by Viv Sade
Everything I know about “Girls Gone Wild” I learned secondhand from Ann Landers columns in the 1960s.
My mom was never big on having The Talk or for that matter, talking about anything that had to to with sex, puberty, where babies came from or exactly what was the purpose of a training bra. Or maybe that was me.
Mom communicated to me, her oldest daughter, via Ann Landers columns, clipped articles from Reader’s Digest and a booklet called “Sally’s Monthly Guest Makes A Surprise Visit.”
I would come home from school and find a column taped to my dresser mirror detailing the evils of “necking” and how it was Step 3 in the 6 Steps to Unwanted Teenage Pregnancy.
A few years later — when an older cousin vanished — I would discover that a teenage pregnancy in the 1960s led to an extended Texas vacation where the teenage mom told all her family members and neighbors that she had been invited by a great aunt to stay at her place for nine months and help with sheep-shearing and cattle round-ups.
Yep. No one bought it.
“Mom,” I’d yell as I stomped into the kitchen. “I’m in fifth grade! I don’t even know what necking is.”
“You better not know what necking is! I was testing you. Just read it so you’ll be prepared later.”
“And another thing,” I said, not willing to let it go.”How come Ann Landers doesn’t explain what Step 1 and 2 are? What if I’ve already done them and I don’t know it? And I want to know more about Steps 4, 5 and 6.”
“Hush. Your Dad will be fit to be tied if he even hears of you talking about necking or The Steps.”
When I got my first kiss, I could not even keep a straight face. I had a fit of giggles thinking of how I might be drawn into necking, a bizarre term by anyone’s standards. All I could think of when I heard the word “necking” was a barnyard full of turkeys straining and stretching their necks to see above the other birds. That’s necking.
Mom and Ann Landers were so old-fashioned. The new thing to call it was “making out.”
Another time I found a Reader’s Digest article on tobacco taped to the back of a box of my favorite cereal. The article detailed the health benefits of smoking cited by experts (i.e.: the tobacco companies) versus some condemnations and studies by scientists and doctors who were removing withered, black lungs at an alarming rate.
“Mom, I don’t smoke. I told you that. I tried it once when Joey Nightenhaus stole some of his daddy’s Luckies, but it was nasty,” I said.
“You smelled like smoke the other night,” Mom said accusingly.”Were you necking with a smoker?”
Supreme eye roll.
“Moooomm. Stop. Besides, we all smell like smoke ‘cause Dad smokes.”
“Well, yes. But, I’m telling you — mark my words — tobacco causes cancer. I was right about those foot X-ray machines they used to have in the shoe stores, wasn’t I? Aren’t you glad I didn’t give you a nickel so you could shoot your foot full of radiation? Right now there are thousands of people walking around with no feet because they zapped them off in those machines. Just remember that so you are prepared when someone offers you a cigarette.”
One day Mom casually threw the “Sally’s Monthly Guest Makes a Surprise Visit” booklet on my bed. I read it cover to cover and then sprinted into the kitchen.
“Is this true?!”
Mom nodded matter-of-factly. “Yes, ‘fraid so.”
“But it can’t be. You said Margaret and Paul were delivered by the Schwan Food truck.”
I went back to my room and threw myself on the bed. What a day.
Earlier, the teacher had made us climb under our desks and cover our heads with our hands as we were to do in the event of an atomic bomb being dropped by the Russians — or was it the Cubans or Canadians? — on the elementary school in Churubusco, Indiana.
My fifth-grade nerves were frazzled. It was a lot to handle — necking, cancer-causing agents, radiated feet, atomic bombs and the fact that Margaret and Paul did not come to be my little brother and sister via the Schwan Food truck.
Maybe sixth grade would be easier.
— The author lives in Churubusco and still has a 1962 guide to building an underground bomb shelter — the only advice booklet her dad ever gave her and much better reading than “Sally’s Monthly Guest Makes A Surprise Visit.”