Sunday, October 2, 2011

Farewell Ethel

Well, I'm sorry to bring you sad news.  I had to say goodbye to a dear friend, Ethel.  She was such a sweet little thing.  Short, stout, kind of an Aunt Bea looking type.  Sweet just isn't enough to describe Ethel.  She is one of those dear souls that wouldn't harm a fly. Ethel  just loves everyone.  She always made me feel special. When Ethel saw me she would jump up and come to greet me, so obviously happy to see me.

You may be wondering why Ethel had to leave.  For some reason the other girls were just not getting along with her.  Out of the blue, after a year and a half, Ina decided she didn't like Ethel.  Then, one by one, the others joined along.  First Ida, then Lucy, then Millie and Minnie, Fannie, Clara, and finally  Lilly. Eventually the bullying got worse. It was so hard to watch - Ethel just trying to join in and the others really obviously not accepting her.  It actually got violent. This makes me so sad.  I just don't understand why some are just not valued by others.  . .  why some get bullied . . .and why some are bullies. 
As a child I was often bullied. While walking home from elementary school, I was actually hit and pushed to the ground by a mean little boy.  This lasted for several months, and then I guess he just got bored with it.  There were a couple other mean little boys that would occasionally torment me, chasing me, kicking me.  I can't tell you why.  Looking back, I can't imagine why a parent or teacher on the playground never noticed it.  Oddly, I never told my parents.  I guess by then I felt so badly about myself that it didn't occur to me that I shouldn't have to put up with it.  
The girls were mean in another way - by not accepting me and by making fun of me.  I was a tiny child, very sensitive and easy to intimidate and pick on.  Isn't that the way it always goes?  The little ones always seem to get picked on. And please allow me to add in an afterthought here, my friend Meri points out that not only the little ones get picked on, the big kids get picked on too, and many other kids who are different are easy targets.  Her comment brought to mind another sad little girl that used to wander the playground alone.  She was quite chubby, and very shy.  I did try talking to her a few times but she would turn away. Sad but true. Just now remembering her and the sad look in her beautiful blue eyes breaks my heart.  

I really didn't like school at all.  I didn't mind the actual classroom part, but recess was really lonely.   I would wander around and try to join in on games with the other children, but they had their little groups and I wasn't welcome.  I guess I was a little different than them.  I remember for weeks watching the girls in my class playing with the jumprope. Not just the ordinary jumprope but the really long one, the double dutch jump rope.  I wanted so badly to try, but was never included.   I mentioned this to my mom, and a few days later there was a bright pink with yellow handles double dutch jumprope on the kitchen table when I got home from school.  I was so excited!!!!  Now for sure they would play with me.  I could barely sleep that night I was so excited.  The next day I carefully packed my jumprope along with my bag lunch.  Sitting in the classroom, I  stared at the clock all morning, willing the hands of the clock to move a bit faster.  After what felt like an eternity the bell rang  and it was time for recess.   I rushed outside with my new jumprope and stood in the spot where the other girls normally played.  It didn't take long for me to figure out that nobody was really interested in joining me.  The same group of girls gathered together, just like every other day.  After a few minutes I just folded it up a few times and jumped by myself.  At lunch recess I tried again, with no luck. By afternoon recess with nobody to jump with I just sat on the school steps and waited for the bell to ring.  I was so sad.   When I think back I just wish I would have been bolder and asked people from a different grade to jump with me. I'm sure there were a few lost souls like me wandering around.  I wish I would have gathered them all together and we could have played together.

