While Walking the Dog
Memories of a Jewish Childhood
By Lynn Ruth Miller
While Walking the Dog
Memories of a Jewish Childhood
By Lynn Ruth Miller
know all about the facts of life
And I don't think much of them
When I was young, I groomed myself to please men. My life's goal was to become a
full-time wife and mother in the southern sense of the words. A career wife
studied home economics, elocution and consulted Mae West for behavioral advice.
If she did her homework, she could do sleight of hand in the kitchen, hostessing
in the drawing room and bumps and grinds in the bedroom.
After waiting for a decidedly tardy puberty, reality hit me like a menstrual
cramp. I had a very stubborn attitude and no bosom whatsoever. I was wrapped up
in my own dreams and they did not include washing dishes or pumping egos. This
does not make for good marriage material in any era, but it was the certain road
to disaster back then.
My mother was determined to push me along the feminine road to The Good Life
because she had mastered it so well. It was she who taught me the proper games
to play that would mold me for a secure future. She gave me every imaginable
kind of doll: porcelain and rag, tall and thin and a rubber baby that wet her
pants with pink skin and blonde hair. (This was the thirties. No black skin, no
boy dolls…only effigies of Shirley Temple) "Play house," she commanded.
I stuck out my lower lip and dragged my doll by her hair. "I want to play Mother
May I.," I said.
"You just did," said my mother. "I said you may play house."
She set out my little electric stove and the blue and white tea set. "Invite
Gwendolyn Turner over for tea," she said.
The truth was that I loved to brew endless pots of tea out of burned toast
crumbs and water to serve to anyone who could ingest them. I would decorate the
liquid with flowers from the garden to disguise the funny odor emanating from
the cup. The handwriting was already on the wall: I was destined to destroy
every banquet I ever attempted. Anyone who dares dine at my table to this day
should come to dinner equipped with a stomach pump and a large jar of Pepto
When I was forced to go outdoors to play, I wore little ruffled pinafores with
large sashes that tied in the back. "Don't get dirty," my mother said. "I just
polished your high top shoes. …and have fun, Lynn Ruth.
I ventured outdoors, my thumb tightly secured between my teeth, my teddy bear
clutched to my heart and tried to obey her. How can you have fun and still keep
your dress clean? I never figured that one out. I just sucked my thumb, held my
teddy and watched the rest of the slobs in the neighborhood play tag.
If I could get anyone to notice me, I tried to play hopscotch or A Tisket, A
Tasket, but I had trouble skipping and never grabbed the right basket.
Sometimes, the neighborhood kids let me play hide'n seek or tag but someone
always found me. Nice little girls never swung a baseball bat and they certainly
didn't fight. Little boys did that. So did Big Boys, I figured that one out all
When I grew just a bit older, my friends and I played dress up in our mother's
clothes. I was very inventive and wrote the productions we presented in our
backyard free to anyone who could stand the noise. We sold lemonade for a penny
and we sang raucous songs like "Let the Merry Sunshine In" which, in Toledo
Ohio, was a dream never realized.
The big social event for us was our birthday party. We could play with the boys
then because their mothers had dressed them up in clean shirts, long pants with
zippers that never seemed to stay closed and plaid bow ties. We played Pin The
Tail On The Donkey and Spin The Bottle and sometimes when our chaperones weren't
looking, we played Post Office where you got to kiss the little boy of your
choice. This was always a problem for me because the only boy I ever wanted to
kiss was my daddy. The ones my age smelled like sweat.
As I grew older, I was groomed for the only acceptable role in life: a wife. My
mother sent me to cooking school and she taught me her culinary secrets each
night when I helped her prepare dinner. She sent me to modeling school and I
learned to walk in three-inch heels with a book on my head. She insisted I
attend Marie Bollinger's ballroom dance class where I stood on the sidelines
with all the other misfits and watched the in-crowd do the polka. It became
apparent early on that my father would have to support me the rest of his life
and when he died, I would have to go on welfare.
My mother decided maybe the problem was that I didn't dress properly. "You have
no style," she informed me.
It was pretty hard to have "style" when the dress of the day was an ankle-length
pegged skirt, heavy woolen bobby socks, saddle shoes (for school) or penny
loafers (for dress) and large cashmere sweaters with a sorority pin perched on
the tip of your bosom (assuming you HAD a bosom.. . . I did not. ) My mother
took me to the lingerie department at LaSalle and Cooks and a large woman with
gray hair, evil breath and a tape measure draped around her measured me. "I
don't think she is ready for a brassiere yet," she told my mother.
"But she is fifteen years old," said my mother.
The woman's chewed her pencil and gazed at my potbelly filled as it was with my
mother's magic casseroles, greasy brisket and schmaltzy kugal. "Your daughter
has a figure problem," she told my mother. "You need to give her ballet
My mother frowned. "I did," she said. "She flunked."
So it was that I was trussed up into an Edith Lance bra size 30 AAA and a boned
prison camp referred to as a foundation in a 36 buxom. "That should get her in
shape said the lady.
"I hope so," said my mother. "If she doesn't begin to look a little more
glamorous, she will be an old maid."
"I never married, "said the large woman. "And I am very happy."
My mother blinked. "You are?" she exclaimed.
By this time I was ready to go to formal dances…. a very exciting event for me.
My mother bought me a purple strapless ballerina-length gown with purple satin
shoes to match. She also got me a merry widow undergarment to contain my
potbelly and push some of that baby fat upwards into my bra. When I donned this
torture chamber, my bosom was forced into two lethal cones that could wound
anyone not wearing a bulletproof vest and often did. I secured my sorority pin
right on the tip so it could dangle free. Once I was forced into the merry widow
and the dress was dropped over my head into place, I tied a ribbon around my
neck, worked a matching band in my hair and finished the outfit with an ankle
bracelet engraved with my initials. Any young man that got close enough to read
the three letters was considered committed and the next thing I knew, I was
Every young lady who grew up when I did had the same attitude and submitted to
the same tortures to locate some unsuspecting victim into supporting them for
the rest of their lives. Until the sixties; That was when women stepped out of
the narrow roads that had confined them. They threw their bras into a pile with
the girdles, the steel curlers and the Kotex that bulged in their skirts.
Women's Rites became a thing of the past. Now call them Women's RIGHTS and we
make our own rules. Those are the ones that run the world now the way it should
have been run in the first place.
The heart of a woman, like the diamond
Has light treasured in it