The Girl Who Was a Persona Non Grata, Part I
They Called Her Rag Doll
My name is Garland Hollands. I am currently fifty-nine years old and live on Roosevelt Island, New York City. However, I was born on Morningside Heights, New York City in 1952. My childhood can be described as conservative, upper middle class, and middle of the road. However, this story is not about me exactly but a former classmate.
Her name was Hope Cairn. I do not know why her parents elected to name her that because her childhood was anything but hopeful. You see Hope was born in the Hells Kitchen section of New York City to parents....Well let us say parents who were already quite overwhelmed raising 9 children already. I remember my father stating upon seeing the father at a school event," He look completely lost- and out of it!" My mother responded," He is only doing the best he could in those circumstances."
Of course, Mr. Cairn was the sole and only source of support for the large family. Altogether, the Cairn family had a total of 19 children, all girls. Mr. Cairn was always frought with worry, wondering how he was going to adequately feed and clothe his daughters. While Mr. Cairn was very concerned about the emotional and economic fate of his daughters, his wife seemed quite nonchalant regarding this.
Mrs. Cairn did not participate in the rearing of her daughters. That was let to Mr. Cairn and some of the older girls in the family. All Mrs. Cairn did was to get continuously pregnant until she could physically no longer have any more children. The apartment the Cairns lived in was extremely spacious but not spacious enough for such a huge family. The Cairn girls often slept 5 to a bed since the apartment contained only 3.5 bedrooms.
Mr. Cairn actually wanted only 2 children. It was his intent to give his children the life he never had. He remember as a poor Irish child in Liverpool, England how he wanted a college education but his family's meager socioeconomic circumstances prevented this. After high school, he had to work in order to support his family.
Mr. Cairn remembered it as if it was yesterday. He, too, came from a large family of 7 children, three boys and four girls. He also recalled his father working two jobs while his mother stayed home. His father was quite industrious while his mother was the exact opposite. Even though his mother was a housewife, she seldom kept the house clean, leaving it quite unkempt. All she did was prolifically bear children much to the disdain of his father.
Mr. Cairn recounted the countless violent verbal arguments between his parents regarding this issue. Oftentimes, the violent verbal arguments would escalate into something more physical. His father, too, planned for a smaller family of three instead of seven children. His father become very incensed at the fact that he was working extremely hard yet still living at a barely subsistent level. When his mother became pregnant, he would blame her for the dire economic situation the family was in. He remembered the situation all too well, vowing that this would never happen to him.
Alas, it did! Mr. Cairn recalled when he married his bride, a Midwest farm girl of Icelandic descent, he vowed that their lives would be at least middle class-not struggling as his parents were. However, Mrs. Cairn became quite content in her marriage and started to produce children without much foreplan or thought to their wellbeing. With each succeeding pregnancy, Mr. Cairn became angrier at his wife, accusing her of laziness.
Now, Mr. Cairn was in the same and/or even in the worse situation than his parents' were. He was working tirelessly around the clock doing janitorial work in addition to other odd jobs to make a subsistent living. However, it was to no avail. He was still poor and he did not intend this for his family!
In his Hell's Kitchen tenement, his family was among the poorest families in the place. They often ate processed foods and what was donated by their neighbors. Luckily, there was a church nearby that regularly donated processed and canned foods. If the church did not do so, the Cairn family would be near starvation. The clothes the Cairn children wore were castoffs from charitable donations.
When Hope Cairn attended elementary school, she was the poorest pupil there. Most of the pupils at the school were upper middle class with a few lower middle and upper class students. Of course,most of the teachers treated the upper middle and upper class students better than they did the lower middle and the lower class students. This was de rigeur at our school.
The first grade teacher, Mrs. Hancock,had a strong animus against Hope Cairn. Mrs. Hancock would constantly deride Hope for anything she could find such as her poverty, her poor grades, and her demeanor. You see Hope was not a quiet child. In fact, you could describe her as being quite unruly and coarse around the edges.
Hope was just exuberant in a way the rest of us girls were not. While the rest of us girls were content to behave ourselves and to obey Mrs. Hancock, Hope was diametrically the opposite. She was quite a budding feminist who saw no problems in sparring with the boys and being sassy to Mrs. Hancock if necessary. Hope would visit the principal's office quite often.
The rest of the girls did not like Hope. They considered her to be an oddball and quite quirky. One girl, in particular, Barbara Montpelier, had a particularly strong dislike for Hope. Barbara and Hopes were opposites in every way. Barbara was quite plain while Hope was exceedingly beautiful even at the elementary school level. Barbara was a dark brunette while Hope was a pale blonde. Barbara's family was upper income to Hope's lower income.
Barbara was also Mrs. Hancock's pet. To Mrs. Hancock, Barbara could do no wrong- not ever! There were many reasons why Barbara was Mrs. Hancock's pet. She was a stellar student, smart beyond her six years. Her father was Mrs. Hancock's physician in addition to being one of the main contributors to the school. Her mother was the head of the school's PTA.
So Barbara had it made as far as Mrs. Hancock was concerned. In fact, because of her family connections and grades, she was the undisputed queen of the first grade class. She would use this as a leverage against the other students. You could describe her as a tattler, bully, and insufferable brat.
I remember one cold December day in 1958, two weeks before Christmas. The class was scheduled to go the Museum of Natural History. Hope was greatly anticipating the event because she never went to museums unless it was a school event. Well, Mrs. Hancock was in a particularly foul mood that day for an undiscernible reason. She decided that only a few pupils would attend the museum while the rest would be under the tutelage of another teacher.
Mrs. Hancock then imperiously selected the pupils who would attend the museum. She selected me, Barbara, and ten other students. I noticed that the pupils Mrs. Hancock selected were from upper middle to upper class backgrounds. None of the poor pupils were selected. Hope boldly raised her hand, asking her why she was not selected. Mrs. Hancock abruptly replied that she was too uncivilized to ever attend such an event! Hope just looked at Mrs. Hancock, tersely replying that the poorer pupils were entitled to have the same access to cultural events as the wealthier students were. Mrs. Hancock just looked askance at her while Barbara started laughing uproariously...........