not had the time to sit me down and fill me in on the basic facts every kid should know. I didn’t know my colors, or my phone number, or how to tie my shoes. I had never played with crayons or even picked up a pencil.

On my first day of school Grandma came to the house to watch the boys while Mom walked me down the street to the elementary school. Mom showed me where the crossing guard was and how to find my class. She told me to pay close attention because the next day I would need to make my own way to school. This was a big responsibility, at this time I wasn’t allowed to cross the street, but the next morning I would make the three block walk on my own.

Mom took me to my classroom and my teacher Mrs. Anderson greeted us at the door. She directed me to a table with crayons and paper. Mom said goodbye and walked back home. I sat there staring at the crayons until a red-haired girl named Connie sat down next to me. I watched her as she gripped the crayon and drug the tip across the paper – I was astounded! I was also embarrassed that I had no idea how to do what she was doing. As I saw the other kids all drawing with ease I was almost afraid to try. I picked up a crayon and tried to mimic the grip I saw the other kids using, but I dared not touch it to the paper.

Crayons – exciting and new!

So right off the bat, I was traumatized by my inexperience with crayons. As the classroom filled with children and parents departed we settled in to start our first day. Mrs. Anderson told us a little bit about herself and we learned about the flag and we repeated the Pledge of Allegiance. Next she got out her grade book and took roll. I listened for my name to be called, ready to respond, “Here!” but Mrs. Anderson didn’t seem to have my name in her book. She asked if anyone has not heard their name, I was the only one. I felt like I was starting to stand out in all the wrong ways. She asked me what my name was and I told her, “Lorri Anna Banana”. Mrs. Anderson asked if I was sure and I said, “Of course, my grandma told me that was my name.” I was starting to get irritated by now, why didn’t this woman have things figured our, clearly I was in the wrong class – anyone could see that. She asked, “Are you sure your name isn’t Lorri Carter?” I replied, “Don’t you think if I had a name like that, that someone would have told me?”

Here I am at 4 years old, blissfully unaware of the existence of crayons and my last name.

Clearly this woman was confused, I was in the wrong class. I walked out the door and back down the three blocks to my house. Mom was stunned, “What are you doing home?” I told her I was in the wrong class and went to find a pencil and paper to see if I could figure out this drawing thing.

The next morning Mom walked me to school again. We stopped by the office and double checked on what classroom I belonged in. We were directed to the same class. Mrs. Anderson was waiting for us in the doorway. “Mrs. Carter – oops, Mrs. Banana, I presume.” I left them in the doorway and tackled those crayons. I was ready to draw, and nothing was going to stop me.

Only a year later and I knew my name, my address, my colors, and how to tie my shoes.

So on my second day of school I made my first work of art and learned that my surname was not Banana.