|BWS Stories - "Born in the U.S.A."...Childhood Memories|
"Born in the U.S.A."...Childhood Memories - Treasured Truths
Joyce Faulkner is the author of Losing Patience, a collection of short stories that ponders the natural and supernatural aspects of mortality. Visit her at www.losingpatience.com.
I am a baby boomer. To those of you raised in saner times, you must wonder why we boomers chose to rebel when we reached young adulthood. After all, how DOES one explain Woodstock or be-ins or the great bra barbeques of the late sixties?
It all goes back to important truths our parents taught us as children. Some of them were amusing, most were confusing and all have the stamp of mid-America in the 1950s and 60s. Unfortunately for my parents and for me, I was one of those kids who never quite “got” the point of their exhortations and now, looking back, they make me smile.
For example, a precept learned at my father’s knee concerned the evils of communism. As I understood it at age five, communism was a disease that you could catch if you talked with someone that had it. It was akin to small pox, polio and measles. As a child used to vaccinations and sugar cube doses, I expected a shot would be forthcoming.
I was willing to accept without question the idea that ‘America is the best country in the world’ until I realized that the people who said that had never been to any other countries. Since I was a simple-minded kid, I couldn’t understand the use of the word ‘best’ without a basis for comparison. My relatives scowled and suggested that I take their word for it.
They gave me the same answer when I questioned the oft-discussed notion that people from other countries smell. Okay, I could accept that. Throughout my grade school years, I imagined that Germans smelled like German chocolate, Swedes smelled like Swedish meatballs and Italians smelled like spaghetti. Does that mean Martians smell like Mars bars?
At age seven, religion was very confusing to me. As best as I could make out, God was an insecure and jealous old man with a very long beard who was afraid that I might like someone else better. I found his pushy attitude annoying and resolved to stay clear of all old men thereby stunning my Sunday school teacher and embarrassing my mother.
Like many men of his generation, my father had strong feelings about gender. No daughter of his was going to work or wear black patent shoes or go swimming in two piece bathing suits. It was unladylike to take shop or physics, but home economics and typing was okay. A wife should be physically weaker than her husband or risk being considered a dyke, whatever that was. If a female is raped, it’s her own damned fault -- and of course, a girl should never be too smart.
By fourteen, I was overwhelmed with dozens of inexplicable prohibitions aimed at keeping me pure and dull so that some man would want to marry me -- whether that was what I wanted didn’t seem to matter.
My mother had a list of issues too. First off, all little girls wanted to be Miss America. My apathy on that question was an unforgivable lapse of girlish protocol. Dancing lessons were appropriate but baseball and band were too ‘boyish’. Other womanly precepts were: never, ever leave the house without drawing on your eyebrows, don’t let anyone see you with curlers in your hair and make sure that your nipples don’t show through your blouse. (Nipples showing through blouses were one of the reasons that rape was the girl’s fault since men cannot control themselves when they see them.) This led me to believe that breasts were powerful weapons in the war between the sexes -- one of the few ideas gleaned from those days that have proven to be useful.
Drugs had their own mystique. Marijuana drove you mad but you had a God-given right to smoke cigarettes anywhere you wanted. “Diet” pills got you up and “Nerve” pills took you down. “Hard” drugs led you straight to hell. One had to be especially wary of dope fiends as they were akin to communists and talking to them meant you might “catch” a taste for heroin.
Booze was bad but beer was manly. Women could sip white wine while holding their noses and pretending not to like it. Martinis were for city folk. Highballs, like sex, were for medicinal purposes only. Drinking in general was another reason why rape was the woman’s fault.
Old maids went to college to find a husband. They took things like English and Library Sciences. Engineering, medical school and architecture were out of the question. Women couldn’t wear slacks on campus unless they were also wearing a raincoat. Presumably, this was because men couldn’t control themselves if they saw our thighs either. This led me to eye men with a modicum of suspicion lest they run amuck at any moment.
The corporate world was no less confusing. Some companies hired only unmarried women. When you acquired a husband, you lost your job. Other employers let you work until your first pregnancy, but you had to leave before you started ‘showing’. No matter what position a woman applied for, she was compelled to take a typing test. Only prissy men could type unless they were in the military and prissy men weren’t allowed in the military.
Other unquestioned truths were: only white protestant men could be president, General Motors would never knowingly make a bad vehicle, and it doesn’t matter how smart or well-educated you are, the person who yells the loudest wins the argument.
By the time I grew up, I knew many of these precepts were bunk. After all, I listened to a fair amount of rock and roll in my youth and the devil didn’t come visiting. I stopped wearing raincoats over my jeans many moons ago and no one has lost control and ravaged me. However, as I moved into chubby middle-age, I realized my dad was right about one thing. Two piece swimsuits ARE a bad idea.