Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Legs: Her Skinny Legs Have Carried Her through All Walks of Life-From Cement Sidewalks to the Convent

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Legs: Her Skinny Legs Have Carried Her through All Walks of Life-From Cement Sidewalks to the Convent

Article excerpt

In the picture she is 4 years old and all legs. Wearing a filmy white Easter dress, she sports fashionable patent leather shoes and unfashionable colored socks that in no way match the white dress. Her mother has two younger children to care for and it is a wonder that anything matches. Still, she manages to curl the child's hair like Shirley Temple's.

The child stands with legs spread directly under her shoulders like an opera singer, though she has never seen one. She listens to her father's opera records and drinks in the drama. While her mother manages the household in the upstairs apartment, her father kneels outside his aunt's summer kitchen before his firstborn and snaps the picture. His angle dramatizes her height, her importance, her skinny legs.

She was born to run, climb, slide, elude, kneel, and kick a football. At 9 months she ran across her Aunt Frances' hardwood floors and fell. There is a picture of her sobbing: one diaper in the usual place, another acting as a sling for her broken arm. At 3 she managed to drag a chair, climb aboard, and proceed up the china cabinet. The whole thing came tumbling down on her. Still, she managed to crawl out from under the wreckage of all those broken dishes.

After this she abandoned heights and went for the straightaway, the narrow street in front of the apartment. Here the legs barely slipped by an old Ford. Unfortunately, her father was behind the wheel and things were not too pleasant when he got out.

Still, on her fifth birthday he bought her roller skates. She strapped on the skates and made a roller derby of the sidewalk around her Uncle Joe's store and past her Great-aunt Zia shucking peas in the morning sunlight. Of course, the legs were no match for the cracks, and she fell. Her aunt and the peas jumped up and the child screamed in the nest of her aunt's apron. Her uncle grabbed a handful of jelly beans from the candy counter on his way out, filled her hands, and pointed to the sidewalk. "You broka my sidewalk," he said. That was the end of the tears.

There were no jelly beans and no angel of mercy to stop the car the day her cousin Ann Marie ran across the street in front of her home. She died in her mother's arms, a heartbreaking pieta. Someone thought it was a good idea to have her cousin be an honorary pallbearer. So one child lay in a white casket in her white first communion dress and the other stood by her side in her own first communion dress, the long white stockings sliding down her skinny legs. She tried to pull up the stockings. She tried to pull on the white gloves the funeral director gave her. What she really wanted was to hold her first communion book and rosary, the same as her cousin Ann Marie.

After the funeral they all came back to Aunt Frances and Uncle Phil's house. She was ushered into a small alcove in plain sight of the grief in the parlor. Here she sat in her white clothes, her skinny legs in the rumpled stockings, and a Snow White coloring book spread across. "Please finish coloring Ann Marie's book." It was her Uncle Phil in a voice hardly his. And the legs stayed strong while the hands colored.

The skinny legs were very strong. They fell but did not break when the bicycle she rode fell over and the school principal carried her home with a steady stream of blood pouring out of both knees. …

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