Late Blooming

I had felt old for a long time, like a housekeeper, like a working mother; but my body lagged behind. By fourteen, my best friend, had blossomed into a medium-sized-woman while I was still stuck in the children’s pages of the Sears Catalogue. Girls size 12 to be exact and just beginning to outgrow the size–in height only. She had started her period a couple of years earlier. Mine was nowhere in sight. Although I was several-months older, I was oblivious to the secret vocabulary of belts, napkins, or (hush, hush) tampons. Of course I was also spared pimples, cramps …blood.

My life revolved around school and making dinners and looking after my younger siblings on alternate days while my mother worked evening shifts. Mutiny was often in the air, spurred on by my two older brothers who undermined any authority I may have had over my younger siblings. Our television, a black and white Philco that graced us with two channels, was on daily from 4pm to bedtime–filling our meals and evenings with limited programming and pre-Christmas ads. That year, thin flat dolls that came in picture frames were the latest craze for little girls. Flatsy, Flatsy, they’re flat and that’s that. That’s that! The catchy jingle was constantly sung to me in off-key obnoxious tones by my brothers. 

My best friend had cleavage and wore adult bras while my bras were concave and could ride up if I wasn’t careful. Her interests had wandered in the direction of teenage boys. They became her favorite topic. She swooned over her latest teenage crush the way she used to swoon over Elvis Presley. I would look at those she drooled over and all I saw were skinny awkward boys with pimples. They all had a bit of colour above their upper lips that pretended to be a moustache, and they all had stringy hair. Elvis definitely had better hair. 

What I had was three brothers, and I believed I possessed a certain wisdom about boys: They weren’t that great. They liked to burp and fart, which they thought was funny. They were generally selfish and often treated girls like shit. I wasn’t fond of my brothers during that stage. I felt as if they were always treating me like shit. 

Virginity was on everyone’s mind. The previous year, I had looked the word up in our Webster’s. Virgin. I was surprised it was actually there; and like all words in the dictionary, it had several meanings. Most of the meanings were just different ways to say the same thing. I knew this because I had to look up all the other words they used in the definitions to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Words like copulate and chaste. Using the dictionary was like getting to see what was behind all the doors on The Price is Right, then choosing the one you wanted. I decided I would choose definition number four: ‘a person who has not had sexual intercourse,’ which I dumbed down to, someone who hasn’t had sex. For some reason, definition six sent a shiver down my spine, ‘fresh unspoiled, not altered by human activity.’ Number six had a haunting quality to it. I didn’t want to go any further through that door.

I really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. The last thing my childish body and I were interested in was having sex. But, even in the 70’s, teenage girls displayed the status of their lost virginity like underwear hung on a clothesline for the whole school to see. Most girls seemed more interested in losing it than preserving it. What I couldn’t understand was why Mary was revered for being a virgin yet I was ridiculed. It wasn’t as if I told them I hadn’t had sex, they just knew. It was as if somewhere on my body, probably in full view when I sat half naked in the girls’ locker room, was a huge glowing V. Either that, or it was spelled out by the freckles on my back. Just connect the dots and you get V-i-r-g-i-n. Note the capital V.

That spring, career choices were on everyone’s radar. How many junior high students really know what they want to do after high school? I know I certainly didn’t, but very soon we would have to make one of the most important decisions of our lives. The choice between academic or general courses, a choice that could make or break one’s future.  

Teaching was always a popular career for females in rural communities. You could become a teacher, a nurse or take the general program in high school and learn to be a secretary. The guidance counselors who worked at our schools had aptitude tests, probably circa 1952, the same era of our balloon-legged gym shorts, that would tell every girl whether she was suited to be a nurse, a teacher, a secretary, or perhaps hope to get married. So few options in a world of engineers, architects, doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, company presidents, artists. I admired the girls who said they wanted to be teachers, even though the thought of spending my days in a room full of kids of any age made me queasy; and those who committed themselves to nursing, a noble career that I found too exhausting to think about. I admired them, not for their choices, but for their ability to make a choice while I waited for the outcome of the tests.

Before the school year ended, before she was able to make her career choice, one of the girls in my class stopped attending. Her sister arrived every morning without a word about her absence. It didn’t take long before the rumors began to fly. They said she was pregnant. I didn’t believe it. They said she was getting married. I didn’t want to believe that. She was fifteen. I picture her sitting at her desk, so much more mature than I was at the time. She wore short skirts, dangly earrings and makeup while I was wearing girl’s size 12 jeans with a waistband lined in a childish-duck-printed fabric. I still wonder whether the rumors were true. Whether her identity was washed away by a marriage certificate that changed her name or a scandal that changed her future. Twenty years later, after the birth of my own son, I thought of her. Twenty five years later, when my son started school, I thought of her. By then she could have been a grandmother. 

I still think of her. She haunts me. I don’t know why. It is like she disappeared. Like she was a missing person. And looking back, I can’t help but think that starting to bloom a little bit later wasn’t such a bad thing. 

