That was weird. I heard tiptoeing and a door quietly locking. I tiptoed to my parent’s room and found their door locked! Their door was never even shut except around Christmas. Mother must have gotten scared and locked it. Assuming the worst, I pounded and screeched, “Mama! Mama! Your door’s locked. Help! I can’t get in!!!”
“GO BACK TO BED!” Daddy sounded really mean. Knowing not to argue, I ran back to my room in the dark, expecting something to grab me by the collar. The closer I got to my bed, the more terrified I was, holding my breath as I dived under the covers. Why wasn’t Daddy doing anything to save us? I lay waiting helplessly for the booger get me, since there was no lock on my door. My survival instincts kicked in so I got back up and scattered some jacks and around the bed. Reasoning, if the booger had feet, at least, I’d hear him howl when he stepped on the jacks, and get a head start. When I tried to wake Phyllis for backup, I just got another, “Shut up and go back to sleep.” Since would obviously be no rescue, I crawled over her and got on the back side next to the wall. At least, the booger would get her first.
I woke up to howling, but it was Mother stepping on the jacks when she came in to get us up for school. All my questions about the booger and the locked door didn’t help her mood. More, “Shut up! You better eat your breakfast and be ready when the bus comes!” She only had kids so she’d have somebody to be mean to. I knew what I’d seen. I tried to tell the class about the booger and my close call, but Miss Angie just told me I didn’t have to tell everything I knew and made me hush. Why did this happen to me all the time?
This was my introduction to “The Big Mystery.” Before that, my experience had been gleaned from managing a brief peak at a diaper change and noting that boys were fancy and girls were plain. Even this smattering of knowledge was hard-earned since Mother did her best to herd me out of the room despite my best efforts. I was fortunate enough to see a bare breast a few times, since I had a couple of aunts who generously breast fed in view of all bystanders. I cared greatly, but I messed that up one day by announcing, “Mama! That baby’s eating his mama!” I quickly realized my mistake when Mother ran me out so I had to settle for sneaky peaks after that.
I tried to throw Mother off by not asking questions about interesting subjects that appeared to be related to the “mystery,” accruing a mountain of misinformation. All things whispered in my presence added to its mass. This included “None of your business,” topics ranging from family finances, (lots of bills, not enough money) to family secrets (Uncle C. H. was in Leavenworth doing time for making quarters) to grown up business.(Cousin Dicky had the same last name as his mother, but the other kids didn’t.) Repeating “none of my business,” ensured swift and sure punishment, which was also how out usually found out it was, “none of my business.” Matters in the “none of my business,” category might or might not be related to the mystery, but anything related to “the Big Mystery” definitely was “none of my business.”
On occasion, despite my interest,” I was horrified when Mother broke the rule and tried to give me information that smacked of “The Big Mystery.” I knew anything I needed to know, I could find out from my friends, the way God intended. Before I started first grade, she thought I needed to know the proper name of my genitalia. I wanted no part of that conversation, got out of there as quickly as possible, and came away determined never to discuss my Virginia or anything else about “The Big Mystery” with her. As luck would have it, the next day, my first day of school, I found myself sharing a seat with Virginia Morton. I refused to look, speak, or acknowledge Virginia. I couldn’t imagine why any mother would name their child Virginia and wanted nothing to do with a girl named for a wee wee. I had heard whispers and giggling referring to boys’ peters, peanuts, goobers and weenies. I didn’t want to go back to school the next day for fear of being seated next to Peter Goodwin and couldn’t even tell my mother why.
When women starting whispering, I knew something good was going on. A couple of times I was dumb enough to stop what I was doing and say, “What?” and get shooed out. Mother said it was, “none of my business!” but it sounded more like “The Big Mystery” to me. I still don’t know what happens when “my pains were two minutes apart.” Phyllis was older than the other kids and was allowed to stay in with the adults and pretended to read, rock babies, or help with dinner while the rest of us were shuttled outdoors. She was smart and sneaky enough to hear a lot more than I ever did.
Even though she was better at getting information, my sister Phyllis bungled, too. While prowling through Mother’s nightie drawer, she hit the jackpot, finding Mother’s falsies, mountains of foam with bulging nipples unlike any seen in nature. She smuggled them out, intending to make a good impression in school the next day. She showed up at breakfast with them stuffed in her dress the next morning. Since she had no bra to stow them in, during breakfast the one on the right ambled up her shoulder, while the left one reclined at her waist. She denied falsie theft, but when her story fell through, couldn’t imagine how Mother had found her out.
