Friday, June 23, 2006

The Good Ole Bad Ole Days


I think Einstein would have a hard time calculating the distance between the MTV childhoods of today and the one I remember.

We didn't have body parts in my family. Oh, we had faces, as long as we weren't MAKING them - ("your face is going to FREEZE like that") and knees, which got scraped and wore hard, dangling scabs. Some kids ate them for entertainment. Or protein, maybe. But there was a whole temperate zone between our chins and knees that simply didn't exist. They had no names, and therefore we had no earthly reason to understand their functions.

So imagine the adult temper tantrums occasioned by my glancing up from a book and chirping, "What do you think about that Greek philosopher, Testacles, Dad?"

There were no nine-year old hookers on TV then. On Saturday mornings my mother cattle-prodded me downstairs to watch the Horn & Hardart Children’s Hour. Most of the child performers were obnoxious twinkling brats and I hated the show, but my mother persisted in her doomed efforts to turn me into Shirley Temple. My brother didn’t have to watch this gold-plated drivel because he was building an atom bomb or something from a Heathkit in his room.

My mother went back to bed feeling virtuous, no doubt, because she had made another stellar childhood experience available to me.

At the end of the show, all the sparkling kiddies held hands and crooned the Horn & Hardart theme song, "Less Work For Mother Nooooooww" while the camera panned on strawberry shortcakes and lemon meringue pies. I stuck out my tongue and thumbed my ears at them as they scampered around in their patent leather tap shoes. They grinned back at me with all their teeth together like Irish Terriers. Their hair was impossibly perfect, Little Lulu corkscrew curls fanning their velvet shoulders. Nothing like the anarchic swallow's nest that has always adorned my own head. I would have mooned them if I'd known how. Or offered them my middle finger.

Of course there were no cartoons on this show. I liked the ones with little mice who lived in perfectly arched mouse holes in the walls of peoples’ houses. I searched our house regularly for architecturally precise mouse holes but never found any.

We were absolutely not allowed to swear, which meant any word that wasn't on the Approved List. Nor did adults swear in front of us. I'm still not sure exactly what they were preserving us for - in my case, probably marriage. Girls were bred for marriage like turkeys for the table. Boys, of course, were supposed to conquer the world. Whatever that meant.

It was boring. Unutterably boring. But on reflection, I have to admit that we actually had a childhood, and that puts boredom in a whole new light. Although my parents expected us to behave like small adults, that didn't apply to anything remotely sexual. It meant being polite and respecting our elders like crazy, but always remembering that we were in fact children, and that there was a whole world of behaviors and yes, body parts, that we would someday learn about. But never in a million years from them.

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