Good Girl Grows Up
by Beth Kozan
Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? This was the Facebook meme tonight that triggered some memories …
What made me (and a few others) leave behind the belief system in which we were raised? “Be nice,” wrote the boys in my class in my yearbooks. The ones I’ve connected with on Facebook now write: “You’ve changed! Why are you so different from that sweet girl in high school?”
As I neared high school graduation, I saw my fulfillment in being a good wife and a good mother. My fiancé was two years ahead of me in school, and he wrote me from college: “I think you should go to college. I think you should live in the dorm. You would learn so much from the experience of college.” So I dutifully changed my dream, a bit. The dream would be delayed, and instead of marriage at 18 (what was I thinking?!), I went to college for two years and then we got married.
Doug was right. I learned a lot from living in the girls’ dorm. I had lived a sheltered life; I’d never heard girls cuss, never drunk alcohol, nor had any experience with beer or wine. At the Tastee Freeze in my hometown, I was a senior when some guys were making a lot of noise (and not much sense). I wondered aloud: “What’s wrong with them?”
And Doug said, “They’re drunk. Don’t you smell the beer?” I smelled it, but didn’t know what it was because I didn’t know what beer smelled like.
In 1961, the colleges of Texas acted on the policy of in loco parentis, especially for the female students. Freshmen girls were to be in their dorms every Mon – Thurs night by 8:30 p.m., with a midnight curfew on Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 p.m. on Sunday night. That meant I couldn’t go to the dances where Doug played with the Velveteens, because the dances ended at midnight, and even if they hurried to pack up their instruments, I couldn’t be back in my dorm before curfew. So I stayed in the dorm, doing his laundry on Friday nights and ironing his shirts on Saturday nights. I cannot believe this, today!
Being popular was never a problem for me in high school. But it didn’t take long to figure out that once I got to college, things had changed: I was a little fish in a big pond instead of a big fish in a little pond now! I was lost in the shuffle.
It was the time of BIG hair and short skirts. My mother and I had slaved away all summer, stitching me a wardrobe that matched the ads in Seventeen’s back-to-school issue. I wore handmade clothes; my roommate from Houston wore clothes that her mother designed for her! You have a choice to shape your life by how you say things, I realized.
The popular girls were pledging sororities; they smoked, they cussed, they looked at rules as something to be broken and were always getting demerits for being late. I was a good girl who always followed the rules.
I wanted my college experience to augment Doug’s chosen career of architecture, so I enrolled as a student in the same department – the Department of Architecture and Allied Arts, and majored in Advertising Art. That department was in the College of Engineering, which meant harder math (Trigonometry!) and science courses instead of foreign languages. I thought I would go to school for only two years. Beginning classes with architecture students would help me understand Doug’s career goals. Another reason I wanted to study art was that I liked art and wanted to learn more.
We had to lug our equipment – T-square, triangles, drawing utensils – back and forth to Design Lab. I remember walking back to the dorm with a girl from San Antonio. She said, “I can’t believe you put BS on everything!”
“But those are my initials – for Beth Scott.” That’s how naïve I was.
This was the me I was “supposed to be.” I did not remember the me I was at five, before I learned to live by “What will people think?”
What made me change from being the Good Girl to thinking for myself? My belief system came up against Art History, where I learned that the ancient Sumerians had recorded the story of The Great Flood in their left-behind art, and that the Egyptian art (and later, Greek art) reflected a man born from a virgin and therefore believed to be a god. I could suddenly see the patterns that had been incorporated into Christianity were not original.
But to address the first question: Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?
When I was 5 and lived in the country, my siblings were too old or too young to play with me; my older brother left for college a full year before I started school; my younger sibs were born when I was 6 and 9.
So I played alone. I set my dolls up for a tea party, drinking their tea, as well as mine, and feeling sick from too much water from the little tin “tea set” I received as a birthday present. I made mud pies. I tasted them when they were “done,” surprised that they didn’t taste like the chocolate cream pies I’d imagined as I put them into the cardboard box “oven.” But I did realize that I could make craters in the pie by pouring the mud from high above – craters that looked like the up-close pictures of the moon I’d seen in a science book my aunt gave me.
When it rained, I waded in ankle-deep water that was left in the “chicken yard” and I swung from the bottom limb of the cherry tree. When I let my arms fully extend, my seat got muddy – but it was worth it just to feel that freedom. When I look back in my mind’s eye to that 5-year-old swinging in the mud, I see pure joy on her face!
I’m still chasing the joy!
Beth Kozan is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Helping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.