73: Stand Tall and Proud

73: Stand Tall and Proud

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Stand Tall and Proud

That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another.

~Adlai Stevenson

Mother encouraged me to stand straight and use good posture. She found a way to do it without nagging or embarrassing me. I was thirteen and as tall as she was—five feet, seven inches. A head taller than my girlfriends. A head and half taller than the boys. I didn’t want to be tall. I didn’t want to be different.

Mom often placed her hand on the small of my back and ran it up my spine. “Stand tall and proud,” she’d whisper.

Dad’s large, rough hands rubbed my shoulders. “No slumping. You’re beautiful—just like your mother,” he’d say.

I didn’t feel proud or beautiful. Just tall.

One hot June day the mailman delivered a package. I’d dog-eared several catalogue pages marking clothes I wanted for my birthday. But it was a month until I’d be fourteen. Mom was pulling weeds from her flowerbed and told me to put the package on the kitchen table.

That night she carried the package into my room while I lay in bed reading. “Susan,” she said, “this is for you. It’s something you’ll probably never wear. But you’ll have it if you need it.”

Why would she have ordered something that I wouldn’t wear? I eagerly opened the thick brown paper envelope. It was something stiff. Made from ugly white material—like the drop cloth we’d used when painting my bedroom. This thing had hooks and laces.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“A back brace,” Mom answered. “I know it’s hard to stand up straight. I remember when I was in high school. I was taller than everyone.”

“A back brace? For what?”

“It’s to help you have good posture. You don’t need this brace now. We’ll just put it in your closet and if you ever think it’s too hard to hold your shoulders up and stand straight, you can wear it.”

Mom put the hideous brace, hidden in its brown package, on the shelf in my closet. Front and center, right at eye level.

I threw that package onto the closet floor and kicked it to a back corner. I wanted to throw it in the trash, but I knew I couldn’t. Throughout my high school years, the brown package stayed in my closet.

Mom continued to rub her hand up my spine. Dad still patted my shoulders. But they didn’t tell me to stand tall or not slump. They didn’t have to. I didn’t ever want to look at that back brace again, and I sure wasn’t wearing it. And I continued to grow taller.

I survived my high school nickname, “Six-foot Susie.” I even accepted my next to last place in our high school graduation line of only fifty-five seniors. We lined up shortest to tallest, and all my girlfriends were in the front. Only one boy, Randy, was taller than me.

When Mom and I packed my clothes for my first quarter at college, she found the wrinkled and worn package on the closet floor. “I don’t think you need to take this,” she said.

Years passed. The summer after I married, Mom and I cleaned out my closet so she could turn my room into her quilting and sewing room.

“Where’s the brown package?” I asked when the closet was completely empty.

“It’s gone,” Mom said.

“Where? Did you find someone who needed to wear that awful brace?”

“No. I threw it away when you left for college. It did its job. I’m glad it was never used.”

“So you bought it thinking I’d never wear it?”

“I hoped not. That might have been the best money we ever spent when you were in high school. You learned to stand tall and straight with wonderful posture.”

Mother never took a child psychology class or a parenting class. But she knew. Even now, decades later, whenever I feel my shoulders slump, I think of that ugly back brace that I never ever wanted to put on.

~Susan R. Ray

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