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Thoughts While Walking the Dog
Memories of a Jewish Childhood
By Lynn Ruth Miller

Women's Rights Then and Now

I know all about the facts of life
And I don't think much of them
Dodie Smith

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 Bismol.

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 by myself.

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 lessons."

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 engaged.

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
O.O. McLean


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