I knew there was some kind of big, stupid mystery even before my “sometimes” friend Margaret Green broke the news to me in the fourth grade. My grandma had started badgering me not to go barefoot and had taken to sneaking peeks at my underwear when she was sorting laundry.
This is some interesting information and dire warnings I was given regarding health care of young ladies after the onset of puberty. My maternal grandmother hissed these warnings at me, though she was hazy on rationale Girls should never go barefoot or get their feet wet after they go into puberty. (She made no mention of how I was to wash my feet or bathe.). I must never bathe or get my head wet or ride a horse during my period. She offered as proof the fact that when my grandpa’s sister was only sixteen, she was riding a horse just before she got ready to take a job as a teacher in her first school. She got caught in a rainstorm while she was having her period and was soaked to the skin. She got galloping pneumonia and died before daybreak. I was never sure if all these variables had to be included for the situation to be deadly. Perhaps if she had been fifteen, walking to her job as a clerk in a store while she was having her period and broke out in chicken pox, she might have escaped with only a few scars on her face.
Also, Grandma warned me young girls shouldn’t ever go swimming. “Never?” I was appalled.
For some reason, going barefoot was deadly, especially if there was dew on the ground. There was something called “dew poisoning.” Dew poisoning “stopped” periods. How could that be a bad thing? I didn’t want periods anyway. Not only that, dew poisoning caused rampant infections should it enter a tiny wound on the foot, but I don’t remember her ever harassing my brother about going barefoot. Maybe she wasn’t looking out for him.
Then she told me of a stubborn cousin of hers who went swimming all the time. “Even when she was expecting! Everyone of her kids had epileptic fits!” That didn’t concern me at all since I had no intention of doing anything to cause children, in view of my recent sex education.
Mother had her own ridiculous rules about hygiene. Hair could only be washed once a week, and never during you period. That was a disaster for us with our oily hair. I’d try to slip around and wash it more often, but she watched us. She insisted on giving us hideous home perms. They were awful! I was so glad when Mother had to much on her mind to to to keep up with trying to enforce all her mindless rules.