A picture of me, (2nd from left,) and my sister Susan, (3rd from left,) along with two friends when I was in 2nd grade and my sister was in 1st grade.
What was it like for an elementary school girl the year my forthcoming novel takes place? For one thing, she froze her legs off every winter.
Imagine you’re an eight-year-old girl on a frigid winter morning in 1962. You’re shivering as you get dressed to go to school., knowing what it’ll be like waiting at the bus stop. The cold wind will whistle around your bare legs. Your winter coat will cover your dress, but not your legs. And when it comes time for recess, the teacher will make you go outside. Brr! If only girls could wear pants like boys do. But it’s not allowed. Girls have to wear dresses or skirts. It’s the rule. A stupid rule.
Then your mom appears in your room and digs through your drawers to find your brown corduroy pants.
“Here, put these on,” she says.
“Under your dress, silly. You won’t be breaking the rule if you have a dress on over them.”
You smile and pull the warm pants on. Of course, when you look in the mirror, your nose wrinkles. You look like a goose. You start to pull the pants off again but Mom says you have to keep them on, that she’s not allowing her daughter to turn into a block of ice, rules or not!
At the bus stop, it’s not as bad as it would be with bare legs. Even tights and knee high socks don’t keep your legs warm like corduroy pants do. And when you get to school, you notice other girls look just as dopey as you do.
Problem solved. At least for this school year. When you’re in high school, the rule still exists. Girls must wear dresses or skirts. No pants allowed. But you’re in your teens, so you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing pants under your dress. Looking dopey is no longer an option. So you shiver like crazy, suffering every winter trying to look cool while your legs are bare. Sometimes you wear thick tights or knee socks, but only if they match the outfit you’re wearing. You absolutely cannot ruin your outfit. In fact, some days you refuse to wear your coat because it ruins your look. It would be a lot simpler if you could wear pants like the boys do.
It's only after you graduate high school that the stupid rule finally changes. Too late to keep your legs from chafing every winter for the twelve years you spend in school.