Thank you for reading  

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27 thoughts on “Late Blooming

  1. Quite a few differences between here and over there then in the 70s. I’m pretty sure girls of 15 weren’t allowed to get married here – think you had to be at least 16 and your parents probably wouldn’t allow anyone under 17 or 18 to get married. Also, losing your virginity while at school would have been a mark of shame here and, even if you were messing with boys sexually, you would never admit it to anyone as you wouldn’t want to be branded ‘a slag’.

    I don’t think we had any kind of aptitude tests either from what I can remember. Part of the reason I left home and joined the Army at 17 was because I had no idea what I wanted to do career-wise and knew there were lots of interesting jobs in the Army. I ended up being a Radar/Computer Operator which was fun and the computer operator bit stood me in good stead for the rest of my career.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I grew up in a rural area. I am sure things were different in the city. And the teenage girls just like to have a reason to make fun of someone. Most of them probably were also virgins at that age but the optics held up for their peer group was important. Good career choice!

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  2. I was a late bloomer too… no period or boobs till I was nearly 17, and a virgin till nearly 19… I can’t bear to reflect on the anxiety and stress of being a teenage girl in the 70s/80s- I don’t know how I survived! My son seemed to cruise through his high school years (he’s 21 now), I was literally envious.

    A good read which made me reflect, thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Blooming later turns out to be a good thing. Even if there were dress codes in school or not, I couldn’t believe how many parents allowed their elementary-aged children to come to school wearing provocative clothing. I remember the principal occasionally had to call a parent to ask them to bring something more suitable to school. Equally perplexing was how some parents chose to make this an issue by being outraged. “I’m going to the School Board.” Really? This is the issue you want to fight the school over.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. wonderful post, glad to know I wasn’t the only one who had those awkward teenage blues.

    I do have one question though – are you suggesting that burping and farting aren’t funny? If so, my whole life has just been turned upside down… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A wonderful post. It brings to mind a couple of girls in my high school class who married the summer before Junior year, because they were now 16 and it was legal. They were so proud of being ‘Mrs’ Somebody. Small town goals for small town people, I guess. I’ve no idea what became of either.

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  6. I was an early bloomer. Do not recommend! Nothing cute fits anymore, and you end up wearing hand-me-downs from much-older cousins. (I was wearing bellbottoms and brightly-striped trousers long after they were cool.) Your skin gets tight and shiny where a pimple is growing, but you can’t cover it in makeup because none of your classmates wear anything more than lip gloss. You don’t want to be weird and, unlike the girls in Judy Bloom books, you don’t want to talk about your period with your friends.

    As for sex, I was about 11 when my older, wiser cousins began using a magic phrase – “She’s jailbait” – to make attentive boys disappear. 😉 To be honest, though, I grew up in a culture of groups, where mixed groups went to dances. Gave us a chance to check each other out without the pressure of dating. A few of my classmates got to know each other that way and married after graduation. One couple recently became grandparents.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t imagine being “jailbait” at 11 years old. I wouldn’t have been mentally prepared for that. I could still get into movies for 12 and under when I was 15. Even now at 64, I am still a late bloomer when it comes to some things.

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      1. As unpleasant as it was, the experience helped me when I was 19 and landed a rare spot in a government work program. My supervisor sexually harassed me. As much as I needed the job, my automatic reaction was to tell him off. I figured a divorced 34-year-old was no different from horny teenagers I’d dealt with. He started an “investigation” of my timesheets and mileage reimbursements, but he was basically too lazy to follow through on it. Ha ha.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Things have definitely changed, at least where I live. About 4 years ago I got a phone call from a friend of mine who was crying saying her 15 year old daughter was pregnant. Her daughter was friends with my daughter, so of course my daughter had already heard this news.

    Long story short, she had the baby, and the 15 year old dad who attended the same school even brought the baby with him to school! I kid you not. Both were in tech theater and there he was in the green room, holding his baby while watching the play that was going on. They also brought the baby to our church, which has a program for helping pregnant teens (Fristers) learn how to take care of themselves and their babies. No shame here!

    (This couple has since broken up, but the girl is continuing her education in fashion, and the mom has since stopped crying)

    Thank you for this post. It’s an important subject to talk about.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jennifer, this is such a rich, well-done post. Thank you for sharing this piece of the past.

    Your words brought back many memories of my awkward, undeveloped, and geeky teen years. Yikes! Despite being a late bloomer, however, I did get pregnant at 17 as a result of something I won’t discuss here. Thank goodness abortion was still legal and protected at that time, and I was able to make the choice that was right for me.

    As a teacher, I had girls who started menstruating as early as 8 years old. It wasn’t unusual for former students to become parents by 15, or for my 7- and 8-year-old students to have mothers who were barely 23. Many things have changed since the 1970s.

    Liked by 1 person

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