What Mom Taught Me About Sex in Sixties Suburbia

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We live in an American Ranch-Style house. My parents tell me this as though it will mean something to me as if in my five-year-old’s brain, I understand such concepts as ranch, split level or Tudor. But I know the words, and that is enough.

Entering the front door, one steps directly into the living room. The furniture — a thick grey upholstered sofa and matching armchair, handed down from my grandparents when my parents first set up housekeeping as newlyweds. My folks replaced this setup with an Early American Colonial sometime later in the early 1970s.

My mother and I fold laundry on the sofa. I like to fold the towels and face cloths because they look even and tidy, ready to stack, clean and fresh in the hallway press.

I dislike touching my Dad’s underpants. They have an awkward, hard-to-fold shape. The yellowed Y-fronts have permanent stains from the cream dad used for jock itch, not that I understood the source of the stain or the concept of jock itch. I knew only that they seemed somehow contaminated and something vaguely inappropriate for me to touch.

I know enough to know what parts of my dad’s body these stained underwear cover. I have not (yet) seen my father naked, but my friend Morgan and I played doctor a few times until his mother caught us in the act. So I know what a penis looks like — at least the penis of a seven-year-old boy. I find the thought of my dad having a penis disturbing, just as I find his washed but eternally stained underwear unpleasant.

I am happy to be a girl with parts that don’t slip out and flop about helplessly, parts that need a proper encasement. Someday I will grow into a woman like my mother. I admire her feminine distinction and want to grow into that blend of breasts, pubic hair, mascara, and high-heeled shoes. When my parents go out for dinner, she dazzles me with her perfume and green brocade dress. She sparkles on Daddy’s strong husband-arm, his eyes proudly shining. The neighbours tell us she keeps herself fit and nicely turned out—my pretty Mommy.

Folding my own tiny cotton panties decorated with ducklings and flowers, I find validation in the inherent cleanliness of girls. No weird pouches for protruding parts, no stains or secret openings for said parts to escape; just simple cotton underwear to wear beneath skirts, dresses, and trousers; all things neatly folded and hidden.

I reach for a pair of Mommy’s panties. Delicate animal prints with thin black elasticized lace at the borders. Her panties are nearly as small as my own. Looking up, with her panties in my hands, I ask her why her panties have tiger stripes. Then, sighing tiredly, she looks up, ‘to make your Daddy happy, so he does not leave us.’Is Daddy leaving?’ I ask, somewhat confused.

Staring into the basket of newly folded clothes, she simply shrugged and said no more. I know by her silence not to ask more questions. She lugs the basket of folded clothes down the hall, then disappears behind her bedroom door. I filed the information into a mental file labeled ‘how to keep Daddies happy’. Underwear is powerful.

Four of us live in the bought-brand-new suburban house — Mommy and Daddy because houses and children need them, and me and my sister, Leslie. Leslie is my big sister, but only a little bigger. People sometimes think we’re twins because I’m nearly as tall as she is, and we both have blonde hair and blue eyes. Her eyes are bluer. She is one year older than me, and in September, she will start school. When we play with the neighbour kids, Leslie teases me and sometimes pushes me down. But when we are home alone, she acts nicer.

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My dad is like a shadow in our house. He shows up at the same time every day, wearing a suit and tie. When he comes home, the air feels thicker. He carries a briefcase filled with papers, pens, and a glass bottle of mucilage glue with a rubber top that fascinates me.

Daddy drinks black coffee in the mornings and cold beers in the evenings and on weekends. He sits in the armchair, watching television, and smokes Lucky Strike cigarettes, stumping them out at the bottom of a thick amber glass ashtray. Dad is not of my daytime world. He occupies the end of the day.

He talks of things I do not understand, like bills (they upset him a lot) and taxes. He complains about his arch-nemesis at the office — a Mormon named Jerry. Jerry has five children and lives near a graveyard. I love the graveyard.

In the background, the Viet Nam war plays out on our television, but Mom and Dad seem not to notice. It’s normal. When you’re a small child, anything that happens inside your house is normal—all of it.

