When it came to the topic of sex, mostly what my mother told me was, “no!” (I think she might have told my dad “no” a few times, too.)
Growing up in the “Father Knows Best” 50s, I learned at a very early age that sex was totally taboo – no talking about it, no touching of private parts, and certainly no experimenting with neighbor kids. Dad never interfered, because Mom’s job was to raise the kids – unless of course we got out of hand and she threatened the old, “you wait till your father comes home!” Poor man never knew what hit him most of the time.
In grade 6 we watched the film in health class about how our bodies would be changing. Naturally, the boys were in one room watching their film, with the girls in the other. I’m sure each group was desperate to know what the other was learning! It was all very mysterious, and I confess to not really understanding what they were talking about. When I took the pamphlet home to my mother, she was annoyed that the school had taken over what she thought was her job.
As my breasts started to sprout, mom could no longer ignore the fact that her only daughter was moving into womanhood. I still chuckle at the girlish giggling of her and my grandmother as I tried on my first bra. When my period arrived, even though I was highly embarrassed, mom showed me very matter-of-factly how to look after myself.
She was right there when I got my first kiss at 15. Too protective to allow me to ride in my first boyfriend’s little Sunbeam, she was the chauffeur for our last date before he moved to Vancouver. He kissed me in the back seat of Mom’s Galaxy 500. I felt like a princess in a fairytale.
We never talked about my changing feelings as a teenager – the dreamy “I’m in love” or the unexpected surge of groin warmth the first time a guy touched my breasts. (Through my heavy winter coat – on a double-date with my older brother – this was the 50’s after all!) Okay, there was kissing, too. I won’t tell you his name, though I remember it well – he had bedroom eyes that caused many a girl’s sighs!
Mom never had the “birds and bees” talk with me, but she and my older brother hovered over me at any sign of potential trouble. I rarely risked her displeasure by stepping out of line.
I wished she had told me what part goes where and where babies come from. Instead, I saw in graphic detail on the big Technicolor screen of the Medical Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal exactly how babies are born and what part of the mother they come out of. I was a shocked and mortified 17-year old. “Well if that’s where babies come from,“ I thought to myself, “I’m never having any!”
But I still knew little about “the one thing” that was on a boy’s mind. I wish she had told me that it was o.k. to pleasure myself, that an orgasm was wonderful to experience, or that multiple orgasms were better than 10 A&W root beer floats. (I finally learned all that in a sexuality workshop when I was 27!)
I think she didn’t share any of that with me for a couple of reasons. First, she either had never experienced some of that, or she just didn’t have the words to talk about it. The second, more important reason was that she never got the chance, because she died suddenly when I was 17.
All her history – her thoughts, dreams, feelings and experiences were gone in an instant. Over time, her sister shared some of what she knew of my mother’s single years. How she’d narrowly escaped rape by the high school principal in grade 11. She quit school because of that, though she’d always wanted to go to university. My grandfather never forgave her for quitting – she couldn’t tell him why.
During World War II, she worked on the tarmac at Bowden, Alberta where they trained the British fighter pilots. She fell in love and got engaged to one of them, but he was killed. She had a beautiful soprano voice and sang on the radio, with my aunt accompanying her on the piano.
She was a talented writer with a great sense of humor. She wrote little skits that the curling members performed at the Derrick Club. All I have of her writing is a letter she wrote to my grandmother from her hospital bed when my youngest brother was born. My brothers and I laughed when I shared it with them recently.
I only knew my mother while I was a teenager – with all the edginess and accompanying angst. I missed getting to know her adult to adult. So when my own son was born, I was determined that he would have written evidence about his birth – what I was thinking and feeling and what he meant to me.
I started writing him letters. As the years passed, I made sure to write at least one letter on his birthday so he would feel the essence of me at that age. I tucked them away for when he was older.
Now at 64, because writing is both my passion and my vocation, I feel compelled to document my history – a memoir of sorts. I hesitated for a long time because I thought I had to be someone “important or famous” to publish a memoir. Now I realize that I have a treasure trove of stories and something of value to share. I don’t want to leave this world without some kind of mark to show that I’ve passed this way.
As I move to a more reflective time of life, I believe it’s an honor, a privilege, and part of our duty to share our thoughts and wisdom for the generations to come. Our sons and daughters have a right to know where they came from, so they can decide where to go from here. My mother died too young to write any of those words, so I have written some of them for her – as I will write my own story for my son. (I confess I didn’t tell him much about sex either!)
If you are a Baby Boomer, or you still have parents, I encourage you to write your story and their stories – before it’s too late. Our children need your wisdom, and they need to know their roots.