I wasn't your typical cutesy little girl.  I had long, unruly, wavy locks, thick glasses, and didn't really care all that much about my appearance.  I was a tomboy to be sure.  Playing with dolls was not my idea of fun.  I would much rather climb trees or play football.  I do think the fact that there were a million boys on the block and very few girls had something to do with it.  I was also sandwiched  between two brothers, each of us two years apart.  My sister came along six years after me, but she was really much younger.   That was back when large families were the norm, and I'm telling you that block must have had a hundred kids on it.  Mostly boys, and a few girls with . . . you guessed it . . . . Barbie dolls.   
As I got a little older, the boys were getting so much bigger than me that playing football and the rough and tumble games boys play was not really a good idea anymore. Even though I would still join in on Kick The Can and 'Round The Moon at night, little by little I withdrew into myself and found ways to amuse myself.  I think right around then is when I realized I like doing things with my hands.  My grandma taught me to knit and I enjoyed it.  I liked to color and draw.  I recall putting a piece of paper over a leaf and rubbing a  crayon back and forth and getting a tracing of the leaf.  I also read a lot as a child.  I would ride my bike the mile and a half to the local library and spend hours going through the books. As I parked my bike in the metal bike rack, (remember those?) and walked up the cement steps into the red brick building I felt I was no longer alone, the outcast, because within these walls I had more friends that I could count - Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, and countless others.  I can still remember the smell of the library. I would get as many books as I could fit in my bike basket each week. On the ride home I always rode down the street paved with red bricks.  I would sing aloud and hear my voice vibrate as I drove over the bricks.  
Once home, I carried my huge stack of books upstairs and  opened the door to the balcony outside my bedroom. The huge maple tree in the front yard would provide shade, and I could watch the world go by unnoticed.  I spent so many wonderful  hours out there reading the afternoon away, writing poetry, daydreaming of the many adventures I would surely have as I grew up.  I remember getting a little certificate, a summer book club award for reading such a huge amount of books.  At night I would sneak a book under the covers with a little flashlight, keeping one ear uncovered so I could hear my mother coming upstairs to tell me to stop reading and go to sleep.

No, I didn't really have any friends to play with, but my life was full of little adventures.   I would climb trees, ride my bike, swim in our little backyard pool, rake leaves into a huge pile, make snowmen and snow angels, all the typical things children will do.  Just with my siblings instead of friends.  There were always tons of kids nearby since we had a family of 7 children right next door, so who needed friends anyhow?  Weekends I would spend with my grandma and grandad.  Talk about feeling loved, right?  My grandad passed very young unexpectedly, and after that I spent as much time as I could with my grandma, who missed him so.  I spent a great deal of my summers there with her after his passing.  I didn't want her to be alone.

As an adult, I find I spend most of my time with my family, and any spare time keeping myself busy with my crafts.  I guess that is where I feel the safest and happiest.   Of course we had the sibling rivalry at home growing up, but  I never had the feeling of not being good enough or different.  Lucky for me I had a wonderful family and I have many wonderful childhood memories to offset the sad ones.

Back to Ethel.  I don't know if you might have figured it out yet, but Ethel is a chicken.  A Salmon Faverolle to be exact.  I did lots of research before picking out the breeds of chickens I would purchase. My top priority was for them to be very docile and calm and quiet.  I didn't want noisy chickens since I'm technically a "chicken outlaw" and not zoned to have them, and I didn't want aggressive chickens, since I would be scared to handle them.  Ethel was such a sweet little thing.  In my research I remember the description for her breed noting that in a mixed flock this bird often gets picked on because they are so docile. Since all the other breeds I picked out were supposed to be especially calm and nonaggressive, I didn't think this would be a problem.  

