MY PIANO TEACHER LIVED two floors below us. A large lady with a stentorian voice and glasses dangling on her ample bosom, she caressed the ivories with a passion most teenagers reserve for romps in the hay. Single and living alone, music was her life and her students her family. That she was a stellar pianist and painstaking teacher was overshadowed by how the grandmothers of the building, mine included, viewed her. Miss Printer, you see, couldn’t keep her legs together.
Now before you assume I speak of the sexual, let me assure you I am merely referring to the way she sat. Her wide thighs spread apart, printed cotton dresses hiked up beyond the knees, tapping her finger to keep time with the keys, Miss Printer cared a whit for the proprieties of womanhood. If one was writing their lessons at ground level, her mammoth bloomers would greet anyone who bothered to stare (and I was witness to many a curious young boy who did). Back home, lessons in ‘ladylike behavior’ weren’t complete without a reference to the disgrace that was Miss Printer and how a future of single misery awaited me if I didn’t rein in my knees.
Miss Printer has been dead 16 years. A new century has rolled in. At 31, I’m a girl no more and the ‘lady’ tag my grandma worked so zealously on is a grey area. I don whatever garb I please, jeans and pants taking preference over traditional wear. My legs are long and take up space and I don’t usually give a thought to how I sit (I’m sure a star called Nana is cringing somewhere up in the heavens) but occasionally, those words come back to chant in my ears and I find myself hurriedly clicking knees together, adjusting my skirt and feeling just the tiniest bit guilty for letting my ‘good girl’ guard down.
Such is conditioning. And I’m sure it’s been inflicted on many of you too. Do share. I’m curious to know how many women experienced something similar and whether men were at the receiving end of something comparable. Good girl or otherwise, this is one legacy I hope not to perpetuate. The world can do with one less pair of knees posing as Siamese twins.