My Life in Shorthand — Chapter 5

by | May 7, 2021

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MINISERIES

I was excited to move to a new place and happy to be back on an Army Base. I later learned that was probably due to the maturity level of Army Brats as they are lovingly referred to by all. After the miserable year of having only 1/2 of my family, in other words stuck with only my mother, it would feel better to have my daddy-O back.

Another reason it was fun to move was that was the ONLY time we vacationed as a family. And we always stopped in Colorado where my beloved Great Aunt Allie and even better my Great Uncle Floyd lived. They were the closest I had to grandparents as all mine were deceased by the time I landed on earth.

Memories of my uncle had always been so positive, but according to my mother, I melted his cold hard scary heart. Story goes that as a wee liddle tot, I liked to kiss all the portraits hanging on the walls good night. Once during a rare visit, my uncle teased me that he only loved me “this much”. He held his fingers an inch apart. I did not respond to that ‘dis” until it was time to kiss everyone and every picture good night. I did not kiss uncle Floyd. When asked why, I said “cuz he only loves me this much.” The family erupted in laughter, but Uncle Floyd never messed with me again. In fact he would even play dolls with me in the gutter outside one of our houses, and that memory is so strong it is the earliest one i have.

All that plus Uncle Floyd had an adding machine and how I loved pushing buttons! I would sit in his finished basement and tap the keys for HOURS! This was the same man that only let my Mother use 2 inches of water to bath in when she visited during her college breaks, but I could go through a whole roll of adding paper and he did not mind at all. I think he is who got me interested in architecture too. He had been a successful building contractor his whole life, even building the house we visited about every other summer. I remember looking through books and magazines all about Frank Lloyd Wright he had stored. I later realized how many things in their lovely home were inspired or directly taken from the famous architect himself! (including the house being PINK!) Imagine this gruff old penny pincher patriarch having the ONLY pink house in all of a tough town called Pueblo Colorado. He and my great aunt never had children of their own, but they always had my heart, well except that one night.

He also gave me my 1st pair of roller skates, the tinny kind with a key for some unknown reason. What was that key for anyway??!!

I had no way to know it back then, but that visit, on our way to Az. would end up being the last time I ever saw my dear Uncle Floyd.

We got to Ft. Huachuca, Az a bit too early and our Army house was not ready. The house we ended up moving all our stuff into was far smaller than expected and then sprung a leak the 5th day we were there! Here we are in the desert, in the summer, no a/c and a bubbling brook sprung up in the middle of the living room, thereby ruining all of Mother’s beloved furniture. So we had to move again. This for me was exciting. I was about to go into 6th grade, what did i know about hard work? (nothing is the exact right answer)

One of the many benefits to living on base is that chances are we would already know some of the neighbors, from being stationed at other bases together.

One night after being invited to dinner 4 or 5 houses down from the “new” (dry) house my big sister and I walked home before the adults did. We literally BUMPED into a giant dog, or so we thought. It was a DEER! Many of the neighbors had salt-licks as they were called for the deer. That was quite the introduction for me to the amazing amount of wildlife I would learn to enjoy by being SO far away from EVERYTHING!

There was one town outside the Base, Sierra Vista, otherwise NOTHING for 60 miles. To get a chocolate chip ice cream cone as had been a weekly ritual, took 120 miles round trip. We still did it! Maybe not as often. Gradually we learned to like plain chocolate since Dairy Queen was all that Sierra Vista had.

This also meant that there was not an orthodontist for even more miles away, so having had braces put on my teeth early all went for naught, when all we could do was have them removed, no retainer, nothing.

But the benefits of desert-living far outweighed what was too far away to partake.

Every other weekend my dad and i would rent the same 2 horses and off we would go, with the longest trip being back to our house! We positioned the horses so when Mother looked out the window all she could see at 1st were 2 horse heads! being the tried and true city gal she was, did not think our prank was as fun as we did!

I was SO far up on that mellow horse, and I know one is suppose to hold on with all their might using leg muscles, but still, my not being able to reach the horn on the saddle never stopped being fearful. I never stopped riding, and i never told anyone my fears, and i never fell off. But that fear stayed with me.

When school started I fit in seamlessly. I made friends at school quickly, but we did not live within walking distance to any of my peers because my father’s rank was high. Most people had children younger than my folks did. I was born rather late.

I often overheard grown-ups and medical people say that is why i had short arms, but also about this time was when I heard the word Thalidomide for the 1st time. It had maybe been said when I was in DuPont Institute, but I was too young to comprehend much.

So I got lonely at home; thus started my campaign to get a dog! Father was all on board, but to Mother dogs were dirty. (So was having a fire in a fireplace). To say my Mother was tidy would be like saying the sun is warm to the touch.

