I totally missed my usual Ides of March tribute to my dear, old Pat. If she had seen this March’s birthday, she would have been 83. She’s never that far from my thoughts, Pat, mostly when I’m doing something wacky.
Recently she’s been in my thoughts, because while we never specifically talked about birth control–hell I’m still waiting for someone to take me aside and explain the facts of life–I think she’d have much to say about Rick Santorum, the Catholic church and the country’s “progressive” conversations on contraception that will ensure we move back to circa 1956.
Seriously, the national dialog has backslid into a parallel universe where medicine hasn’t changed and women are just gals waiting on husbands to save them from spinsterhood or sluttiness.
For some reason, I flashed back over 30 years to a classic Pat moment of logic clashing with the status quo.
I’ve written before about a certain friend I had back from junior high to high school past college into adult life. For ease of reference, I’ll call her Sally Mae. Now old Sally Mae caused a great deal of friction between my mater and me. Pat never liked her, and I didnt really understand until I got all growed up and had problems of my own with her.
One of the ironic aspects of Sally Mae’s and my friendship was how her mother always thought of me as a bad influence. I was a special kind of bad influence as far as school kids go. I got pretty good grades in the highest level classes. At the time I didn’t swear or drink, and my biggest hobby was reading.
Still and all, Sally Mae’s Ma didn’t trust me. She didn’t cotton to my book learning. In retrospect, I also think she thought my vocabulary was kind of uppity, which was maybe understandable given that my 12-year-old self knew more words than her. She bristled like a wet cat one of the first times I was in their house and asked where there books were. I had never been in a house without any book shelves.
Non sequitur alert: I just thought of a downside of dating in the age of tablet computers. How the hell can you just someone new if their bookshelf is virtual? You’d never have the early warning of standing in an apartment and coming upon an entire collection of Ayn Rand.
In addition to distrusting my precocious self, Sally Mae’s Ma was suspicious of my mother, because she worked and by necessity left us alone some of the time. Not for very long, mind you, since Pat was a school teacher precisely because it let her be home when her kids were.
Like a few people in our town, I think Sally Mae’s mother would have been more comfortable if instead of raising us kids to be smart and take care of ourselves, Pat just found another husband and settled herself down.
Now when I look back at that time in my life, I realize that my mother probably didn’t dislike Sally Mae as much as our fights might have indicated otherwise. Nope, I think she just knew that the family of my bestest best friend was more conservative, more bigoted and more narrow than anyone I had known to date. And by god or by nagging, she had to try to protect me from my choice in friends.
All of this relates to the current state of women’s choice and contraception through one particular day, a day in which my mother came home from the grocery store spitting with rage. Pat was apoplectic. Purple with anger. All kinds of heated. She could barely sputter out the reason.
Pat had run into Sally Mae’s mother at the store. Over the aisles of canned goods and produce they had an interesting tête-a-tête.
Now getting back to my being a bad influence and my whole family being suspect, the ironic twist is how much trouble Sally Mae and her brothers were able to attract. Their mother worried about the evils in the outside world, but overlooked the demons under her roof. For example, her darling daughter used me as a foil to hide that at 15/16 she was dating a 20+ hippie with his own apartment and van. Her special friend was a friend of her oldest brother.
Today, at the age of 48, my oldest brother still wouldn’t let me date one of his friends, let alone spend the night at his apartment or drive around in his van.
At 19 one brother in Sally Mae’s family got his girlfriend pregnant.
A mother of three boys herself, Pat, in the grocery store aisles bumped into Sally Mae’s mom and offered her sympathy for the trouble in which the kids had found themselves. I wish I had a transcript of what went down after that, but I know Pat came home enraged.
What I do know is that Sally Mae’s mother brushed aside any notion of trouble and started talking about the upcoming wedding. And, Pat, logical, unconventional, and now I realize radical Pat, told her that they shouldn’t ruin their lives. They shouldn’t marry so young, because they “had to.” The kids had choices and as the adult, Sally Mae’s mother should know that and help them make the right choice.
Words were exchanged. Much more than that, I don’t know. I’m almost certain my mother’s sanity and morals were both brought into question.
The wedding happened. So did the inevitable divorce.
Thanks to my mother’s politics, or practicality, Sally Mae’s mother took a closer watch of me. Nonetheless, her daughter lost her virginity years before I did. (Cruelly and sadly, Sally Mae told stories about me, implying to our friends that I had done all of the things that were in fact her secrets. Who knows what she told her mother.)
Now, 30 years later or so, it’s stunning to me that this conversation is still happening. Instead of more choices, we have the same or less. And narrow-minded people still get away with calling women sluts.