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.