By Christine Dirks
In the mid to late 1960s at the high school I attended in Sarnia the girls’ gym uniform resembled a toddler’s play suit. It was a one-piece red cotton number with five white buttons at the front, a red cotton attached belt and elastic at the leg openings. Girls were to embroider their first and last name on the back yoke. Yes. Embroider. Yes. On a gym uniform. The commingling of athletics and domestic virtues. And that embroidery had better be good.
I resisted and would arrive in the gym with no such handiwork visible. This went on for some weeks until gym teacher Mrs. Holland uttered something threatening enough to prompt me to stitch my name across the back of the little red lovely.
I did this with gritted teeth, and much muttering, on a Sunday afternoon while watching a 1940s movie on tv with my Mum. I give her credit for letting me proceed in the manner I did though I may well have stretched the truth. I may well have told her that one’s name just had to be there and I may well have said something to the effect: “It doesn’t have to be embroidered!” with eyes wide and emphasis on the last word. Yeah, I probably did. Yeah.
I ensured that each letter was formed by as few in and outs of that needle and thread as possible. The first letter – a capital C – had a mere five points at which the white thread went in and out of that red fabric. And so it went letter by letter with precious few in and outs. I showed my Mum the finished product. A spidery 18 letters: Christine Sigurdson. It was legible. But embroidery it surely was not.
At gym the following week, as we girls stood in a straight line for inspection, as we always did at the start of gym class, Mrs. Holland told me to turn around so she could see what I had or had not done. She said it was not embroidery and that I would go to the Vice-Principal’s office immediately and was not to change but to go as I was.
I think of all this now knowing how then I loved to be active. It felt good to push myself. Happily it still does. But what if that gym teacher would have given up on making an issue of embroidery. What if she had just let it go and concentrated on affirming to all girls she taught how great it is to be active, to make one’s body work hard, to enjoy that freedom, to feel good through movement, to stop trying to control girls with tasks that had no place in a gym class . . . It would have been great.
Christine Dirks is a writer and editor in London ON. Early in her career she worked in the Toronto book publishing industry where she specialized in international marketing. Later she wrote two weekly columns and features for The London Free Press. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Canadian House & Home, Canadian Gardening, Azure and other publications. Christine currently provides research, writing and editing services for individuals and organizations.