A few weeks ago, I wrote the “Ode to My Grass” in response to The Only Cin’s post, which she had posted in response to the weekend theme suggestion of “View From the Side.” Convoluted way of telling you that today’s theme is not my idea. I bear no responsibility. I only do as I’m told. But in a fit of disobedience, I am doing it a couple of days later than I said I would.
Innocence is a complicated word for a rather uncomplicated thing. Really, isn’t it true that innocence either exists or it doesn’t? And how many shades of gray are there after all? I’m going to cut to the chase here and speak only about one uncomplicated aspect of innocence, and that is “willful innocence” (often incorrectly known as “willful ignorance“). I won’t attempt to get into the semantic differences between innocence and ignorance. Yes they have some similarities, but they also have some very obvious differences. That discussion is for another time.
I remember the very first time I heard (at least consciously) a curse word (also known as profanity, a 4-letter word, foul language, etc.). My father had a two-week work assignment to complete in New York City. This was the summer of 1962, exactly a year before Daddy was promoted to a Vice Presidency in the company,prompting our move to the Northeast from my hometown of Beaumont, Texas. He decided to take us all (my Mom and my two older brothers, and me) along and make it a vacation for all of us (except himself, of course – although he said it was fun for him to have all of us with him!). I remember it as a fantastic time. Daddy had reserved for us a comfortable, 3-bedroom suite in one of the older, venerable, and less than 4-star, hotels in NYC. It was very nice for us, and didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I do not believe the hotel exists any more, but at that time it had been around for quite a while, and still had a decent reputation, and it was in mid-town, near the office on Lexington Ave, where Dad worked.
The incident to which I refer occurred while we were waiting to board a city bus. We had just been visiting The American Museum of Natural History, or some other similar venue. (That particular museum is still a favorite of mine. After we moved to that area, my brother Dick and I would frequently ride the train into the city by ourselves and spend a day there. It has probably changed considerably since those days, but I used to know its layout by heart!) Anyway, the bus pulled up to the corner, and a couple of people who stood in front of us boarded the bus first. The couple consisted of a fairly young father and his (I assume) young son who was maybe six years old. The boy must have been tired, and was whining a bit, but not excessively. He apparently didn’t move fast enough for his Dad, because his Dad whacked him across his rear and said, loudly for all to hear, “Get on up in that bus there boy, before I beat the shit out of you.” I remember being bewildered, because I didn’t know what “shit” was, and was sort of worried if I had any that would be beat out of me! I had never heard the word! I know you younger readers will not believe that, but it’s true. I didn’t know what it meant, but the tone in which it was delivered clued me in to the fact that whatever it was, it wasn’t good. I asked my Mom, who was shocked at such treatment of a child, and she deferred to my Dad, who told me that it was nothing I needed to know. It was what he referred to as “swearing,” which I had been taught, since I was a very young child, showed ignorance and/or a lack of vocabulary. As far as he was concerned, ‘nuf said! I was 11 years old. I guess you could say I had “virgin ears.” To that time the only “swear words” I had ever heard were “darn,” and “damn,” and I was never allowed to say such things! Yes, that is true! I was totally innocent of “bad” language, and the willful innocence, or ignorance, in this case, was not my will, but my parents’ for me.
That word slowly led to the inevitable stream of awful curse words and swearing that would reach my ears over the coming years. Believe me, I eventually heard it all, and probably, in an effort to disavow myself from being called a “goody two-shoes,” I have used them all – although that didn’t start happening until college. I remember a particular moment that came along during the end of my senior year in high school. I don’t remember the provocation, but another student, a casual acquaintance, let spew a rather exorbitant string of profanity. Upon looking up, she saw me and clapped her hand over her mouth and said, “I’m so sorry! I know you would never use such language!” That was the first and only time that my “proper” language was ever remarked on by a peer. Curiously enough, as I exercised my freedom from parental influences while at college, although I sprinkled my language with many “colorful metaphors” (as Mr. Spock referred to them in Star Trek IV), I must not have ground them into my language as thoroughly as I smugly thought. (I was as “hip” as the rest of ’em, said I, said I!) My tongue did not slip a single time, ever, in front of my parents. I did have a featured role in a play during my Jr. year that was liberally laced with rather foul expletives, but in advance, I told my parents that my character did not use that language. I didn’t tell them that even if she did, I would have taken the role! I also sent them a copy of the play, so that they could be “prepared,” if they decided they wanted to attend. For some reason I had determined that my parents were completely innocent of bad language – especially my Mom, who always used to say that my Dad protected her and shielded her from such ugliness. I don’t know why that determination was made by me, because I know very well – now, at least – that my folks had been living in the real world their entire lives, and while they taught us not to use such language, and never used it themselves, they lived their lives in “willful innocence,” and consequently were seldom subjected to hearing what they did not like. People who would use such language (like myself) simply knew to curb their tongues around them, and to choose more appropriate and descriptive acceptable language. Amazing! My parents have always stood as the model for “willful innocence,” at least in that area, because believe me, they were not in the least ignorant!
Some of you will remember when movies almost never had foul 4-letter words used in them. I mean, to hear the word “damn” in a movie was almost scandalous! “Gone With the Wind” was a very racy movie primarily because Rhett Butler says “I don’t give a damn.” Terrible, even though he had been provoked! 😀 I don’t know when it happened that movies became purveyors of trashy language. Certainly they, along with books, have become huge influences on the culture and the language of our culture, and that language is not limited to cities, but is found everywhere, and among all age groups. Because I was born about eight years after my husband, I have been able, over the years, to inure myself to the language I hear in movies and read in books. I just let it roll over me and don’t let it diminish my enjoyment of what I watch, read, or listen to. My husband simply cannot stand it, and will leave the room if I’m watching a movie with particularly egregious use of bad language. If I’m not there, he turns the TV off, or changes the channels! I believe those eight years came along during the “cultural divide” that makes the difference between our sensitivities.
I will confess here that although I have dropped most offensive language from my vocabulary, I still hang on to one of my favorite words: “shit.” I believe that used properly (and I believe I am the sole arbiter of that! :-D), it is probably more descriptive of certain happenstances and situations than any word I know of. There you have it. . .both my folks are turning over in the grave (or urn), but I think that knowing I am also their baby daughter whom they indulged throughout their lives, they are probably either smiling or at least winking at one another at my audacity.
One more thing to relate. I had my father with me for 40 years of my life, and I can never recall hearing one word from his mouth that anyone would consider a “swear word.” Except one. Dad was talking on the phone with someone, I believe from work. I walked into the room just in time to hear my father, red-faced, and extremely frustrated, tell the gentleman, “Then, the “heck” with it!” I was in complete and utter shock – must have been 13 or 14 years old. I don’t think he knew I heard, and I hope he didn’t. I believe that “heck,” knowing from whose lips it came, was the foulest language I have ever heard, and probably, knowing my Dad, the most appropriate!
Cheers, all! As ever, I wish you enough. . .