by Elizabeth Stephens
Surveillance State, No Hop Skotch, and No Smiles!
As I said we were not allowed to go out and play at home, nor be seen to have fun even when we went to school. Selma was always around, it was the control issue. She would tell us not to participate in any of the games during recess. She wanted us to become outcasts on the playground as well. Selma intentionally passed by the school and caught me playing hop scotch one day. She came onto the school grounds and yelled at me. It was like having Big Brother in the 1950’s, she was always watching.
Selma would constantly tell us how ridiculous we looked and how everyone was laughing at us. Not only were Adrian and I told not to participate during any kind of games we were not even allowed to talk to anyone. On several occasions Selma told us that she drove past the school and saw us smiling. How does a child answer a comment like that? The teachers and the other children would ask us why we did not join in and we would make up some excuse, but how could we have told them we were oppressed and we were not allowed to participate? We probably did not even know how to express our situation. Really we did not even know how or where to begin. This is what we were up against, how could a parent be that controlling? I would try hard to make her love me, but it just was not meant to be. When I would even look up at her she would often say to me ‘if looks could kill, she would be dead.’ What was I going to do?
Did anyone love us or was anyone concerned about us? According to Selma, she was the only one that defended us and everyone else just made fun of us. Selma would tell us that all of our teachers would call her up and tell her how stupid and funny looking we were.
She would also say that everyone talked about how strange we both were and that she was our only advocate. We were being set up and indoctrinated from an early age for failure.
The Aunts did have some contact through a teacher that would pass on information about our well-being or lack of it. That was our only contact with them, but even then we were under Selma’s oppressive thumb. Independent thinking was a challenge. We were always afraid we would get in trouble, but in reality, we were always in trouble.
The Aunts once got special permission and came on campus to visit us once. They took the following picture of Adrian and me at Emerson Junior High School in West Los Angeles, California. It looks like two little girls in the depression era.
Ugly Shoes and Pink Butch Wax on the Westside
I once showed an older lady this picture and she said how cute. I was shocked. How could she say that?
The following picture was taken at my graduation and one can see the comparison more clearly.
First Row on Left. Photo of me graduating from Westwood Elementary School when I was 12 years old.
The first time I saw this photo was many, many years later. This also came from my Aunt’s possessions. They cared enough to get a copy of my graduating picture; which was amazing to me.
I thought I looked very out of place at this upper class school in Westwood which is located near UCLA in a very affluent neighborhood. It’s interesting that I was standing in full view, whereas if I was in the crowd you could not tell if I was a boy or a girl. How embarrassing it was that I had on saddle shoes as they were called back then, when all the other girls had knee high dresses and patent white shoes~no doubt patterned after the famous actress Audrey Hepburn who had just won an academy award for her leading role in My Fair Lady. As I remembered the dress Selma had chosen for me to wear, I must say it was the second ugliest dress I had ever seen.
Back in the 1950’s it was the time of Elvis and his slicked back hair. Like Elvis our hair was always done up with pink, greasy, butch wax~compliments of Selma. The butch wax was an unacceptable practice for girls, and Selma would even leave some uncombed in patches. She said it would make our hair soft. Our hair was routinely chopped off and it looked short and ugly, compliments of Selma.
Selma, in addition would always brush our hair very hard, almost like beating us. The brush would be dipped in water, so much so that our clothes were all wet. She made sure our clothing was dripping wet before we left for school. She would also accuse me of staying up all night and curling my hair. She did not want me to have any curls. How does a child understand this? I still do not know.
The first time I read Jane Eyre I identified with her situation perfectly. She too was raised in an orphanage and when the headmaster saw a girl that had curls and he commanded that those locks be cut off immediately. Often I would cry for I could feel Selma was doing these things intentionally, today I know she was, but then, after all, Selma kept saying she loved me.
Selma would make us wear the same dress for a week, and that was totally embarrassing in grammar school or in any school. This made us further outcasts as she planned. To make matters even worse they were the ugliest clothes you can image and they were oversized. Selma would go to the store and pick out about ten dresses and come home and make us try them on. We got to keep the worst of the worst. Then she would take the rest back. That is how we got all our clothing.
From time to time I would snap and would stand up to her. Before I entered High School, I could not take this kind of treatment any more. I told her that I wanted to wear my own clothes and pick them out by myself. It was a major victory for me and I got to do it. More often though, she would achieve her objectives after wearing me down.