Reaction to the 3-year-old girl in Miss., asked to leave restaurant because of scars

Lin Garden Drive010The story this morning about the three-year-old girl who was asked to leave a KFC restaurant in Jackson, Miss. by an employee there who said her scars were disturbing customers, gave me a chill and brought back sharp memories of my sister.

Her grandmother had stopped there, on the way home from the hospital, to get her mashed potatoes because she had trouble swallowing after surviving an attack by three pit bulls. Even though that incident is horrendous, and my heart goes out to this little girl for her physical suffering, it is the action of the restaurant employee that is most disturbing to me.

We could file it under “what is wrong with people?” And, maybe we should feel equally sorry for the employee who was insensitive enough to inflict unnecessary harm, undoubtedly adding psychological scars to the visible ones.

I can’t help thinking back to my sister, Linda, who was badly scarred from a fire that resulted from a plane crash when she was just two. Like this little girl today, Linda was often stared at, avoided, and ostracized for the way she looked. As her sister, I was witness through the years to how cruel people can be when presented with someone different than themselves. I wrote about many of those instances in my book, Replacement Child, when I would stare down other children who stared at her. But, it wasn’t only children. They can be forgiven for their curiosity, until an adult explains that the object of their curiosity is a child just like themselves, and instills understanding and empathy.

My mother was the one who took on the role of educating teachers and parents at the first school my sister attended. She knew what Linda would face, because she had seen it on bus rides, department stores and walks through town. The PTA allowed her to make presentations at meetings, so that by the time my sister entered kindergarten, the teachers were poised to prepare her class.

My parents assured her that inside beauty counted most of all, and that she was indeed beautiful.

I’m hoping that parents who read about this most recent incident in Miss., use it as a teachable moment for their children. Kindness is not inherent, it needs to be taught and modeled time after time by sensitive, caring parents.

You can read the story I am referring to here.

———————————————————

Writers! I am leading a workshop at the Write Your Memoir Now workshop retreat, sponsored by the National Association of Memoir Writers, in October. Sign up now for discounts and special bonus!

Dad: Re-Visited on #Father’s Day

Dad beach 1953012I can see my dad bent over his watchmaker’s bench, jeweler’s monocle in his right eye, squinting the left shut while he scrutinized a diamond. Dad didn’t have much hair from the time I could remember, but in this crouch there was always one wayward black-gray strand dangling in front of the monocle.

He proudly displayed his framed Gemologist certificate behind the diamond showcase in his small shop in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As a kid, I could never figure out why that piece of paper, earned after a short course in identifying the quality of diamonds and other gems, meant so much to him. It wasn’t until much later that I realized it was the only graduation certificate he ever received. Another reason he insisted I get a college education.

My dad and I operated like far-flung planets in the same solar system; my mom and my sister our shared moons, but never sharing the same orbit. I worshipped him as a child. At first because he could pick me up over the waves at Bradley Beach, protecting me from their washing machine swirl, the sand-caked bathing suit, gulps of ocean and salt-stung eyes, if I stayed close enough for him to grab me and lift me at just the right moment when the wave peaked its highest.

Staying close was not always easy. He would wade ahead of me in the surf until I got up the courage to run after him and cling to an arm or leg. Off the beach, he was home for only a couple of hours each night before bedtime, just one full day each week on Sunday. He never left his shop in someone else’s hands. “That was just asking for trouble,” he said.

Sunday was his bowling league, and I would beg to be taken along to watch or play pinball in the arcade area. I remember him being reluctant, giving me a fist full of quarters to keep me occupied while he competed with his team. He was pretty good too, and taught me how to hit a split for a spare.

He was always reading a couple of books at a time. Usually the newest popular fiction by his favorite authors: James Michener, Herman Wouk or Leon Uris. When he was propped up in bed, book leaning on his tummy and his black reading glasses balanced on his nose, I knew not to interrupt. Sometimes his bedside radio played softly.

Dad was the one who went out into the unknown world, encountering strangers daily, slaying the dragon of commerce with a very small sword. I was right to think him brave, even if I didn’t know why.

He was fifty when his shop went under, I suspect because of his generosity in extending credit and cutting prices when someone “needed” an engagement ring or a gift for Mother’s Day. Just 10 then, I remember he and Mom telling us the news, assuring us that everything would be fine. And, it was fine. Dad got a job with a jewelry chain and probably had the most productive years of his life. He won prizes for his incredible salesmanship, beating his own goals year after year. After his death, I found a letter from one of those bosses, folded into a tiny square of yellowed stationary and tucked into a strong box under his bed, praising his skill and expertise. It made me think of that Gemologist certificate, lost long ago.

I tried to stay close over the years, hoping he would always lift me over dangerous waves. It wasn’t until I wrote my memoir, Replacement Child, that I understood the illusive chasm between us. That the memory of my sister, killed in a plane crash when she was seven, was never far from his mind. What could be more of a reminder than a daughter who looked, and for all I know sounded, similar to his lost girl?

I learned a great deal about Dad from writing through his ordeal following that horrendous accident, pieced together from often-told stories, news articles and family notes. The hurt at being his “replaced” daughter faded and I came to understand just how brave a man he really was.