When I was a little girl, Mom would sometimes recite this poem to me:
I had curly hair.
Deanna and Bonita had straight hair, Vickie did too, until she got older, then it started to curl. I tried to keep my hair brushed away from my forehead, thinking that might help. Most of the time I was a good girl, but sometimes I was bad, maybe even horrid. Mom had all kinds of ways to punish a bad girl, she never thought of time outs, though. With so many Big Kids and Little Kids under foot, maybe being left alone seemed more like a reward than a punishment, because I had a feeling she would have liked to have a time out once in a while.
If I said a naughty word, I got my mouth washed out with soap; just one wipe with a bar of Ivory, that was enough for me. There were lots of bad words. Pee was a naughty word, I said Number 1; for poop I said Number 2; I couldn’t say fart, I had to say stinker or ‘let one.’ Deanna called me a creep once, and Mom made her kiss my feet, because that was just mean. I couldn’t say ‘big hairy deal’, like the high-schoolers did, and son-of-a-bitch and ass were off-limits, although Mom said bitch was okay, ’cause that’s just a girl dog. Teacher tried to explain why son-of-a-bitch was a bad word, because that insulted someone’s mother and you should expect to get punched if you called someone that name. To tell the truth, that just seemed silly to me; first off, usually dogs are a lot friendlier than people, secondly, puppies come from dogs and babies come from people, everybody knows that; who would believe it?
Mr. Maizie, my gym teacher, once said ass at a basket ball game and got some of the parents all riled up. I was home that night, but the next day at school he started ranting about it, until little bits of spit got to bubbling around the corners of his mouth and that made me think of Old Yellar and the hydrophobie, which was rabies in olden-day-talk. Mr. Maizie said ass was just another word for donkey and asked, “Does anyone want me to proved it?” I raised my hand, ’cause I liked words and learning new ones. Mr. Maizie slammed the dictionary right down on my desk and thumped on it where the word ‘ass’ was, then shouted the definition in my ear.
“Do you believe me now?” he yelled, so close to me,m y nostrils got filled up with his breath smelling kind of like Number 2. Spit rained down on the page, which along with his stinky breath, kind of distracted me from reading, ’cause Mom said to take good care of books and don’t let stuff get on the pages or dog-ear them and I thought I better not wipe the spit off ’cause Mr. Maizie already seemed mad, but I really should wipe it off, otherwise the dictionary would get damaged, and dictionaries are really important books, just like the World Book Encyclopedia.
I said, “Just a minute, I’m trying to read,” which made Mr. Maizie thump the page harder and faster, so I gave up and just took his word for it.
When it got to be recess, Mike and Frank and Jeannie slapped me on the back and said, “Way to go. That was keen-o.” Mr. Maisie asked us if we wanted to see the definition, I just answered truthfully, I didn’t know what the big hairy deal was. (Whoops!)
My friend Connie tried to tell me what f*u*c*k was when we saw it written on the wall outside by the playground; sometimes it’s okay to spell bad words. Connie said she learned it from her big brother, she said it was when a lady sat on a light bulb and after that she was expecting a baby. That made no sense at all to me, I knew babies came from God and loving, so I looked it up in the dictionary, by myself: it started out in Germany meaning “to enter quickly and without thought.” It puzzled me why that was a bad word, but I never tried it out at home, or even asked the question, ’cause it sounded harsher than fart, and harsh was a trick I figured out to guess whether a word was bad.
Bad words were different from swear words. Bad words could get me punished by Mom, but swear words sent me to hell. Hell was a bad word all my itself, as in “Hell, no,” but if I said, ‘you go to hell.’ than that was swearing. Same thing for ‘damn you,’ or worse yet, ‘God damn you.’ Bad words or swear words had to be confessed, ’cause bad words came under not ‘honoring your mother and father’, probably my mother more because she never said naughty words or swear word; Dad did, but only if other men, that weren’t uncles, were around, I thought it sounded like he was showing off just a little when he did that. None of my uncles said swear words or bad words. Swear words came under ‘taking the Lords name in vain’ and not ‘honoring your mother and father’: double sinful, that’s probably what sent a person to h*e*l*l so fast.
There were lots of other things I did that could come under the category of ‘when she was bad’; I’ll save those for another rainy, dreary day. That’s when my hair curls the most.