Grandma on boundaries

Grandma Took No Crap painting by Je' Czaja
Grandma Took No Crap
painting by Je’ Czaja

Being the only girl amongst sixteen neighborhood boys, I did all the things the boys did and I did a lot of them better. I climbed trees, fought wars, caught snakes and played a mean game of baseball.

In those days girls weren’t allowed to play in Little League and they weren’t supposed to do things like go fishing. They said I was a tomboy, but I said I was a Je’-girl and I would do anything I wanted.

Yet nobody can do anything they want.

The big difference I noticed between the boys and I was that I always asked myself: “How would I feel if I was (that frog, my little brother, the new kid) and I treated the frog, brother or kid like I would want to be treated. The boys did not seem to ask that question, so it’s a good thing I was there to civilize them.

My aunties saw other differences, however, mostly involving clothes and hair. I knew grown women wore shirts, but I was seven and flat-chested as my cousins-what’s the big deal? But it was a big deal to my aunties, who had a good talk with my mom and after that I had to have my hair braided every day and wear shirts.

At this point, Grandma stepped in. She was a tiny, pretty woman with the fragrance of tea roses and the toughness of a cast iron frying pan. She had a rule: “This far. No farther.” She agreed that I should be tamed a little, because we all need to be tamed a little, but no one should be completely crushed. She combed out my long hair every morning, pulling the comb through the snarls, while I whined. “You have to suffer to be beautiful,” she would say. I didn’t want to be beautiful; I wanted to be free.

Once when my Mom was in the hospital, my uncle Sarge, a tough old Marine, tried to take over the household and issued an order that I should do all the housework since I was “the girl.” Uh oh. Grandma got that glint in her eye, put her hands on her hips and said, “She’ll have housework all her life when she’s grown. It won’t kill these boys-or you either!-to wash a dish or sweep a floor. Jeanine, you go outside and play.”

Which I did-hair neatly braided and shirt securely buttoned and thinking about my Grandma, who wore corsets and stockings and petticoats (This far) and faced down great big tough guys when they were clearly wrong (No farther!)

This far. No farther. A very good rule.

This is a chapter from The Magic Barn, volume two 

Fight poverty in the rural south: Buy my book. 🙂


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