Step Back in Time, But Remember to Hike Your Hike

(12 minute read)

It is no surprise that I love nostalgia. I enjoy a good retro theme party as much as the next person. I like any movie or book that takes place in yesteryears with all the fashion trends and pop culture of the time.  Memoir writing allows me to travel back to my own past. But everyone these days is always telling us to “be present.” While I do agree that it is good to pause, breathe in fresh air, pet the baby goat in my lap, and feel the joy of the peaceful present moment, I also think a trip down memory lane is restoring. Remembering details of my past helps me appreciate modern progress. I’ll never forget sitting on the curb outside my junior high after school waiting for my mom to pick me up. Is that her car? No. I’d wait and wonder just how long before her car came around the corner. I was tired from a long boring school day. Not showering after P.E. left me sweaty in my corduroy pants and sweater vest. My stomach growled since the last thing I’d eaten was my tunafish sandwich at lunch. Where is Mom? Her car will be the next one…nope. No cellphones existed in 1978. So there I sat waiting, without any idea of when my mom would swing by the school to pick me up. Maybe she is stuck in a long line at the grocery store. Maybe she lost track of time talking on the phone at home. In those days, there was no way to get instant information on whereabouts and estimated time of arrivals. A 13 year old today can text, “whats your eta” and get a return text “on my way.” My tired hungry young self had to sit patiently, hoping, that the next car around the corner would be ours. For the record, my wait on the curb was no longer than 45 minutes, but each minute dragged on longer than the last. In my mind I envisioned kicking off my shoes, peeling off my knee socks and raiding the pantry when I got home. Where is she?

I am 58 years old and sometimes forget to buy the cat litter at Walmart because I leave the list at home on the counter, but I remember sitting outside Stanley Junior High like it was yesterday. Memoir writing has helped me to open up moments of the past hitting all of my senses. The rough cement parking lot curb. The thick hot knee socks with ribbing, loose enough to sag down my shins, but constricting all the while. The whiz of the cars passing by the school. Honks of horns, doors opening and slamming, as other luckier classmates got picked up before me. My impatience mounting, mixed with renewed hope with each car coming around the bend. Who doesn’t remember waiting for a ride? While it is not the most comfortable of a situation to recall, I do love transporting back to my 13 year old self.

Last week I had the chance to really time hop. The book written by one my favorite authors growing up, Judy Blume, was made into a movie:  Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret. Several friends and I went to the matinee. It was definitely a trip down memory lane. The 70’s clothing and house decor, with shades of orange, brown and yellow in patterns on sofas, curtains, and polyester shirts. Or the lucky girls with matching pink and powder blue ruffle and lace canopy, bedspread and curtain bedroom (mine was not like this). Then there were the cars, lovely shades of pea green and burnt orange, no seatbelts worn for safety, and even included the rear facing seats in the station wagon with the swing out gate. Watching that movie, I was taken back to being a child in the 1970’s: note-passing in class, having secret crushes, bossy girls, saying “pinch to grow an inch” on someones birthday, playing spin the bottle, and having a first awkward kiss with whoever was at the other end of that bottle.

Seeing the young girl on screen acting out the Margaret character I read so many years ago brought me back to that same stage of my youth. I was reminded of staring in the mirror at my own flat chest and shorthair, and wondering when my body would fill out. I did not feel pretty or cool like the popular girls. I don’t know if it made my experience worse or better to have two older sisters (and a younger sister). I remember feeling embarrassed about the bra shopping and was teased by my oldest sister, so I downplayed the need. I never chanted loudly “we must improve our bust” in my house. Our local department store, McCaullous, had a lingerie department in the back corner. In our small town, I remember hoping we would not run into anyone of my mom’s friends or someone from my school in the store on the way back to the corner I never shopped in. It seems like old ladies always worked that department, and made the experience even more embarrassing. I went home with a Maidenform scratchy AA cup bra. I felt like everyone would notice my change, with this new undergarment. Who knew that years later I could not wait to unsnap my DD cup bra at the end of the day. The movie (and book) also focussed on the girls getting their first period. This is something I do not remember in my own life, at least not the first one. Instead I remember not being able to swim at a sleepover party because of my period and my maxipad. It is interesting to me that I have no recollection of this milestone transition into womanhood. Sometimes doors to rooms filled with memories open up when traveling down hallways of other times. Perhaps my memory is tucked away because of teasing from an older sister. I laughed in the movie when one character was pestered by her brother and she yelled at the top of her lungs, “MOM!” That is something I remember doing. A lot.