Watching Ethel get bullied was so difficult for me.  It upset my husband too. He's another one of those sensitive ones. It probably would be hard for anyone to watch.  I guess I am the defender of the underdogs, the protector of all things too weak and small to stand up for themselves.  Because I lived through the bullying I never forgot how it feels. Looking on the bright side, I do think it made me a better person.  By some crazy twist of fate, I actually made the cheerleading squad in high school.  At that point the bullying was over and I was instantly in the "in" crowd.  Walking down the halls of the high school I would look at the faces of some of the other girls passing by and recognize the look of wishing to fit in with the crowd, wanting to belong, longing to be popular.   I made a point of always saying hello to people by name, especially the ones that weren't considered to be the most attractive or talented or popular.  Seeing someone's face light up because a "popular" girl actually singled her out from the crowd and said hi to her and called her by name made me feel really good.  I knew how happy I would have felt to have someone treat me like I mattered.  I ended up being friends with a lot of the girls, cheerleaders and non cheerleaders, but my two best friends throughout high school were girls who were not "popular", but just really nice girls.  My high school was pretty big, our senior class had around 700 graduates, so there were actually many different "popular" groups - band, sports, art, drama, etc. It was easy to find a place you kind of fit into, but it was also easy to get lost in the crowd.

I guess Ethel and I are just a different breed.  I am certain there are more of us out there.  I know it to be true, because I have met many of you. We love deeply, we are compassionate and sensitive, and only want to be loved. It must be genetic, because my children seem to have the same trait.  Each of them is sensitive and very kind, and would never hurt someone else. They are the ones who say "Thank you" to the speaker on the fast food drive through, and smile at the bank teller and ask how they are doing. They tell me they love me each time we end a phone call even if we talk every single day. I am so lucky.  I have three boys and one girl. One granddaughter and two grandsons.  I am so proud of my kids, they are such wonderful people, each of them, and I am so blessed to have them as my family. And, as before, when I am with family I feel accepted, and loved.  I think this is why I wanted a large family, and other than being a teacher my only wish in life was to be a mom and housewife. I never did finish my college education, but I was a teacher in more ways than one! 

My youngest son actually took on the role of playground protector and stood up to the bullies who would try to pick on the weakest kids at school.  I was so happy when he would tell me about it because I knew he just couldn't stand by and watch someone get bullied. My heart would swell with pride and gratification that my children were not the "bullies", and also not the "bullied".

I made a temporary home for Ethel in the shed at night and let her run loose during the day while the others were in the pen. It was double cleaning, double feeding, and just plain double work, but I was determined to keep her safe.  And happy.  She got extra treats.  I would get her out early in the morning and she got to run loose around the back yard all day while the other girls  watched enviously from within the fenced in area.  I can't tell you how many times I would let them know how displeased I was with them and throw the little remark out to them, "Well, that's what you get for being mean". The saddest thing for me was during the day going back to check on her.  I did this several times daily to make sure she had enough food and water, and to make sure she was alright. We had a fenced in area in the backyard for the chickens, right next to the coop, to keep them safe from predators. Every time I went back to check on her, there she was, peering in at all the other girls, obviously wanting to be in there with them.  She would just stand or sit right next to the fence, getting as close as she could to her "friends", even though when she was allowed to mingle they would again bully her.   It was so pathetic.  It almost made me cry.  I would go pull some lettuce from the garden and give her a huge pile to eat and throw a little in for the girls, but I was still mad at them. I know they are just chickens and maybe this is more instinctual than anything, but it was still sad.

Eventually a friend offered to take Ethel.  She just bought a new batch of young chickens, and we were hopeful that the little chickens would be intimidated by Ethel's fluffy chubby little body and look up to her as a leader, not someone to bully. A mother hen, if you will.

I don't want to end this on a sad note, so let me say that throughout the years I have met some wonderful, kind, sweet people, both through my blog and in the "real world", and my faith in human nature has somewhat been restored.  My husband is one of those kind-hearted people who would never hurt someone.  I am very lucky to have met these wonderful people, and some of you are reading this right now.

Sadly, if I am asked if I was one of the popular ones, I would probably have to answer no.  I can still relate to the outcasts, the unpopular, the unattractive. I was one of them.  Nobody likes to get picked on . . . we all just want to be loved.  

My hope is that all of the people who feel unloved will have love,  those without friends will find friendship, and those who are certain they will never be good enough will know that they always have been good enough . . . all along.  

P.S.  I never did learn to jump double dutch.