I think I mentioned i was spoiled? So you know I got the dog, but like anything I got it was the one my Mother wanted, same as the clothes I wore, same as the bedroom decor. I could have all the clothes i wanted and the nicest bedspread, but Mother had to pick them out.

I would have LOVED a dog that could go on LONG walks, that could catch a frisbee, that had fur i could brush…Mother got a dachshund! I did get to name it.

My sister had affectionately called me “shortstuff” for years. I liked that, so we named this dog “Shortstuff, Stuffy for short”….and she immediately turned into being my Mother’s cohort. I often thought of Stuffy as a cross between a human and a football. (smart but kinda useless for me)

The best thing about Stuffy was when my sister came home on holidays from the University of Colorado, she taught Stuffy cool tricks. I loved learning that “stuff”. It would serve me well years down the road. But practically anything my sister did I LOVED about her. Sadly all that love she had shown me up until her going to college was disappearing, and I never knew why.

School had its ups and downs. I was popular, felt accepted, but had trouble with teachers, just a few, but one really stood out. Perhaps they did not think I was making enough effort. I could see that. These days I would have been diagnosed with a few learning disabilities. Back then I was lazy.

There is NO learning disability that could account for what traumatic thing that happened to me.

A girl named Pam became my best friend rather quickly. In the Army one makes friends fast since we would lose them just as fast. To someone like me who was so outgoing, it worked out fine. I had told Pam I wrote a letter to her no one could ever see and i would give it to her in homeroom the next day.

This letter was the 1st time I EVER put mind to paper about my arms. I never spelled out the word arm, but it was obvious. I was telling her some really deep stuff about how i was coming to terms that I was treated differently by boys than pam was or other girls in our classes.

I grew up just knowing, just hearing a voice, the voice of my mother telling me “no man will ever love you” implying it was due to my arms.

And here i was in Jr High, hormones a-comin’ and peers pairing up, all but me.

That letter was a profound statement of my coming of age. And even MORE than that, it was my very 1st time to acknowledge that i was “different,” and what one part of that difference looked like.

That day in homeroom started out like any day. I was glad I did not have that teacher for any of my other classes, grateful she did not have the task of teaching me a subject. Her whole purpose was to go through the rituals of saluting the flag, singing a song and being prepped on what changes might be happening. When these things were finished, I handed the letter to Pam. This was NOT me sneaking notes to a friend. that would be wrong and though I had gotten away with doing so and sometimes warned for doing so, this in my mind was NOT a note. This was my heart!, My soul, poured out, and for the 1st time.

The teacher saw me do this. I was NOT sneaking as i said. It did not dawn on me that handing Pam a full size piece of paper would be the same category of “passing a note in class”.

The teacher stood up! raised her voice, called me by my full name and said sternly “GIVE ME THAT!”. I felt the blood race from my heart, rush to my face, I remember starting to shake. I stuttered in as respectful a voice as i knew how, “i’m sorry, that is not a note. Please don’t take it.” She got more emphatic . Other than my being a bit pushy over the whole Virginia Wheel Square dance performance, I had NEVER stood up to an authority figure in my short little life.

I was a Colonel’s daughter, I made my bed like a good soldier, I said, “yes ma’am and no sir” like any good little Army brat would, I respected my elders and every authority figure. Frankly I was afraid still of teachers, parents, and even though I never was scolded, something about a principle was especially frightening.

The teacher in her booming voice said “you give that to me or you give it to the principal NOW!”. The pressure was swelling inside me. I hated her like i hated every single doctor I met, or MORE. I remember feeling temporarily paralyzed. And to this DAY, I do NOT understand why I did not take the choice to go to the principle’s office. I remember him being a kind enough man. I certainly could not say that about this bitch, who i had disliked up until this day, now i loathed. One thing crossed my mind was that it might not have really been a choice. I tried one more time to convince her this was not a note, that I had told Pam I would give it to her the night before and one last time I begged this evil creature to just let me keep the piece of paper.

I ended up handing it to her. I watched her read it and I was so scared she’d read it aloud as she had threatened earlier in the year. “If I catch anyone passing a note in class, I will take it and read it aloud to everyone,” had been her promise early in the school year.

I cried as quietly as I could, NOT wanting to make things worse if she knew I was crying. And POOR Pam! she was shittin’ in her moccasins. I remember apologizing to her after class. This was not the 1st time I had been humiliated (the constant stares in public, the outbursts of disdain or fear of my arms chiseled at my esteem) but this was the worst, yet.

Written by GJ Pierce Leptien

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