Be Nice… I Beg of You

Childhood for me is one happy memory after another.  I loved school.  Having an academic father and an artist mother, I was tickled pink with everything there was to learn.  Class time was a delight, play time a delight, weekends a delight.

People speak of those miserable years of junior high and high school.  Many years ago I marveled that anyone could have a bad time.  My life was so normal, and I always presumed everyone else felt the same way I felt.  Just going along and going along, singing in little concerts, gathering cardboard boxes for the homecoming bonfire, wishing some certain boy would call, getting the homework done, trying out for a part in the play.

When I was in the 8th grade I was a teacher’s aide for my math teacher, Mrs. Dunn.  For Christmas she gave me a sweet little blue diary.  Although I had written in a few childhood lockable books from time to time, this special gift from my teacher was the beginning of my every-single-night-description-of-my-life which lasted for about seven years. 

When that book was full I followed in my big sister’s footsteps and started writing in miniature spiral notebooks.  The night before my wedding I made my final entry in one of those little books, and the collection stayed in a box for years.

Fast-forward with me to a place years down the road.  I was a woman in my thirties living on Guam, deciding one day to pull out that box and read the story of my life… the little novel I had handwritten in those notebooks.  It was going to be such a happy time for me, and I really couldn’t wait to relive the memories.

There were my descriptions of family birthday parties, the songs I sang for the American Legion, shoe-shopping excursions with my sister.  I wrote everything down.  (We’re not surprised, are we?)

What I wasn’t expecting, and it completely broadsided me, was the anguish this journal would bring about.  I cried.  Truly, I think I moped around for several days.  G told me to just stop reading… but I couldn’t.  I was the moth to the flame.

Had you asked me if anyone had ever been mean to me, or if anyone had ever made fun of me… well, obviously, the answer would have been yes.  I was skinny and flat-chested.  Plenty of room for harsh jokes there.  I didn’t drink… people wanted me to… I was teased.  Rumors were started about me.  I wasn’t invited to all the parties, and that was okay with me, but then there was all the talk about why I didn’t have any friends, and I was accused of being stuck up because I was rich.  It didn’t matter that I DID have friends and that I was a happy person.

Truly, at the time, none of the teasing or ridicule seemed to matter to me.  My happy existence gave me every reason to be confident and relaxed about it all.  I took things in stride, I tried to ignore being laughed at.  Imagine people telling me I was a fool if I stuck with my high school sweetheart rather than moving off to find myself, or saying I was ridiculous if I didn’t ever know what it felt like to be roaring drunk at least once.

So… years down the road, I’m reading conversations, reliving moments, and a heaviness fell over me.  I cried and cried.  But I didn’t cry for little Sandy Calton.  No… she had always been just fine.  I cried for every young person going through those years, trying to make it through the laughs behind the back, the in your face rudeness, the senseless mocking, the obvious shunning.  Those things rolled off my back when I was young.  I have my parents to thank for that.  Goodness!  I was on a stage singing for large crowds when I was no bigger than my guitar.  I was filled to the brim with self confidence.  I was always told I could do anything I wanted.  Be anything I wanted.  I believed it.  That belief insulated me from plenty of grief, there’s no doubt about it.

But I also cried, knowing that I had a skewed sense of the past.  Reading the journals brought it all back.  I had surely dished out my own share of misery.  My sarcastic sense of humor had probably stung plenty of people, whether I intended it or not.  My immature ideas of fun and games had surely left others feeling miserable and hurt.

I’m writing this today because a little cousin of mine has been wounded by her best friends.  This is the drama that will play out over and over and over and over again… in her life… in the lives of young people just trying to grow up everywhere.

And so I’m begging today.  Be nice.  Just be nice. 

Tell your children to be nice.  Tell your friends to be nice.  Tell yourself to be nice.

I was tortured by those journals.  I never wanted to read through them again.  I wanted to put the rose colored shades back on.  So I chose my favorite pages filled with special memories, pulled them out, tied them up with a pretty ribbon… and I tossed the others.

How I wish it could be that easy to toss out the hurt, and dry the tears brought about by such carelessness.  How I wish we were never mean.


11 Responses to “Be Nice… I Beg of You”

  1. michelle pond says:

    This is by far your greatest post, Sandy.

  2. Sandy says:

    Thank you for reading, Michelle. In the back of my mind I’ve thought about writing this piece for quite some time. Hearing another story about another little girl being upset by her “best friends”… well… I just had to write!

  3. Grace says:

    Thanks for sharing Sandy. Growing up is rough. All of us have some sort of “baggage”, for lack of better word, that others prey upon. I could list mine but I’m afraid I would run out of room. Ha! I’m not really sure I can say I loved elementary school…not then, not now. However, I believe all of the rough phases in life has taught me well. Life is good! What I love most about you is that you chose to remember the good things about your life in spite of the ugly. I am truly blessed to have met you and to have you as one of my dearest friends.

  4. Bette says:

    Such genuine wisdom!

  5. Sharon says:

    You know, a couple of years ago a school acquaintance called me and apologized for how mean she had been in junior high. I never liked her, but couldn’t remember why. I guess I blocked her and her mean spirit out of my mind, but it had bothered her for 40 plus years. Also it’s more amazing to me when an adult is mean to a child, evil looks, smarty remarks, deliberately damaging their self esteem, because adults know better, they remember the age and the cuts. Here’s hoping we will all start today to become “kinder, gentler” people.

  6. Glenda Powell says:

    Such a beautifully written and insightful post, Sandy! I’m sure most every reader identified with you on some or most points. In all likelihood, we all carry some baggage from our own pasts, and if we’re parents, we remember the hurts our children endured from catty friends or even other parents. The beauty in all this, however, is that we can learn from our pasts, have more wisdom to share with our children and grandchildren, and hopefully share a kinder, gentler spirit with others.

  7. Judy Crume says:

    Sandy,your column is the kind of thing one wants to cut and paste on a grandchild’s brain! I find it difficult to see the pain, and be able to see the brave struggle to “make it go away”, although that is exactly what works–that struggle to get on with it. My grandma said those years were the best time of my life, but when I was teaching kids, even just conversations while subbing, I told them not to believe such a thing, it gets better when you get out of school. I hope the world has not evolved until I am wrong.

  8. Kim Mann says:

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts! They are so heartfelt and well written.

  9. Wanda says:


  10. Margret Evangelista says:

    Sandy, How funny that we should have had so many of the same experiences. I, too, started keeping journals in 7th grade, first in a spiral notebook, and later in pretty journals. I remember writing early on that I was recording my life so that when I had a daughter of 13 I could go back and remember what I had felt like so I could understand her better. Sadly, my journals were lost in recent years, but in reading your recent journey through time, I am comforted that I can now simply say that “its the laughter we will remember, when ever we remember, The Way We Were.” (with thanks to Barbra Streisand!)

  11. Sandy says:

    Oh… I loved reading this, Margret. Yes… it’s the laughter we will remember! Thankful for the laughter we’ve shared.

    Thank you for reading my things. I love the connection.

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