Leslie’s Guilty Conscience

Melvin has a dirt bike. Of all our babysitters, we love him most. He throws us up in the air and swings us like an aeroplane. We tumble onto the front lawn, where he tickles us so hard that we nearly pee our pants.

On summer days, Melvin sometimes comes to our house even when we don’t need a babysitter. He arrives on his dirt bike, and Leslie and I take turns riding with Melvin around the fields near our school. He knocks on the door, and Mom or Dad just let us go with him, no questions asked.

We sit in front of him on the narrow seat as he speeds through the fields. Sometimes I get annoyed because he pushes himself up so close against me on the bike.

One summer morning, racing along behind the school, he sat up so close to me on the bike that the back of my damp swimsuit bottoms kept pulling down, exposing my butt. I wriggled forward to adjust my suit, only to have him press up closer against me, pulling them down again.

Knowing that he saw my butt embarrassed me and made me feel vaguely ashamed.

When we return, Leslie takes her turn while I waited alone outside our house. I get jealous when it’s Leslie’s turn. He always takes her for longer rides than he does me. It seems like an eternity before he brings her back. Before he goes home, he swings us a few more times, then gets on his bike and rides away.

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It’s late at night, and sobs from Leslie’s bedroom awaken me. I hear Mommy and Daddy’s muffled voices inside her room. Leslie’s sobs intensify.

Wide awake in my bed, I listen and wait, hoping someone might call me to join them in my sister’s room. The invite never comes, and I wait in my bed, amusing myself quietly with my doll until I drift off to sleep.

The next morning, Daddy has already left for work, and I eat Cheerios with my sister at the dining room table. She says nothing to me about the night before, even though I ask her what happened. Mommy tells us to dress. We need to drive to Piggly Wiggly to buy groceries.

When we arrive at the store, Mommy parks way at the back of the parking lot, far from the shop doors. Silence. Leslie and I look at each other. After a spell, Mommy turns to face us in the backseat.

‘Melvin cannot babysit you anymore, and you’re no longer allowed to take rides on his bike. If you see him or he tries to talk to you, you must walk away and come home immediately’.

Leslie looks down at her knees, keeping quiet. I see tears welling in her eyes. ‘Why?’ I cry out, ‘What did Melvin do?’ I don’t understand what’s happening.

With Leslie sobbing hard now, Mom tries to collect her words. Finally, she answers, ‘Melvin plays too rough, and he almost hurt Leslie. Your Dad and I think there might be something wrong with him . . . teenage boys shouldn’t play with little girls.’

Later that day, as Leslie and I are sitting at the dining table drinking cherry Kool-Aid, mom tells us all about rape.

Rape is what didn’t happen to Leslie but might have happened if Melvin had not stopped himself. We learned Leslie was lucky, and rape was a very complicated and confusing thing. We learned, for example, the physical components of penetrative vaginal rape and that it causes pregnancy.

She then told a story of how a boy on a bicycle almost raped her, but luckily a nice college boy came along and rescued her and walked her home. However, she did not explain rape as an act of violence, nor did she explain it was against the law.

In her awkward efforts to explain sexual assault, my mother, ever the pragmatist, also tossed in a brief bird-and-bees lesson that seamlessly blended with the rape lesson. Rape became confused in my child-mind as something that married people did to make a baby.

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Thereafter, our play incorporates this newfound knowledge. When playing house with my friends, we pretend to be mommies married to daddies. When we decide the time had arrived to make a baby (always immediately after the wedding), the mommy and daddy schedule an appointment with the make-believe doctor (as we assume baby-making required medical assistance).

In his office, the doctor supervises and assists the daddy in raping the mommy, and voila! A child is made. We then stuffed pillows under our tops and wonder what should happen next.

As the summer wore on, our friend Cecilia filled in many of the gaps in our sexual education. Cecilia had an older brother. He had nudie magazines that she would liberate from beneath his bed. From there, she would piece together a plausible narrative on married life and the making of babies to satisfy our curiosity until the public education system set us straight.

After that, we stopped asking our mother questions.

— For Trina

#sexeducation #triggerwarning #misinformation #FamilyStories #Metoo #sexualassault #rape #sixtieschildhood

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