Spilt Milk, Broken Dishes, and Trashy Girls

Spilt milk or broken dishes were reason a’plenty to cry when I was a kid. Daddy was highly volatile. Nothing shattered his nerves like a broken dish. Life with him was like walking a delicate precipice. Catastrope could strike without provocation: milk spilled at breakfast, the crash of shattered glass, the shrill shriek of a child. Even when things were going their best, any startling or embarrassing incident could end in a conflagration with Daddy taking his belt to the unfortunate instigator and descending into an anger that could last for days. Early on, we all learned we needed to keep Daddy happy. He doted on babies and toddlers, but rowdy children with opinions and boisterous behavior easily triggered his thunderous disapproval. Talking too much was a sure way to blunder into trouble. I invariably repeated a joke or word I didn’t understand, much to my sorrow. Failure to be circumspect ensured punishment. Nothing triggered him faster than shame. He intended for his children to reflect well, never subject to the possibility of criticism, justified or not. He only had to suspect a behavioral rule for modest female behavior to exist for it to become law. For us older girls, that meant no shorts, no public swimming, no dancing, no talking to boys, or dating until sixteen. Fortunately for my younger sisters, the road to Hell was not so broad. The worst thing we could have done was “trashy” behavior, namely promiscuity. Drinking and smoking were too far beyond the pale to ever enter the conversation.

“Trashy” girls ran around with wild boys, smoked, drank, danced, skipped school, cursed, talked back, and of course, had sex. It was understood they were an abomination not to be tolerated. I had cousins who were “trashy” long before I knew the specifics of what it involved. I just knew Cousin Carly’s boyfriend honked the horn at the street. She ran right past my shouting aunt, jumped in the car, and the boy spun out. She stayed out late, smoked cigarettes, slipped out when grounded. She got a speeding ticket driving her boyfriend’s car sixty miles from home on a school day. There was no way this way going to end up any way but badly. Of course, she dropped out of high school.

Not long afterward, Aunt Lou announced Carly had married an Air Force guy. Nobody ever saw him. Carly had a baby. Aunt Lou went to the Air Force Base and got Carly a divorce one day while Carly was working at the Firestone Plant. Carly couldn’t get the day off. Shortly thereafter, Carly married Phil, had two more children, and became as dull as mud. Thereafter, her life was entirely unremarkable except for the excellent example of how “trashy” girls behave. Thank you, Carly.

Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette

      Daddy smoked Camel Cigarettes when I was a kid.  Men smoked and Real Men smoked Camels, not one of those sissified menthol filtered brands.  Only trashy women smoked.  Mother did have one lady friend who smoked, but Miss Frannie also wore shorts and didn’t go to church.  I thought there had to be some relationship between those three big sins, but loved going to Miss Frannie’s house, so I hoped Mother continued to overlook her failings.  Miss Frannie’s husband hunted with Daddy, so the families’ friendship held fast.

    It was manly to smoke, but like drinking coffee, it was a pleasure delayed till adulthood.  I hated it when Daddy smoked, especially in the car.  We’d all be packed in tight in the backseat and as soon as he backed out, Daddy lit that cigarette.  The smoke burned my eyes and made my throat sore.  It wasn’t so bad in summer with the windows down, but in winter, we were trapped.  Daddy opened his side window vent, so in theory, the smoke didn’t stay in.  The actuality was that we all breathed second-hand smoke the whole trip.

            My smoking experience lasted two puffs.  Daddy told me to toss his cigarette in the toilet, and I took two brief puffs as I walked toward the bathroom. I did enjoy the sizzle as the cigarette hit the water, though. My cousin said he smelled smoke on me and I never tried it again.  Something about putting fire in my mouth never appealed to me.  It held about as much appeal as poking a stick in my eye.

            Daddy started smoking at fourteen or fifteen and often said he wished he’d never started, but never tried to quit.  My brother Billy and a cousin swiped some of Daddy’s cigarettes and gave smoking a whirl.  They hid in a ditch and were smoking away when a neighbor kid came by and ratted them out.  Daddy gave them a lesson in smoking, something that would get him jailed now.  He invited them come sit and smoke with him.  They were in high spirits and joined him happily.  He insisted they inhale so they’d get the full effect.  They were sick long before they’d gotten through that first cigarette, wanting to quit.

He reminded them they’d wanted to smoke and insisted they continue.  In just minutes they were drooling and starting to vomit.  Making them take a few more puffs, they had to endure a lecture on smoking, with a reminder to check back with him next time they wanted a cigarette, he’d be glad to smoke with them.  They both held off for a while, but eventually found their way back to smoking.  Thankfully, my brother quit before long.  My cousin died of tobacco-related disease in his late forties.  Daddy put his cigarettes when he was in his forties.  My mother never smoked a cigarette in her life, but due to living her first thirty-six years with heavy smokers, has a moderate degree of lung disease today.

I hesitated to write this story, but it illustrates well how things were handled in the past.  I’m sure in later life, Daddy would have never done this, but in his thirties, he still had a lot to learn about life, as we all do.