Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An Ode to My Sisters

This post got me thinking...

When I was 7 years old, my single mother went to a Bill Gothard Basic Seminar and ate up every word.  Not only did she swallow every man principle he spewed forth, she also fell in love with the man.  Romantically.

This meant that, like how a fundie says, "If the KJV says jump, then jump....only afterward do you pray and ask God if you jumped high enough", she felt the same way about the G-man.

We began to dress like Bill wanted us to.  For the boys, it wasn't so bad.  It essentially meant that we couldn't wear shorts (which was only sparsely enforced due to the need to have gym clothes in high school), T-shirts alone, and shirts not buttoned to the top.  Even one button was slightly scandalous, though we did it anyway.

We were very poor because Bill wouldn't allow my mother to go out and get a job.  He said that it was the woman's place to stay at home.  Thus, we lived off of welfare and handouts throughout my entire childhood.  This meant we shopped at all the local thrift stores and wore the last decade's clothes.

When everyone was wearing tight jeans in the 90's, we were wearing their old bell-bottomed corduroys.  When the Air Jordan's came out with those cool full-width see-through air pockets, we were wearing flat-bottomed FILA's, given to us by the professional tennis player, David Wheaton.  He must have needed to clear out his old dusty inventory.  The bell bottoms weren't so bad because we could pin them tight around our ankles.  If you were creative enough, nobody would be the wiser.

It was different for my sisters.

Modesty for them was the boring old jumper.  Sometimes it was denim.  Other times, it was a print with huge flowers.  If it wasn't a jumper, it was the dreaded coolots.  Or, the skirt that had so much material in it, you could make curtains for three large windows.  Some of them may have been curtains at one time. 

My sisters' clothing was out of style before they ever bought them (or were given them...most likely people throwing away their ancient closet stuffers).  They were washed so often, all the material was severely threadbare.  The hems were shaggy with white strings dripping off of them like icicles.  In a Minnesota winter, being forced to wear a skirt was torture.  They could not wear snow pants so went with leg warmers.  That brought the house down with laughter.  People hadn't worn leg warmers for centuries.

While in school, I knew my sister's were coming around without having to see them.  All you had to do was listen for the "swoosh swish" of their skirts and you knew.  They even wore them for gym clothes.  My mother petitioned the gym teachers to allow a religious exception for my sisters to wear skirts while me and the other boys got to wear the correct wardrobe.

From what I remember, my sisters were so picked on that they hated school.  They were always hanging their heads when passing students in the halls.  They had very few friends.  Those they did have were foreign and could hardly speak English, and barely knew the latest styles.  They suffered much.

I've never put myself in their shoes to understand what they went through.

Now, after reading Darcy's post, I think I know.

I am so sorry.


  1. At least homeschooled kids don't have to endure the ridicule of public school. So sad for your sisters.

  2. wait a minute - you know David Wheaton well enough that he gave you shoes? I know his brother.

  3. And to add insult to injury: the hair. For the boys, no gel or styling, not even a wetted comb was allowed, as that would give a "worldly look". Buzz-cuts were our only hope. For the girls, the length was to be as long as possible, so to avoid sitting on it, either a French-braid or a plain pony tail was allowed. And no wetting or spray! This warranted the need for headbands and clips, each colorfully designed with the name of the day of the week, which hardly did anything for the frizzy, static-y straggler hairs. To re-binder a sagging ponytail meant a few poked eyes for anyone within hairing distance.

  4. Yeah misshester. We knew John well too. Used to go to church with the whole fam.

  5. How many kids were there in your family, boys and girls?

  6. 7. 4 boys. 3 girls.

    From oldest to youngest:

    Girl, Boy, Boy, Me, Girl, Girl, Boy.

  7. I am thankful that though my parents did practice extreme modesty and we girls hated our clothes, we were allowed to have nice hair. Long hair was encouraged, but short was OK too (as long as we could get it in a pony tail). We used curling irons and hair spray and did our hair in fancy braids. My mom wore make-up, though we girls weren't allowed to until we were about 18. I am glad because it was the only thing that made me feel half-way pretty. I kept my hair almost to my knees most of my life because I discovered it made me attractive, especially to guys. ;) But the damaging lies and the feelings of shame in being a woman were still there in abundance.

  8. Mark Wheaton is a family friend. I haven't met any of the rest but I know they're from Minnesota.

    As far as the modesty, my parents definitely made us dress modestly and do the whole jumpers bit, but I was one of the ones that liked it and still felt pretty.

  9. It's really not surprising that what your sisters went through escaped your notice. You were a kid. But over all that's a big part of the problem: people not putting themselves in others' shoes. The fact that you can recognize that now put you ahead of many others who still believe that girls who grew up that way are emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually better for it.

  10. As a very athletic woman I really feel sorry for the girls. How can they run, play sports and stuff with any sort of success with the long skirts? Hiking would be awful with getting chaut on branches and stuff. I think the insistance on long skirts at all times is like shackling the girls. They cannot know the joy of pushing their bodies to master them and gain self esteem that way. Studies show that athlete girls have their first sexual experiences a lot later than girls in general and have better self esteem.

  11. You mean to tell me that your sisters even had to wear long skirts during p.e. time in school? This was a very sad story to hear. Oh, my blog is back now if you care to visit.

  12. So glad to have found this posts. Linking too it tomorrow in response to a post I wrote about my homeschooling experiences.

  13. Love this. LInking to this post tomorrow.

  14. It took me awhile to convince my brothers that yeah, Mom's modesty standards sucked way more for my sisters and I than for them. -20 degrees in cotton skirts is awful. Doing farm work: bucking hay bales and moving pipe--in skirts, sucks so much. My legs are scarred permanently because my legs weren't protected by skirts during hikes, farm work, etc.

    To me now, modesty is a swear word.