When I was about seven, Mother told us we were going to have a baby. She didn’t say, “I am going to have a baby. She said ”we.” I had figured out by that time that when people wanted a baby, they went to the hospital and got one. The ones that didn’t get picked just grew up to be doctors and nurses. I wasn’t much interested in babies so asked if we could get a pony instead. No, again. I never got what I wanted. I thought maybe we were going to pick one out that day, but she said it would have to wait till after Christmas. “Wait till Christmas” was her stock answer any time we asked for anything. I cheered up at the mention of Christmas and didn’t worry about the baby anymore. Maybe the pony would still work out.
Things rocked on. I assumed Mother had realized we didn’t need a baby so didn’t give it any more thought. Almost every weekend Daddy’s enormous family got together. This included his mother, his six siblings and spouses, their children, and his grown nieces and nephews who had been able to coax people to procreate with them. Often as many as fifty showed up for Sunday dinner. Of course, dinner had to be served in shifts. Children were fed at the first table and hustled outdoors to run wild while the adults ate. Our parents lingered long at the table, drinking coffee and talking nonstop as Sunday afternoon passed peacefully. We had enough cousins for two full teams for baseball, football, or Red Rover and played till exhausted. We were hot and filthy when my cousin Sandra prissed up and told me my mother was “prignant!” I had no idea what “prignant” was, but was not about to allow my mother to be insulted. I socked Sandra in the stomach and she flew in to tattle, with me hot on her heels, determined to get my say in first. When we burst into the packed dining room, Sandra was squalling and holding her belly convincingly. I burst out, “Mama!!! She said you were prignant!
The room exploded, my relatives were laughing so hard tears were running down their faces. Mother sat there mortified and speechless as it dawned on me this was either “none of my business” or “The Big Secret.” Aunt Ella Bea was the first to get control of herself, rub her big belly, gesture at the others, and laugh, “Sugar, we’re all prignant,! She explained that pregnant means expecting a baby. After she pointed it out, I noticed five of my aunts and two of my cousins had huge bellies, just like my Mother. The only one not pregnant had a fat, bald-headed baby hanging to her pendulous breast who was, “eating his mama.”
After this, I knew we would be getting a baby instead of a pony. Other kids in my class were just as interested and confused as I was. In the school cafeteria, Raymond Peers astounded us all by announcing that a woman did not have to be married to have a baby. His mama’s sister Betty was having a baby and she wasn’t married. As I pondered that fascinating tidbit, Raymond’s mama, our fifth grade teacher stormed over, popped him on the head and pinched his arm. He apparently stepped into “none of your business” and “The Big Secret” at the same time.
Armed with ignorance and my new powers of observation, I suspected every female old enough to have breasts of pregnancy. Vigilantly, I studied their anatomy, determined not to be embarrassed again. Grandma came to visit about this time. She was nosy and shared my interest in pregnancy. Nothing made her happier than being able to ferret out a bit of juicy bit of gossip about Daddy’s family. Obligingly, Daddy’s family made sure there was always plenty to gossip about. LaVonn, one of my cousins came by to visit. I was thrilled to see she looked pregnant. Grandma must have thought so, too, since she kept LaVonn in conversation the whole time they were there. After they left, Grandma had a few questions for Mother such as, “Who was Lavonn’s husband?” (A soldier stationed in Germany.) “ What was he like?” (Mother had never met him.) “How long had they been married?” (Mother didn’t know.) Mother got busy cleaning out the refrigerator and didn’t seem to hear any more questions. I kept thinking about all this fascinating information about LaVonn and her marriage to a service man and her being pregnant but it didn’t fit together. “Mother, I don’t remember LaVonn getting married. Wouldn’t we have gone to the wedding?” I had a lot more questions but Mother ran me off.
Over the course of the next couple of years, I managed to compile an impressive mass of misinformation: The fetus breathes through the mother’s umbilical cord and will drown if the mother submerges. A girl can get pregnant from another girl. My parents only had sex five times, since they had five children. The list was unending, limited only by the ignorance and imagination of my sources and my gullibility. Alas, the literal and scientific “facts of life” never so fascinating.