Anything regarding sex was dark and unmentionable in mixed company. Children were not to embarrass adults by noticing any veiled reference made in their presence, never asking why any adult was in the hospital, and vacating the room if the words complications, hormones, or nature came up in conversation. Above all, women should never refer to their “period.” Should a woman have to mention a pregnancy, she should discreetly refer to it as “expecting.” It was best if obviously pregnant women stayed home to avoid embarrassing the unsuspecting public.
My repertoire of misinformation was epic by this time. In a moment of proper parenting, my parents said I could ask them anything. Fat chance!! I counted on my friends when I needed a good source of information. One day at school, I heard a girl could get pregnant from sleeping with another girl. I had just spent last Saturday night with my cousin Sue. Was I pregnant? How could my mother have let me spend the night knowing what might happen? This time I was concerned enough to ask Mother. “No, a girl can’t get pregnant from spending the night with another girl. Where had I heard such a thing?” She answered my question, but I could tell she didn’t look forward to any more questions. She didn’t get any.
Everything promised to change when I discovered, “True Confessions Magazine,” a literary gem whose lurid cover hinted a treasure trove of forbidden knowledge. Of course, “True Confessions” was “filth.” Mother would have sooner jumped off the top of the house than allow it to foul her home. Happily, some of my aunts were more generous and left copies lying around giving me the opportunity to read fragments of a few precious paragraphs from time to time before Mother realized what I was up to. I never got to read an entire story, so didn’t know I would have gotten no more than a “good girl gone bad” story or a “bad girl got what she deserved story.” They only alluded to whatever sin was committed. I would have gotten more information from my Sunday School lesson. I was thrilled to hear Mother accept old copies from my aunts only to have my hopes dashed as she righteously rushed home and burned them to get them out of circulation.
Margaret finally let me in the real truth about sex. I was appalled. “Nobody would do that!” Especially not my prissy mother and my stern father. She showed me a book she found under her mother’s mattress to prove it! I was disgusted to think I had started that way. My parents had five kids!!! That proved they had DONE IT at least FIVE TIMES!!!! Maybe even six if they’d had a failure. I decided then and there not to ever get married. I couldn’t imagine how a pregnant woman could show her face in public, much less in church. It ruined “True Confessions” for me. Worse yet was the delivery of the baby. That was the worst of all. Obviously, God was a man to design a plan like that!
Daddy’s family was hormone-ridden and prone to serial marriage. His four sisters and two brothers achieved an incredible twenty-five marriages between them. Two sisters were constantly vying for the championship. One managed nine marriages, but only got credit for seven husbands since she married two of the men twice. The runner-up had a grand total of seven with no reruns. They even married the Blair twins, complicating matters even more. One of Daddy’s brothers was married three times and had three families. His other brother was hampered by a wife who refused to divorce him, so he had to settle for philandering. Daddy completely ignored their habit of marrying. In the interest of survival, so did we. My younger sisters were careful not to get caught when they composed a jump rope jingle, listing all the husband’s names: Essie Mae Lee, Jones, Peterson, White, Key, Blair, McCoy, Blair, Cole and Sneed. They weren’t that coordinated, and usually stumbled somewhere around the second Blair.
While Daddy was able to ignore his family’s interesting behavior, he missed no opportunity to point out our behavioral flaws. “Fix your clothes!” When I was three, this meant put my panties were showing, a terrible lapse in manners. As I got older, it implied either indecency or the horrifying suggestion that I might have soiled the back of my dress, the worst social gaffe imaginable. Had I been fleeing an axe-murderer and he uttered, “Fix your clothes!” checking myself out in the nearest bathroom would have taken priority over escape.
My parents had very strict standards of appropriate courtship behavior. Some were objective: No dating till sixteen. No expensive or personal gifts. No gifts of clothing. Tasteful gifts included inexpensive perfume, flowers, and books. Some were just common sense: These are the ones that gave me trouble, meaning I was in big trouble for even asking: Don’t even ask to go on a picnic for two or swimming. (Raging hormones) Don’t ever accept a ride from a boy without parent’s permission, even if you’ve been in class together since first grade. (Raging hormones) No phone calls after 8:30 pm. (Disrespectful to parents) Don’t ever go anywhere other than place in original permission.(Being picked up by tornado on way home from church might be excused.)
My mother practiced an excellent form of birth control, for us, not herself. She only bought cheap cotton panties because “nobody is supposed to see your underwear anyway.” I don’t know how I would have behaved otherwise, but I wasn’t about to get frisky in those horrible britches. Sometimes Mother was lucky enough to find some so cheap they didn’t have elastic in the legs, just the waist. The fit wasn’t too bad in the morning, but by midmorning, these adventurous undies always managed to crawl up my rear. I had no idea I was ahead of my time in my “thongs” and despised them. By then end of the day, they had achieved amazing altitude and my legs felt two inches longer than when I left that morning.
Connie and Marilyn had it worse than we did, because after Grandma had a stroke, she was no longer able to do the beautiful dressmaking she was known for. She made it her mission in life to make sure they never ran out of homemade cotton panties. She used whatever fabric was at hand, cotton prints or plaids, not soft knits. Her creations had wide front and back as well as side seams and very narrow crotches, but alas, no elastic in the legs. These were not roomy bloomers made of soft cotton flour sacks she made my mother in her youth. These were torture devices. Grandma didn’t see us for months at a time, so she underestimated their waist sizes, making the patched up drawers even worse. The tight elastic waist and scratchy seams ensured even more misery. I was not jealous!