They looked a lot more fun from a distance.

It’s a good thing I had lots of “baby” fat to cushion the inevitable fall, crash, or mishap that made my childhood interesting. Being chubby wasn’t embarrassing when I was young; it was a lifesaver. But for every blunder, I had to create a “story” to maintain my good girl self-image.

I wasn’t aware that I was a beefy girl. Children in the 1960s didn’t feel the heavy cultural pressure to be thin that children feel today, so I licked my dinner plate clean and ate sweets with guiltless joy. Thin kids seemed deprived and defensive, as if they were in constant danger of breaking. My weightiness made me feel safe, sturdy. But I was never first to be picked for team sports in gym class, either.

Swings and slides were a breeze. Momentum was on my side once I got over that nasty little issue of inertia, which I didn’t yet understand but definitely felt. Once I got going, though, there was no stopping me.

Monkey bars or jungle-jims that required climbing and hanging, conversely, were simply a bad idea for any plus-sized child. Since I was a smart girl for whom personal safety was always a high priority—right up there with saving my soul from hell and never being late for meals—I avoided these playground danger zones.

When I was about eight years old, I uncharacteristically became involved in a girl-gang monkey bars competition on the playground of St. Morris Catholic School. This was unusual for me for three reasons:

  1. The monkey bars were foreign and dangerous territory.
  2. I was never one to gamble, especially with my life.
  3. Other than my sisters, I usually played exclusively with Skinny Michelle.

Yet there I was, smack dab in the middle of a contest with three skinny girls. One of them was Skinny Michelle, who probably got me into the competition.

The wager was this: the girl who could hang the longest from her knees from the top of the bars would win. Win what?  I’m not sure, but it should have been the right to watch the others hang upside down for a very long time. I knew that betting was at least a venial sin, but, if we were going
to Purgatory, we’d all be going together. The thought of having company while I waited, burning, to get into Heaven was oddly comforting.

There were four of us and I was the meatiest of the bunch. That honor gave me the opportunity to go last in this adventure. One of the girls had a genuine Mickey Mouse watch with a wispy tail as a second hand, so she was the official Time Keeper, even for herself.

“Wow!  Two minutes and 37 seconds.”  Skinny Official Time-Keeper announced. “Lorna, I bet you’ll never beat that.”  She had just finished and was, therefore, the one to beat. No one thought to question her upside-down time-keeping accuracy.

Stay tuned for what happens as I begin my ascent up the Monkey bars…