Little Barbara (“Barbie”) Sherf, 6 (from left), is seen with her sisters, Patrice, 8, and Karen, 10, in 1968 in front of their twin home on Janice Street in Northeast Philly. They are getting ready to go to school at St. Katherine of Siena Church on Frankford Avenue.

Little Barbara (“Barbie”) Sherf, 6 (from left), is seen with her sisters, Patrice, 8, and Karen, 10, in 1968 in front of their twin home on Janice Street in Northeast Philly. They are getting ready to go to school at St. Katherine of Siena Church on Frankford Avenue.

by Barbara Sherf

Growing up with two older sisters and a younger brother, each about two years apart, I longed to gain entry into “The Big Girls Club.”

My brother, Kevin, was in a club — and room — of his own.

We three sisters shared a room, although I was a bit isolated on the top bunk and viewed as the baby girl in the family.

The oldest, Karen, and second child, Patrice, tended to pal around together, only grudgingly taking their “baby sister” with them to play outside or down in the basement. Two was company, three a crowd.

Dressed in their starched white cotton shirts and navy blue Catholic school uniforms with lunch boxes in tow, my sister siblings marched off to school at St. Katherine of Siena Church on Frankford Avenue as I stayed behind, longing for the day when I would get my own lunch box and join them as part of “The Big Girls Club.”

The big day finally came. Looking back on a faded family photo of the three girls in front of our twin house, I felt pure joy at finally joining my two older sisters on the walk to school and getting a closer glimpse into “The Big Girls Club.”

Once there, I hesitated at the classroom door, looking at a nun whose wrinkled face scared me to no end. On that first day Sister Egidia asked me to stand up in front of the whole class, sharing with the newcomers the fact that she had taught my mother. Gosh, she was ancient. I felt so humiliated by being singled out and upon returning home, vowed never to return to school again. Of course, that didn’t happen.

What did happen that year opened my eyes to the disciplinary actions those nuns meted out on any given day. Early on in first grade, Charles Beaver was given a bar of soap and told to eat it to clean out his dirty mouth. He took a bite and spit it out and was sent to the principal’s office. We never found out what happened there. Then came the day that Sister found a brown bag containing an egg salad sandwich abandoned in the rear coatroom.

When nobody ‘fessed up to owning the lunch, Sister made each student take a bite of the sandwich. Gross. To this day I can’t even look at egg salad without my stomach churning. Yuck. Here I was finally in “The Big Girls Club,” and I wanted out — big time. Kindergarten was a piece of cake compared to this.

My next entry into “The Big Girls Club” came later that year. Up until this time, I had believed in Santa Claus. Just before Christmas, I saw my two sisters snooping around in our parents’ bedroom. Hovering at the door, I peeked in and asked what they were doing.

“Shh, get in here, or we’ll be found out and be in deep trouble,” Patrice said. I hesitated but wanted in on “The Big Girls Club.” They then showed me toys stashed under the bed and clued me in to the fact that Santa did not exist. While I was distraught by the news, I was also delighted to be invited into “The Big Girls Club.” After the holidays were over, I was again banished to “The Little Girls Club” because my mother found out that my sisters had shared the fact that Santa did not exist.

The next time I remember coming back into “The Big Girls Club” was when I got my first training bra. Being the third girl, I typically got hand-me-downs, but somewhere around 11 years of age, my mother took me and me alone out for my first bra. I wore it proudly as an outward symbol that I had gained entry into “The Big Girls Club.” My sisters laughed when they saw it since it was just a ‘training bra’ and not the ‘real deal’ like the ones they modeled behind the closed doors of our bedroom.

On my 12th birthday my membership into “The Big Girls Club” became official.  That morning I woke up to discover that “I had become a woman.” In other words, I got my period. My sisters were thrilled and congratulated me. I was somber most of the day, fearing that everyone coming to my first boy-girl party that night would be able to tell. I let my best friend, Donna Fitzgerald, in on my menstrual secret, but none of the other party-goers.

I  remember we turned the lights off and played “Spin the Bottle” in the basement briefly until my father flipped the light switch on at the top of the stairs and threatened to come down.

I also remember visiting the powder room every half hour or so to check that everything was in order and that I wouldn’t be “found out” by the boys.

In the eyes of my sisters,  I was officially now in “The Big Girls Club.” Had I known this monthly ritual was part of the price to pay, I’m not so sure I would have yearned so desperately for membership. But at this stage of my life, I had no say in the matter. Mother Nature had taken its course, and I had clearly gained entry into “‘The Big Girls Club.”

Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf is a personal historian. For ideas on how to capture your personal history, visit www.CaptureLifeStories.com.

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