Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Childhood Friends: Flea Proof Girl


Flea Proof Girl had several disabilities like club feet and bowed legs as well as other, more private, physical ailments about which we were never completely sure. But she also had a shining spirit and an incredibly positive attitude in the face of relentless teasing and bullying at school. Her main tormenters were boys who would pretend to be horrified if she touched them. They would run away from her, yelling "Flea proof! Flea proof!" to counteract the cooties they allegedly feared catching. But it was just meanness, pure and simple, that motivated them.

Flea Proof Girl made a point of chasing the boys as best she could, threatening to touch them, but always with a smile and a laugh. I still marvel at her resilience. But who knows how much she cried at home? How much support and advice did her parents have to give her to get through each school day?

Despite her disabilities, Flea Proof Girl could jump rope like nobody's business. She whupped me regularly in skipping rope contests. I learned from her that disabled people need no condescension from anyone. I competed against her as hard as I could. And I was genuinely glad when she won.

Flea Proof Girl died of medical complications when she was ten: a short life, but a life that touched many, I'm sure.

2 comments:

theduchessofh said...

There was a girl in my elementary school who had "cooties." I don't know why she was singled out for this ostracism? It may have been because her family was poor. Everyone ran around at recess, touching each other; shouting "you have Byer's cooties.
I can't image how this affected her life?

I have my own personal shame, and story I told my son over his elementary school years, in hopes he would be more evolved than I was.
There was a poor family who lived on the edge of town. The talk was they had bedbugs. That was a rumour enough to ensure that the kids in that family remained friendless and unwelcome in most of our classmates homes.
I gave away a winter coat that I hated; because it had an itchy collar, to one of the younger girls in this family. Margaret, was so happy and grateful, and happily wore that coat to school every day.
She was so happy, and in love with this coat, that I wanted it back. Her mother marched over to my house and handed it back to me.
I was so ashamed of myself; to this day I can't even remember where that coat ended up.
I told this story to my son when he was seven years old, and one of his classmates was being ostracized. I'm so proud that he stepped up and defended, and befriended his classmate. He told me he thought about my story of Margaret, and the Byer's girl with the cooties.
It made me think of the Stephen Sondheim song from, Into The Woods; Children Will Listen.

Silvana Joanne said...

This is such a touching story you shared. I truly believe with all my heart that children with disabilities are the most special of people. They are the people that are closest to God because they are able to feel and teach people about life more so than any doctor or professor or scientist ever could. May this little girl you mention rest in peace.