Sunday, April 17, 2011
How I got this way...or the story of my 'Pre PC' anatomy lesson
Way back when I was little, in the late 50's; there was no such thing as political correctness. Some would say that's good, some would say not. It is what it is...at any rate, I came from an odd family that was always facing the kind of culture clash that occurs when a snotty intellectual type from NY marries a very grounded but modest Midwesterner. There were three kids in our family, and when I was in Kindergarten we moved to a suburb on the SF Peninsula, where my dad worked as a newspaper editor. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and responsible for 99% of our upbringing- including how we treated each other. I need to explain that we were indeed a modest family. If I asked a question about anything of a 'delicate' nature, my mother would give me precisely the information I asked for...nothing more; nothing less. I should also explain that I was not particularly an inquisitive kid, except when it came to the issues of candy corn and Soupy Sales. I had no particular interest in human anatomy, and never having seen anyone else in my family naked, (especially not my older brother or father) I assumed all humans were created like I was. But seriously, I never thought about it much. I was four, and there were other things to think about, like candy corn, and Soupy Sales. I started Kindergarten in 1959, and a couple of days before I was to start school, my mother sat me down for a talk. Not about birds and bees...oh no- she wanted to talk about the proper way to treat my classmates. Here's why... There was a family down the street that had three kids the same ages as the kids in our family. All the kids on the street played together, divided by age groups more than anything else. We all knew that there was something different about the family, but in my house, you weren't allowed to say the word retarded. I remember that sometimes a few of the kids on the street called them names, but mostly everyone just got along. We all knew that the three kids in that family were retarded, but like I said, we didn't use that word at my house. Maybe because my older brother also had a handicap, maybe because my parents agreed on the issue of how to treat other people- anyway, that's what my mother wanted to talk to me about before I started Kindergarten. She told me that Randy (the kid in the family who was close to my age) was going to be in my kindergarten class, and that I must never be mean to him or call him names, no matter what he did, or what the other kids did in class. She referred to him as special, once she said he was a little different, but she basically let me know that it was kind of my responsibility to have his back, because he lived right down the street and we all played together. So, I knew what she said. (special) I also knew what the word on the street was (retarded) even if that wasn't my word. Skip ahead a few months...nothing that traumatic happened. Randy fit in fine, because hell, it's kindergarten and it's 1959 and kindergartners back then weren't subjected to the kind of academic stress that they are now. We colored, we napped on mats, we drank little cartons of milk that had been delivered early in the morning and were kind of lukewarm by the time we got them. We sang songs about the alphabet and at least once a week, just for excitement, some kid would throw up. The kids in the neighborhood kept playing together, and I pretty much forgot about my mother's lecture. Until one day when Randy and I were playing on the swing set in my backyard. OK, Randy's social skills weren't the greatest. One second we were swinging to see who could get the highest, and the next second,without a word, he had disappeared. When I figured out he wasn't coming back, I went to find him, which I did, in our gravel side yard, with his dungarees around his ankles, peeing on our galvanized garbage can. HOLY SHIT! WHAT WAS THAT THING HE WAS USING TO PEE WITH? Just to be sure the universe hadn't changed, I checked my own panties. Nothing. I looked again. There it was, unmistakable. Hell, I thought to myself. I've never seen ANYTHING like that before. EVER! Then, in a blinding glimpse of the obvious...I got it. I remembered my mother telling me he was different. Yeah, she said special, but I knew the kids on the street said retarded. OK, now it all made sense. Having a reasonable explanation, I filed this information away in my four-year-old brain; never told anyone, never asked about it. I had pretty much forgotten about the whole thing until about a year later when one of the reporters who worked for my dad and his wife had come over to our home for dinner with their brand new baby. I was fascinated with the baby. Being the youngest kid, I didn't recall having contact with a tiny human up close and personal before. This baby, Philip, was absolutely the cutest thing I had ever seen, and I followed Philip and his mother around all evening. As was the custom in 1960, the men sat in the living room and smoked, and the women did all the work. After the dishes were done, the moms took Philip to the bedroom to change him and put him down for a nap. Of course I was on it, delighted with the activities. Until the diaper came off. OH MY GOD! Horrified, I dragged my mother out of the room and down the hall, out of earshot. "Why didn't you tell me Philip was retarded?" I demanded. Yikes, the word just slipped out. I was far too concerned to even gauge my mother's reaction. "What are you talking about?" She looked at me in complete confusion. "He has one of those retarded things...in his diapers- like Randy!" And out came the story of Randy peeing on our garbage can, and what he had in his pants. To this day, I don't ever remember my mother laughing this much. Sometime during all my distress, in the next few minutes, she explained the difference in male and female anatomy, seeming genuinely surprised that I didn't already know there was a difference. Of course, she delivered the information in the same down to earth manner she delivered every other piece of info. Nothing more, nothing less. It became a big joke. I don't think she ever reprimanded me for the retarded reference- that really would have messed me up. I do remember eavesdropping later that night and hearing my father say that if I grew up with an attitude about male intelligence, it would be understandable. Truth to tell, it's not male intelligence I have attitude about...it's just some intelligence. Mostly now, it's about the people who believe Fox News.