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

Dirty Doings

Repent, repent, repent!
Stop those dirty little doings
That are screwing up your life.
Comden & Green

When I was young all things functional were always accomplished behind closed doors. The actions we consider commonplace today were only exposed in those books the librarian kept locked in her Special Request cabinet.

In my home, we all received equal displays of affection. My father kissed each of us in the vicinity of our ears when he came home from work and my mother folded her arms and turned away lest we ruin her make up. I thought we were making love.

When I was thirteen, my mother gave me an involved lecture that described the technical aspects of human reproduction. She discussed ovum, sperm, fallopian tubes and my uterus in great detail, but she never mentioned desire or need. She finished her speech with the warning: "Nice girls don't do it, Lynn Ruth."

What wasn't I supposed to do? Hold hands? Kiss? Menstruate? What nasty behavior led to the shadowy result so terrible my mother refused to name it? I was convinced that I must never indulge in any impulse that involved anyone's nether parts. Should I dare to do such a thing, I would spend the rest of my life in a detention home for wayward girls. Gone my dreams of a college education. ("College women know how to behave.") Marriage? No longer in my cards. ("No man wants anything used, Lynn Ruth.)

That one really puzzled me. What did I have that was brand new? Everything I knew about on my body had been around at least thirteen years. I blamed the gradual changes in my physique on not getting enough sleep and carefully limited my communication with all things human to casual verbal exchange. As I approached my middle teens, my mother increased her warnings of the dirty doings that lay in wait for me. I concluded that sitting next to any male animal including the dog was tantamount to rape. Every date became a threat to my virginity. If the young man at my side dared hold my hand, I blushed with shame. If he brushed my shoulder, I was humiliated.

Not everyone in the fifties had a mother as vigilant as mine. When a group of us went to the drive-in theater, everyone else ignored the movie. While they were grunting and pawing one another, my escort stared out the window and I huddled next to the door discussing the intellectual implications of Kim Novak's shameless behavior toward Humphrey Bogart.

When I became sixteen, my mother decided I was a time bomb about to explode and accordingly tightened her control of my behavior. However, my inner turmoil had more to do with her iron grip on my actions than sex. I wasn't sure what it was much less how to do it. I was still trying to figure out how to convince my mother that my undershirts were inadequate.

That year, my mother was so certain I would be violated when I left the house that she imposed particularly rigid curfews for me. Even though all dances ended at midnight, she demanded that I come home at 10:30. "The dance doesn't begin until nine," I cried one day when I gathered the courage to dispute her. "Billy will have to take me home just when the band gets hot."

My mother reached for her nail polish and touched up my thumbnail. "Right," she said. "I know you teenagers. The minute those chaperones turn their back, you start all your dirty doings."

"That's impossible," I said. "The dance is indoors."

My mother polished another nail. "You know perfectly well what I mean, Lynn Ruth," she said.

My uncle was sitting in our living room listening to this conversation and decided to come to my defense. He looked up from his magazine. "You know, Ida," he said. "If she wants to, she can do it before 10:30." he said and he winked at me.

"Do what?" I said.

"I think you need to have a talk with your daughter one of these days," said my uncle. "And be more specific about all the nasty things boys have on their minds."

"She doesn't have to tell me, Uncle Philly," I said. "I know all about boys. They hate books, they love to fight and they never ever take baths."

"Right!" said my uncle. "Aren't you glad they finally turn into men?"

"Is there any difference?" asked my mother

"Well, I hope so," said my uncle.

My mother was slashing nail polish on my fingertips and my uncle was laughing. I couldn't figure out why my mother's face was red as the polish on my fingertips or what was so funny. "Oh mother!" I said, "You know perfectly well that men are nicer than boys. Daddy is never without a book and he takes showers at least twice a day. It's you who gets angry all the time. Will that happen to me when I become a woman?"

"Only if you aren't getting any," Lynn Ruth," said my uncle.

"Getting any what?" I said.

My uncle was laughing so hard I could barely understand his words. "Ask your mother he sputtered.

But of course I did no such thing. This was the fifties when everyone believed mother knew best.

Sex is only dirty if it's done right
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