My biggest take-away from watching my childhood book on film was how universal and timeless the insecure feelings the coming of age people of all genders feel. We question our physical attributes. We compare ourselves to others. We tally our shortcomings and long for what we lack. I am too tall. My hair is so frizzy. I still have braces. I am flat as a board. I was so self conscious growing up. What I did not know then that I do know now is that everyone else was also feeling insecure. The other day a good friend reminded me of a quote from Theodore Roosevelt. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Interestingly enough, this came up in our conversation about our college age kids navigating life post graduation, the mental stress they endure sizing themselves up to their peers. The other way I have heard this quote phrased is, “hike your hike.” I think we all need to be reminded of this. Somehow at 58 years old, I find it easier to hike my own hike. I am not worried if people think I am a nut getting chickens and goats, or that I just bought a pair of overalls and they are so comfortable that I might wear them off the farm. I wish I could go back to 13 year old Carolyn and say, “Hike your hike. You are rocking the Billie Jean King haircut. Your boobs will soon fill in, more than you will want. And everyone is feeling what you are feeling, so relax and enjoy your days with your flat chest and no period.”

After reflecting on those coming of age highly emotional years, I remembered something that helped me just when I needed it. In high school, there was a program started that focussed on communications with peers. They were workshops led by an organization called the Center for Living Skills. What I remember most about the weekend workshops were that classmates from all the different cliques were brought together in one place, and led through different self esteem building and team building exercises. Popular kids were less intimidating, and quieter kids came out of the woodworks. There was a close-knit feeling by all in the workshop by Sunday night. And maybe, just maybe, when we all returned to the halls of our high school things had changed in some small ways. It was like The Breakfast Club but organized by trained adults. Today I wish there were more organizations like the Center for Living Skills from my high school days in the 80s. These kids need it as much or even more than we did.

By the time I graduated from high school, I believe my confidence had improved since the self doubting days of sixth grade, depicted so well in Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. In fact, at my high school baccalaureate I was selected to read aloud a poem. I have wracked my brain looking for the title of it, the author of it, and no luck. What I do remember is that the message of the poem was to not compare ourselves with others, but to be our best selves. Here are some lines I remember from the poem:

“Who brings home the torch, the winner or the loser…

The only ribbons across my chest are those that hold in my heart and keep it from beating into endless nothingness…

I don’t compete. I am greater than no man and lesser than no other…

Being me is hard enough, some one other, never…”

The poem was much longer than this, and quite possibly worded differently. These are the bits that remain in my mind 40 years later. I will keep searching for the poem. It makes me happy to know that I chose a topic to bring to the baccalaureate committee that was so important for mental health. I had not mastered the art of “hike your hike” at age 18, but I was aware of the importance of striving for it. Life continued to give me practice: in my teaching career, as a new mother, as a homeowner in a suburb, as a writer… We all find ourselves comparing to others. There is definitely value in checking out what others are cooking, wearing, decorating with, or writing. Observation of life around you is important. I would simply echo what Teddy was saying, to not let comparison rob you of your joy. Mark Twain went so far as to say “Comparison is the death of joy.” I like the “hike your hike” motto best.

Who knew this little jaunt down memory lane at a Friday matinee would resurface such deep feelings. I laughed multiple times during the movie. It made me remember what it was like to be a tween, and how I felt reading Judy Blume’s words as a tween myself. Sitting with my friends last week, we watched the movie through a new lens, as mothers. When I read the book I don’t remember thinking much about Margaret’s mother. My eyes welled up with tears when her mom hugged her after she officially “became a woman.” The heavy weight on my heart was the knowing of how fast time passes. I remember the stage of each of my four children hitting puberty and leaving childhood behind. I was not Margaret as I watched this movie, I was her mother. At some point one day I will be the grandmother in the story. Now, that is getting ahead of myself! Back to the present moment. The goats are frolicking outside my window in the pasture. What a nice day it is today!

(My binder from Junior High School 1977-78ish)

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