Confession is good for the soul so they say. To that end, I must admit that in all fairness, I feel that I have led a charmed life. I was loved and have been loved in return. Judging by what I am seeing in the world now, it wasn’t my color, my religion, my economic station, or my education that allowed me to prosper to the point that I can, in all truth, claim that I AM HAPPY (most of the time, anyway 😉
I grew up in the ultimate small town in a New Jersey that one used to watching reality shows would never recognize. A good day as a kid meant walking round to the corner store where you traded the soda bottles you collected, for penny candy you or, if you had collected a lot of bottles or had saved your allowance you could dive into the red cooler to pick out a frosty bottle of your favorite cola. It was a time when children were sent out of the room for ‘adult’ talk and no child would think of talking back to their parents. Misbehavior meant punishment and ‘real’ trouble meant a quick swish of the fly swatter, hair brush, or a swat with a strap. Now, they’d call that child abuse. It wasn’t child abuse, it was discipline…and it was never meted out for small disobedience. Just the treat was enough to make you stand tall and ‘think’ before acting for the most part!
I walked to grade school, merrily tripping past houses protected by wrought-iron fences entwined with honeysuckle. Much like the lyrics in the theme song of ‘Cheers’ “Everyone knew your name.” (They also knew your business and had no hesitation in ensuring that your parents were informed if you stepped one toe out of line! Children had chores to do before play. Most people had gardens and most children learned to snap string beans, shell peas and lima beans, and strip corn, at the very least. Mothers canned jam, jelly, and fruits at the very least with some also ‘putting up’ tomatoes, other veggies, and pickles.
If grade school was a time of innocence, high school shattered our illusions as the world exploded with the politics of Vietnam, the despair of the sudden assassination of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the ever present threat of the Russians and the Cold War filling the news. My parents were older than most of my contemporaries. While a pregnancy at thirty-eight is no big deal now, it was a major factor in the ‘50‘s. My mother was thirty-eight when I was born and my father was five years older than that. Quite ‘old’ to be first-time parents. The gifts they bestowed, however, molded my outlook on life.
I learned that a man or woman’s word was their bond. That honor was more important than gold. That being an ant and saving for a rainy day was imperative for one to survive. That every lesson had a purpose and that life wasn’t fair. With a father who’d graduated high school at the height of the Great Depression, I learned that credit could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Dad explained that to buy something ‘on time‘ was not a sin IF, and only IF the purchase would/should outlive your payment. No pretty clothing or restaurant meal qualified but a refrigerator might. I had to settle for a trustworthy Impala rather than the sporty Mustang I so desperately wanted. Dad’s German heritage bequeathed a work ethic that remains to this day. He believed in a fair wage for a fair day’s work and, while stern, was a role model for the sort of heroic type you read about in books. It wasn’t his looks it was his ‘character’ that withstood the test of life.
My mother, who’d lived and worked in New York City, imparted lessons in opera, ballet, classical music, poetry, and the works of fiction writers. She believed in answering any questions I might ask truthfully and also taught me to look at the character of a person rather than their religion or color. Mom made friends of those often overlooked or disdained. She made a point of favoring the misbehaving boy from a less than ‘nice’ home when teaching Bible School. I remember her telling me how we were to be extra nice to the German woman on the next street as many people in the neighborhood still held a grudge against such people. I might not have understood the reasoning behind this at a young age, but later I came to acknowledge her wisdom. My parents also quietly, without fanfare, made no issue of who they hired or allowed into our home. I remember our television repairman was African-American. Not a big deal now, perhaps, but in those days I guess it might have been. It was never an issue. Abe did a good job so Abe was who we called to come to our house to repair things such as toasters, radios, or the television. Perhaps, that is why I never understood why people made such a big deal over color.
While I was bullied a lot in high school, the friends I did have were good ones. My salvation in escaping trauma was that I found my solace in music and in the pages of books which allowed me to escape into adventures of all types. I read everything from Cherry Ames to Exodus by Leon Uris. A lot of it went over my head but my mother’s motto was: “If you are old enough to want to read it, you are old enough to do so.”
I never burned my bra as I found plenty to enjoy in being a woman so I can’t claim much in the way of feminism other than knowing the words to I Am Woman. I liked (and still like) having doors held open for me. I don’t see it as abuse but respect. I don’t apologize for being a woman nor do I expect a man to apologize for being a man. Each sex has different attributes, strengths, and weaknesses. To deny that, never made sense to me and still doesn’t.
Birth control was just coming into fashion but I seem to have managed to avoid the problems because of several simple solutions: My father had made it clear that while I was loved and supported doing things the ‘wrong’ way meant there would be no special trappings (ie formal wedding, showers, etc.) and also that he’d be disappointed in me. That, together with my own religious upbringing and value system kept me from overstepping the line far easier than the promise of any pill that could still fail.
I think, however, the greatest gift given to me from both my parents was that lesson of respect. They taught me to respect myself; to expect the same respect from those that I dated; those that I considered friends; and those who taught/employed me. After graduating from high school if I wanted extra money I was expected to work for it. At one point, I decided that I was going to smoke. Instead of having fits, my parents told me that I could smoke only in the living room and I had to pay for this rebellion myself. It is no fun to rebel when you are given free rein. I was never good at ‘sneaky’ behavior as I’d developed a pretty serious conscious growing up so my foray into cigarettes didn’t last long. I never managed the trick of using a lighter or doing much more than holding the cylinder in an effort to look ‘cool’. Thankfully, I soon realized that being ‘cool’ wasn’t what it was cracked up to be…but that came later which I will address in another entry.
In short, I had a golden childhood which I tend to attribute to great parenting. My parents were NOT my friends. They were my parents. But I am aware that I was loved and returned such love. What more can we ask for? Perhaps, that came from my parents’ age. Perhaps, from their standards. Perhaps, from religious teaching.
Wherever it came from, I wish I could have bottled it so people could utilize it today. I’d give it away in hopes of stemming the greed, narcism, misbehavior, selfishness, self-loathing, despair, hopelessness, anger, and lack of respect that I see in young people today.
Stay tuned, there is more truth coming…