From October to February she gets to be two years older than me, and then it’s back to practically being me and my twin’s triplet. People used to stop us on the streets so much when we were younger to ask us if we were, in fact, triplets that we had the cordial smile and the sing song “noooo” we offered (in unison of course) down to a science.
Come to think of it, events like that were part of my social training.
I was a lot more rambunctious as an elementary student. I was sloppy; my undershirts stayed on the outside of my clothes and my nappy puffs were usually of the Pippy Longstocking (remember those books?) variety thanks to the enjoyment I got from tumbling down the grassy hills of our school’s campus, breaking pair after pair of glasses.
But I also had a whole lotta shy with me that came to be the me that most people know today. And yet, I knew how to speak to people assertively and clearly. It seems odd to me even today that I command the attention of 19, 20-something year olds nearly daily for at least 60 minutes straight. That I can address a crowd of strangers’ eyes with a poem–my own poem; a piece of my heart cha’ll! ‘Cause most of the time, like now, my house is quiet and I keep Orbit gum around to prevent the terrible “quiet peoples’ breath.”
The inquiries from curious strangers should have seemed obtrusive and scary. And maybe they did.
But thanks to the every other month recitations we had to give in church, I learned not to show it. Easter, Christmas, Children’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month; each holiday was a public speaking engagement for all the youth. And I was a youth from the time I can remember until I left for college at 18.
Those events taught me to stare at a spot on the wall in the back of the room if looking into the audience is scary. They taught me a respect for my elders’ wisdom when I realized the spot on the wall trick worked. They taught me that strangers are sometimes not as scary as the folks you know and think you love and should love you. See, in the years since I moved from my family church, we have discovered a child molester was in our midst all along.
Shucks, while I was there I saw the man with AIDS get avoided like he was the plague incarnate when all he wanted was the after-service hugs that made my own getting out of the double swinging doors and to the Ritz crackers and Amish white sharp cheese of my grandmother’s house next door a thirty minute endeavor.
I learned a lot of social graces at church. Some, I think, were better left there.