Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Be a Good Girl!

Blogger Ronni Bennett tackles the myriad aspects of growing old in her blog Time Goes By. Today her subject is the annoyance elders feel at being spoken to by strangers as if they are either close family members, lovers or worse, toddlers, in her post The Dangers of Elderspeak.

So I was trying to remember if I have ever been annoyed by this "Elderspeak" and I can't recall that I have. Women in the shops here call everyone "dear" and "luv", not just the old folks.

I have been outraged at being treated as if I were stupid by physicians (and a few nurses) in doctors' offices and hospital ERs. But this started in my 20s, so it's not "just" an elder thing for medical professionals to treat patients as if they were children. I actually get more respect now that I am older than I did as a 30-year-old. Though the geneticist I saw recently introduced himself by his first name he leaned back a bit in his chair and said, somewhat suspiciously, "You seem to know a lot of medical terminology," once we were deep in conversation. (Am I supposed to play dumb for them? I've had this disorder since birth. I'm 68 years old fer cryin' out loud. I would be stupid if I hadn't learned something about it by now!)

But thinking about forms of address sent me musing on the past, as thinking often does these days. I was raised in the American South and in the 40s and 50s children were called "Sugar" by the women in the family, and were mostly ignored by the menfolk, until you were old enough to take fishing and shootin' if you were a boy and old enough to guard the virtue of, if you were a girl.

If you were lucky you had a Papaw and a Memaw on one side and a Granny and Pa on the other. I had one "Grandma", all the others having taken flight long before my birth.

Darhlin' was the common term of address between adult family members, unless you referred to them by their relationship, and this often came with some hint of disapproval, as in, "Oh, you know Bruhtha. He likes himself a fast car and a fast woman."

The grocer and the doctor called you Mrs. or Mr. unless you went duck hunting together and then it was first name basis. I don't think my Mama went duck hunting with my pediatrician, as he called her Mrs. He wasn't just a hunter, he was also an unskilled taxidermist who stuffed and mounted many of the unfortunate creatures who strayed into the path of a bullet from one of his many firearms. He called me "Little Lady" and his office made me anxious.

I can well imagine that his wife wouldn't tolerate his handiwork in her living room, so his office was where he displayed his hobby. As a result his office was a House of Horrors to this five-year-old "Little Lady", nervously waiting her turn to see the doctor; an eagle caught mid-bomb-dive was suspended from the ceiling where it rotated endlessly, glass cases crowded the chairs into the centre of the room. A frowsy raccoon family trundled along on a log, a porcupine gnawed a stick, a moth-eaten possum hung from a branch, a lop-sided bobcat snarled and raised a threatening paw, a mountain goat and other various heads and racks of antlers poked through the walls.

The exam room was worse, the cracked and peeling black leather table and instrument cabinets were wedged between glass cases of coiled snakes, a pair of long-eared Texas jackrabbits, a dozen different kinds of misshapen ducks and a giant wild tom turkey with mis-set eyes, perpetually looking both right and left.

I suppose the boys enjoyed it, but it raised a terror in me so I always cried when Mother said I had to go see the doctor, not from fear of him, but from that dead zoo of his. I'd sit there snuffling and shaking and Mother would give my arm a jerk and hiss, "Stop that sniveling and be a good girl!"

As you can see my childhood was crowded with incident. And being so busy and all remembering the good times I haven't had time to work up a head of steam about being called "dear" or "sweetie" by a total stranger at the market. But I swear the first one to tell me to "be a good girl" in a medical setting is getting their face ripped off.

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