The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 3, 2011

MICHELE M. BENDER | Keep your shoes on

For The Tribune-Democrat

— Parents love to tell and retell embarrassing stories about goofy stuff their now-adult children did as tykes.

My mom often described the Sunday evening she walked into our living room and discovered me biting my toenails while watching “Meet the Press.”

I was seven.

Did my toenails simply need trimming? Did I do it because, at seven, I had the flexibility of a yoga master and teeth with the power of a 4-horsepower Black & Decker chain saw? Did I sense impending political upheaval and react traumatically to “Meet the Press?”

Eisenhower was president and Nixon vice president.

McCarthy-ism ran rampant.

That alone could trigger neurosis. Dozens of grown-ups probably spent the ’50s gnawing on their toenails, too.

I don’t recall the toenail feast, but I totally remember biting my fingernails. A nervous, hyper kid, I chewed relentlessly.

For years I had only nubs on my fingertips.

Certain teachers change our lives. At age 10, I met Maxine Horoff. A “Kim Novak clone,” she personified the woman I dreamed of becoming. Tall and beautiful, she exuded poise and confidence. She wore her blond hair in a French twist. Her long, elegant fingers flaunted perfectly manicured, polished nails.

The boys in our class recognized perfection. When Miss H strolled by, they drooled.

I carried a grade-school torch for Gary, a red-haired Howdy Doody look-alike. One day, I watched him trip over a doorstop and fall flat on his freckled face because he’d craned his neck to watch Miss H sashay down the hall.

Fourth-grade girls aren’t idiots. We knew we hadn’t blossomed. Like sea monkeys or featherless baby birds, we were larvae.

I couldn’t compete with a 20-something goddess. I couldn’t wear an “up-do,” high heels or pencil skirts.  But, I COULD GROW FINGERNAILS!

From that day, I never chomped another nail. I poured over magazine ads observing nail trends.

When I entered fifth grade, I sported immaculate, glorious, movie star nails.

It thrilled Mom that one of my childhood vices had disappeared. She prayed that I might actually emerge from my cocoon as a genteel, refined, fastidious young lady.

During my teen years, Mom and I locked horns over curfews, hairstyles, hemlines and more.

However, when she felt pressured to praise me about something, she always gushed, “Look at her fingernails! Aren’t they lovely?”

I don’t remember the toenail munching incident from 1958.

My days of being supple and limber have passed. I couldn’t touch a foot to my lips if my life depended on it.

Now, like many other 60-somethings, I visit a podiatrist who “declaws” me.

I abandoned “Meet the Press” years ago as well. I only watched as a kid because “Wild Kingdom” with Marlon Perkins came on immediately after.

Considering recent economic downturns and today’s volatile political climate, we geezers cope with intense anxiety and stress.

My advice? Resist temptation.

Keep your shoes on!              

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