When I was 14, my parents sent me to live with my Aunt and Uncle (my mother’s brother) in Longmeadow, Mass because they felt I was too wild and becoming impossible to tame. Their theory being that my Auntie Bee was a strong disciplinarian as she had 5 teenagers (4 of which were testosterone poisoned boys). Mom! What were you thinking?!?
I idolized my older cousin who was a Beatnik at the time (this was a few years before the Flower Child explosion hit the scene). He had a vintage Indian motorcycle and hung out in Greenwich Village drinking beer and smoking pot. He made leather sandals with old rubber tires for the soles. He probably never even gave me the time of day but I thought he was beyond coolness, so I emulated the girl beatniks. I decided to pierce my ears (boy Beatniks never pierced anything).
To pierce my ears, I used store-bought “Sleepers” which were little gold earring-gizmos with a pointed end (i.e., needle) and a spring. The theory was that the earrings slowly pierced through you ears in your sleep while wearing them in bed. (I’m serious as a heart attack here.) What they didn’t tell you was the searing PAIN they caused for about four days as they slowly crunched through the anatomy of your earlobe.
Anyway, after I got done taking aspirin for the pain and my little angry, inflamed holes healed up nicely, I bought my first pair of gaudy dangling earrings. I thought I was all that! So avant-garde. I looked just like Joan Baez.
When I went home for Christmas, however, my mother was not so impressed. Actually, she kind of lost her mind. Apparently, “nice girls” didn’t pierce their ears. She sobbed and carried on grievously, ending with the statement, “You look like a GYPSY!”
So, it was decided that I would not be going to Longmeadow the following year…I would be back home, going to high school in Manchester, NH.
On the first day of my sophomore year, I was stopped at the top of the concrete stairs at the entrance to the school by the Principal who was “greeting” everybody. He took one look at me and announced (to everyone) that I didn’t meet their “Dress Code.” I was astounded by this, as I thought I looked quite fabulous. I had on leather sandals and a short madras plaid skirt, a black long-sleeved turtleneck and, of course, long Bohemian beaded earrings that hung down to my shoulders. He made me stand there as all the students filed by—the girls in their white lace collared blouses giving me the stank eye. My mother had to come pick me up and take me home to change my clothes.
A couple of years later, I pierced my younger sister’s ears. I did this by “sterilizing” a sewing needle with a match. Then I held ice cubes on her earlobes for a few minutes to numb them, doused her with rubbing alcohol, then put a potato behind her lobe and crunched through with the needle. That part was easy (well, I thought so anyway). The hard part was getting the stud through the raw hole…it sort-of swam around in the middle of the lobe. I think I remember my sister getting faint.
I also remember my sister got a raging infection in one of her ears. I guess I forgot to wash the potato.
About a decade after this, my mother got her ears pierced (by now it was completely acceptable to the cashmere sweater and pearls crowd…they wore diminutive sparkly diamond studs—of course they did. And they weren’t considered to be sexually permissive with their pierced ears either.) My mother wore conservative dangling earrings. I actually thought that was cool…but I didn’t tell her that.
Instead I said, “Mom, you look like a damn GYPSY!”
About a decade after this, I was a very busy young midwife and I had to quit my full-time job at the NH Women’s Health Services as the home deliveries were affecting my work schedule. I was a single mom and my “income” from the births was measly, so I applied for Unemployment Benefits. Of course, getting this financial assistance meant I had to look like I was seriously looking for a job, so I had to go to all the job interviews that came up.
One interview I had was to be a Biology teacher at the prestigious St. Paul’s Prep School in Concord. I was afraid I’d actually get hired and if I refused, I’d lose my unemployment, so I would have to do the whole interview straight. I came upon the perfect solution—or so I thought.
I dressed for the interview in a lovely, conservative, mauve heather jacket and skirt. Perfect for a Prep School marm—except that I put one of the old “Sleeper” gold earrings in my right nostril. (This was waay before nose piercings were tres chic.) I knew St. Paul’s wouldn’t tolerate this from a “role model.”
And I was right. The poor guy who interviewed me was struggling to be professional but his eyes kept focusing back on my nostril. He just couldn’t help it. The nose ring was way too much for him. I was feeling pretty smug knowing I wouldn’t be hired until… the searing PAIN! Oh my god! I had forgotten about the pain! The pain was like an electric shock that shot up through my right eye into my cranium. My eye started to water profusely. It was like my nose was being tasered. I got a blasting migraine. It took everything I had to not rip the effing thing out of my nose. I sat on my hands. I started to twitch.
Blessedly, the interview was cut short. He said, “I’ll get back to you.” I ran to my car and yanked the horrendous spike out–but the damage was done.
To this day, I still have a very visible divot in my right nostril.
Carol Leonard, Midwife, Writer, Naturalist