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Often, the events and circumstances that leave imprints on our psyche are a mystery to us. We may not consciously know what has shaped our attitudes, our beliefs, our emotional responses.

Sometimes, however, a recovered a memory gives us a clue. Recently a conversation with a friend unearthed a little gem of a memory from decades ago.

Back in the 1960s, I attended Helmsburg Elementary School in Brown County, Indiana. At that time, things were difficult in my homelife. School was my safe place, my happy place. I had an awesome circle of little friends: Judy, Mary Ruth, Doris, Bonnie, Rebecca, Karen, Linda, Brenda, and more.

Eighteen years ago, at my father’s funeral, I was approached by a woman I hadn’t seen in decades. She was the mother of my childhood friend, Rebecca. During the course of our brief conversation, she said, “I was always amazed at how many smart little girls there were in your class at Helmsburg Elementary.”

In reflecting on her remark, I realized how true it was. My friends and I certainly were a gang of smart little girls. We knew who we were, and we made no apologies for ourselves. We were strong, we were capable, we were talented. We excelled academically. We hadn’t yet internalized the societal message that we were less than our male counterparts. We hadn’t yet learned to play the game of diminishing ourselves for the sake of appeasing the male ego. In fact, our male classmates couldn’t begin to compete with us academically.

I thrived in my gang of smart girls throughout my fourth and fifth grade years. The following year, the sixth graders were separated into two classrooms. Doris was my only friend from my smart girls gang who was placed in my classroom. The rest of the smart girls were placed in the other classroom.

I was incensed. I felt bereft. I couldn’t believe what had been done to me. Deprived of the companionship of the other smart girls, Doris and I clung to each other for support. She and I bonded that year. Still, I deeply missed the rest of our gang.

In terms of the imprint on my psyche, here is what I’ve realized. Throughout my adulthood, whenever I’ve entered a new social situation, I’ve always been on the lookout for potential female friends who are intelligent and insightful. Sometimes, I find them. Sometimes I don’t. But the question is always there in the back of my mind: “Where are my smart girls?”

Blessings to all of my smart girlfriends at Helmsburg Elementary School. Looking back, I feel so proud of our little gang. It makes me want to do a little dance.

Remarkably, a few members of my original smart girls’ gang are still in my life. I have acquired other intelligent female friends along the way. More are always welcome.


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