Mom was more conservative than Nancy Pelosi is liberal. The definition of conservative according to Merriam-Webster: an adherent or advocate of political conservatism; a member or supporter of a conservative political party; one who adheres to traditional methods or views; a cautious or discreet person.
As children, the rule was we were allowed to see Disney movies, and only Disney movies. You know, The Love Bug, with Dean Jones, Bambi, The Parent Trap and all those fun flicks. However, there were exceptions to the rule like The Sound of Music, where I had to wear a dress just to go to a movie theater! The Taming of the Shrew was a film we saw by default because that’s what was playing on either the Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth, I can’t remember which.
Remember Paint Your Wagon? I had to wear a dress for that one too. Mom may have had a crush on Clint Eastwood, I don’t know, but we watched Lee Marvin act like a drunkard, and when the boob scene came on, Mom hurdled a seat and smashed her hands against my eyes. I think I was ten. She didn’t want me to see a pair of boobs that I would develop in less than 6 years. Actually, I was underdeveloped in that area and forty plus years later, I’m still waiting. But I digress. The film was filled with boobs, bullets, and wife sharing. Where was the little red Radio Flyer wagon?
The rules of movie-going came under attack when Denise begged and begged Mom to let her see The Graduate. All her friend’s Moms were letting them see it. Why couldn’t she go too?
“No,” was the answer Denise heard over and over. “I’m not your friend’s Mother, I’m your Mother and I say, NO.” How could Mom humiliate Denise like that? She would be the laughing stock of Queen Anne High school if she were the only person void of the sexual information that this movie would provide a teenage girl.
Denise was so angry that she went straight to Dad. “Sure, I’ll take you to see The Graduate,” he said. So, Denise saw the movie after all and Mom was livid. How was she supposed to protect her children from the tarnished world when they go behind her back to their “never say no” father? It was an impossible task for sure.
Mom tried her best to protect her kids from the horrors of the world, i.e., movies, unsavory people, and the Vietnam War. I knew there was a war, and for years I wore a POW wrist band until it ripped off during a water ski wipe-out.
But as prudent as Mom was, she could not protect us every minute of every day. For example, one chilly afternoon as Denise walks home from high school, a big sedan full of black teenagers drives by slowly, casing her. (In 1968, it was uncommon for black kids to be in our neighborhood.) Denise walks faster. The sedan disappears around the block, but as Denise starts down Warren Avenue, the kind of hill where if you were on horseback you’d have to lean backward to avoid lurching forward, the sedan pulls alongside her and stops. A girl jumps out and runs in front of Denise, ordering her to hand over her purse.
Denise freezes with fear, like a young impala cornered by a hungry cheetah with nowhere to run. She is oblivious to everything except the knife in the girl’s hand. The girl slices at the front of Denise’s parka, then again, and keeps slicing until the stuffing oozes. Having cut Denise’s purse strap, it falls free and the assailant grabs it, jumps into the sedan and it speeds away. Denise falls onto her knees, looking at our house – she was that close.
Rattled and shaking, Denise skedaddles home with bloody knees and tells Mom her traumatic story. Mom immediately phones the police, and when Denise tells him the story the officer asks her to describe the girl.
“It was rusty,” Denise said. “It was rusty.” She was so focused on the knife, that it took her a while to describe the girl as black, and that there were a lot of teenagers in the white sedan. Later, Denise’s drivers permit was found a few blocks away from the scene.
After a traumatic experience like that, I fail to see how a little movie like The Graduate could corrupt a teenage girl’s mind. Mom meant well. She was trying to do her job, which was to take care of her kids to the best of her beliefs and abilities. However, we were forever challenging her conservative parenting technique. One night when I was fourteen, Mom comes into my bedroom and sees a beam of light leaking from under my comforter. She yanks off the comforter and catches me red handed doing the unthinkable. Yes . . . I am reading. She steals the book from my hand, raises an eyebrow into that upside-down V and reads the title out loud.
“The Happy Hooker!” she hollers.
“You said I should read more!”
“I meant read things like Anne of Green Gables.” She looks down at me and then at the book, shaking her head.
“I got this from the bookshelf in your bedroom,” I said in my own defense.
Mom sighs heavily, tosses the book onto my bed and walks out. Was she throwing in the towel? Her youngest child was reading The Happy Hooker, and a year later when she saw me reading Helter Skelter she came unhinged. The Graduate was looking more and more like a Disney movie.
Continued later . . .