This is the fourth chapter in the series, “Re-Belle Like a Chevelle.”
Whenever my family gets together, you can rest assured no one’s dignity is safe from the ravages of old stories, tales from childhood, or abnormalities that were once considered sacred secrets intended to be carried to one’s grave.
Since I was a toddler, I’ve carried with me a shameful secret; one I thought was safe from discovery, carefully tucked away, immune from judgement and pity. Regrettably, it was at one of our holiday family dinners when the ugly truth came to light.
Over the years I have learned some of the most interesting and disturbing things at Brown family dinners. When in college while enjoying Easter lunch at Nana and Papa’s, I discovered from my Great Aunt Florence that we are distantly related to George Strait. We were discussing his latest hit when Aunt Florence declared, “You do know he is kin to us, don’t you? He’s your distant cousin.”
Words cannot describe the shrieks and cries of utter elation that engulfed the dining room. This was the biggest thing to happen to any of us since, well, EVER!
While this conversation was going on, there was another one which coincided in the hallway directly by the dining room. One of my relatives was talking on the phone to her teenage daughter, who apparently called to say that she had been pulled over by a cop and got a speeding ticket. All we could hear, in the midst of this completely phenomenal news about our Cousin George, was “Well, listen here, missy. Your ass is grass and I’m the lawn mower.”
To this day, I always have to be reminded exactly how I’m related to the King of Country Music because the awe of being related to George combined with the use of the word “ass” on Easter Sunday, within earshot of my Nana and Papa’s dining table, caused some sort of post-traumatic shock.
Years later, there was another family dinner that forever changed the course of my life and how I am viewed by my husband and two sons. It was Thanksgiving Day, and my mother was chatting about one of her nieces who recently contacted her about cashing in her share of her dad’s inheritance.
Why was she calling my mom about this? My cousin wanted to sell some family land, and because of her age, she had to get permission from my mom to sell her portion. I didn’t understand what the big deal was until my mother whispered exactly how my cousin was planning on spending the money and why she needed my mom’s blessing. Talking through her teeth and out of the side of her mouth, mom confided, “She wants to have some plastic surgery done on a ‘certain’ part of her body. She feels it will help her tremendously in securing a job.”
It didn’t take me long to figure out the plan since I knew this relative lived in Nevada…
Feeling as if it were an answer on “Jeopardy,” I screamed out, “What is a boob job? She’s getting a boob job! Well, good for her! If I had extra money lying around and was younger, I may do the same thing.”
This floored my mother who was almost speechless as she stammered to finally compose herself enough to say, “Well, I don’t know why you’d want to have surgery. You have been given a lot.”
(Insert a LONG pause here)…
I would have given anything if she meant that I had a lot of money and resources…
And this conversation took place in front of my brother, husband and my two sons.
In an effort to save us all from this awkward moment, my brother chimed in, “I used to feel so sorry for Sharon when she had to sleep in that hideous foot brace every night. Remember that? You know, it had that steel bar with the shoes attached to it. I used to wonder what would happen to her if our house caught on fire. I could just see her hopping down the hall, trying to escape, but then I realized that she wouldn’t be able to hop because she wouldn’t even be able to get out of her bed by herself. I knew Dad would save her, you know if we ever had a fire.”
It would have been better if Greg had told the story just like that, but instead, he was gasping for air in between words and phrases because he was laughing too hard to get all the syllables out. He literally cracked himself up with this very private anecdote from my disfigured past. I was powerless and my ability to speak vanished. Greg was trying to make light of the infelicitous talk of strippers and his sister’s anatomy but instead created a whole other kind of uncomfortable.
My husband Brian had never heard this story and had no clue that as a child I had to wear a foot brace and corrective shoes to try to overcome my unfortunate case of being pigeon toed. Brian’s face said it all. I knew he was stunned at this shocking revelation and I was calculating that I could milk this story for all kinds of sympathy. Then, the unthinkable happened. A huge grin spread across his face, from ear to ear, and he laughed. He absolutely and positively laughed at my misfortune. Not just a casual, “Oh, that’s funny” kind of laugh, but a deep, hearty belly laugh. One that said, “This information is golden. I’ve hit the mother lode.”
There was no empathy from anyone at the table for my plight as a pigeon toed child. Instead, this disability seemed to rally them all against me. Normal footed people versus the pigeon toed freak. Cries of “Run, Forrest! Run!” were repeated ad nauseam.
To add insult to injury, my mom stated in a much too excited tone for my liking, “I think I still have that brace around here somewhere. Maybe in the attic or in Grandma’s old trunk in my bedroom.” This is the woman who threw away all of my Donny Osmond posters and albums, along with other sacred celebrity memorabilia, but this she keeps. Again, no words…
So, there it is. The one piece of information I thought I had successfully kept under wraps was now de-classified. Not only was this divulgence one that shocked my family, it also made it very uncomfortable for me to walk in front of them because I knew they were all staring at my feet, looking for the least bit of evidence and inclination that I still pointed my toes inward as I awkwardly sauntered around from day to day.
When I wore this cruel looking foot apparatus (at night) as a child, I wasn’t ashamed or worried about it. I thought it was normal because I didn’t know any better.
“Being pigeon toed wasn’t that big of a deal,” I thought. That is until the day I heard another child snickering behind me in the hall, making fun of me. “Look at the way Sharon walks. Eww. Watch her. She walks like a baby. She’s so pigeon-toed.”
This whispering was followed by a chorus of giggles and to this day I still remember the name and the face of the girl who said this. She probably grew up to be an upstanding citizen, but on that day, I thought she was the meanest girl in the entire world, and I secretly cast a spell on her, praying for rain so her excessively curly hair would get extra frizzy and make her look like a Brillo Pad.
This was the first time in my life I can recall being made fun of for being different. I was too young to understand that the world was not perfect and unfortunately, people were jaded and unkind.
I did know, because my doctor and parents told me so, that this flaw was something I could overcome, and eventually I did, after years of silently repeating to myself, “Point your toes out. Point your toes out. Walk like a queen. Point your toes out.”
It took many years and many tears to realize one simple thing. I’m an overcomer. There have been numerous situations in my lifetime, which have literally brought me to my knees and begged the question, “Why me?”
Pity parties are not my forte. I’ve had a few of them, but always in the end, I have straightened my crown and met the situation and circumstances head on.
Foot braces and corrective shoes, and adversity have a couple of things in common. They are the foundation for change and improvement. They provide the opportunity to grow and develop character. Obstacles in life make you humble and aware that we all have flaws–but it’s how you deal with them that matters.
For me, defeat was never an option. I learned as a young child that super-heroes can’t rescue you from the hardships and the stumbling blocks that life dishes out. The desire to overcome has to be found from within, and it’s from that spirit of resilience that we learn to rise above, and with our toes pointed out, we walk like a queen, waving and smiling because that’s what we “over-comers” do. We overcome.
Now. Getting back to my Cousin George…
I’ll happily replace the “Run, Forrest! Run!” jabs with the song, “Run.” And while I listen to the King of Country sing my favorite GS song, I’ll walk, and run, and dance like a Queen.