Sex, Religion and Politics? The thing about religion and politics is very few people really discuss them. What I see and hear is people pummeling others with their views. I don’t see much real open-minded discussion happening. Sex, though, that’s a whole different bag of marbles. I think people really do want to learn something about it from others. We want to learn how to DO IT right. Maybe with a little creativity. Writers are creative people, no? Most folks’ first sexual experience is pretty traumatic and usually quite a disappointment, but we keep trying. However, learning about sex, that’s what I find fascinating. A couple weeks ago I asked a random sampling of friends if they had “the talk” when they were young. After encountering a significant number of blank stares I said, ‘you know, how did you learn about sex?’ Then I heard a panopy of fascinating stories about farmers planting seeds, misused appendages falling off and lectures on virginal virtues. Then, there’s my story. Alas, it’s true.
There was no sex in Lincoln, Nebraska in the 1950's. Babies arrived bundled in a sheet via a stork with a Western Union cap. I have a number of cards heralding my arrival sent to my parents from friends and relatives with that very image. Babies, as I was to learn some years later, require pregnancy and pregnancy required sex. Since there were no pregnant women in my little corner of Lincoln, Nebraska, there was no sex. The word pregnant was never uttered in middle-class households in our neighborhood. At the very most there would be hushed tittering when the phrase "in the family way" was spoken. When a woman became pregnant and began "to show" she was shuttered away for some months because of her delicate condition. After the proscribed amount of time, she disappeared under cover of darkness and returned a few days later in more or less the same condition and shape she was in when last sighted. The only difference was she'd have a clutch of cards with the image of a stork and miniature human being in tow.
Even on television, that window to the world beyond our sheltered neighborhood, there was no sex. There were only vague references to sex, but it required an educated and keen ear (something I was slow to acquire) to pickup the secret code words that hinted at connubial activities. The bedrooms of black and white cathode ray couples, when seen at all, always had separate twin beds. Of course, as we all later found out, sex was going on between television's couples most notably Lucy and Desi. Lucy was pregnant with her first child during the filming of the pilot. Then, after shooting began for the second season she got pregnant again. The writers and producers had to scramble for a storyline when Lucille Ball started showing the effects of her activities. They finally decided to incorporate her pregnancy into the show except the word pregnant or pregnancy was never used. Lucy was simply "expecting". About this time our family switched to Father Knows Best. I detested Father Knows Best and preferred the antics of the Nelson family on The Ozzie and Harriet Show or better yet the comedic offerings of George Burns and Gracie Allen. But our father knew best and we were stuck with the squeaky clean Anderson household of Jim and Margaret and their children James (Bud), Betty (Princess) and Kathy (Kitten)
We certainly knew there was a difference between men and women. One would have to be blind to ignore the size and placement of various protuberances, especially when possessed with an ample supply of back issues of National Geographic magazine. However, these differences had little to do with sex and were more a matter of curiosity. The inherent curiosity did of course spark further inquiry and for that we'd turn to the older and wiser brothers of our friends (my older brother didn't have a clue). When we posed our questions to our elder siblings we were met with rolling eyes, smirks and all manner of behavior and insult that signified their superiority over us. This was followed by the admonition that the answers to our questions were not meant for mere children and in the unlikely event that we ever did progress beyond childhood, the day would come when we'd be taken aside by our fathers for "the talk".
Everyone in our circle knew about the talk. We'd seen it happen to our friends and siblings. It was something to both look forward to and dread. One day our older male friends would go to the secret place with their father and a few hours they would emerge with the knowledge of the great secret of men and women. That secret, rather than being a wondrous revelation turned out to be a heavy burden. Our friends seem to have lost something rather than gained it. Their steps were a bit slower; their backs a bit more bent. They tried to cover it up with their smirks and haughty air, but what we saw were boys and young men weighted down with knowledge.
My father, being a man of economy decided that he'd initiate my brother Dave, who was two years older, and me at the same time. We were told of the appointed date three days in advance, which gave us time to adequately mourn the loss of our childhood and prepare for the change. On the big day we were instructed to go to our equivalent of the cave: the basement. The basement of 724 South 45th street was a manly place, chock full of steel tools, rustic knotty pine walls, stacks of lumber, nails, nuts and bolts and a clanging, belching furnace. And it's there we waited. Waited in silence. Then we heard the footfalls and saw the shadow on the stairwell of our father slowly lumbering step by step down the stairs. As he reached the bottom stair an earthy belch generated by the contents of a freshly uncapped Storz Triumph lager signaled his arrival. He pulled up a bar stool and sat down. As we waited in anticipation he looked up at the ceiling, down at the floor and then focused on a point just a bit over our heads and proceeded.
"Your mother and I have determined that it's time for you to know about men and women and the birds and bees. What I'm about to tell you is something that every young man needs to know, because soon you'll be getting new feelings. They'll be different than any you've had before and they'll occur when you're around girls. Those feelings will happen because of your peanuts and it's important for you to know that you shouldn't let a girl have your peanuts until you get married. When I was a young man there were a number of girls who wanted my peanuts, and I wanted to give my peanuts to them, but I knew it was wrong, so I didn't. Wait until you get married. That is the way you should use your peanuts." He paused. Looked back towards the floor and then scanned both of us seemingly looking at both of us in the eye at the same time. "Any questions?"
Dave and I looked at each other and slowly and almost inaudibly said. "No sir."
"Good," said my father. "That wasn't so bad was it?"
We both nodded. My brother and I watched silently as our father padded his way back up the stairs. He no doubt felt he had fulfilled his manly duty by passing the ancient torch of knowledge from one generation to the next. As for Dave and myself, despite a mix of relief and confusion we knew our lives had changed forever. What we were unclear about was when and where we would be given our peanuts.