I grew up in a very matriarchal household. My mother was, shall we say, of a very strong character. She was blunt and loud and had very little filter between the brain and the mouth. Very much a child of the 60s (Mom was barely 17 when I arrived in December of 1962) she was uninhibited in many ways, but she also had some oddly conservative views when it came to my behavior (although she’d done a complete 180 by the time my youngest sister, ten years my junior, became a teenager). She could cuss like a sailor when she was angry, but I was not allowed to and the word “Fuck” was absolutely verboten, even in her vocabulary. She was honest and forthright when asked about sex, but when she found out that I was sleeping with my boyfriend at the age of 18, she was not at ALL pleased. She had to work, and work hard, all of her life but I spent my teenage years listening to a litany of “find a good man to take care of you.”
(One of my biggest regrets in life is that my mother never met Beloved…I don’t know if they’d have adored each other or spent all of their time trying to bitch-slap each other into next week. Either way, it would have been extremely amusing to watch.)
It wasn’t until recently that I realized that my love of all things Anne Taintor is because her stuff reminds me of Mom. As far as she was concerned, you could – and should – think what you want, but you better be goddamn careful how you express those thoughts and even more careful about the appearance you presented the world (sometimes I wonder why Mom and The Ex didn’t get along better). Not that she was the kind of woman that wouldn’t leave the house without makeup or perfect hair – she wasn’t sloppy or slovenly, but pearls and heels definitely weren’t her thing – for Mom, appearances were all about the kind of person you were and the kind of life you led.
Or, considering she the fact that she liked nothing better than toking up in the evenings after work (in the bedroom, so we wouldn’t know what she was doing – yeah, right), it was all about the appearance we presented to society.
It’s really no secret where the idea that appearances mattered came from. My mother grew up in a very matriarchal household, too. My grandmother was the epitome of the Genteel Proper Southern Lady, but my grandfather personified the Strong, Silent Man Who Left the Child Rearing to His Wife. And although my mother had been Rebellious Growing Up, she absorbed a great many of my grandmother’s values which, like so many of her generation, centered around “What would the neighbors think?”
Oh, how things have changed.
Every week, my immediate family has two questions for me: Are you doing a Random Tuesday Thoughts post and What’s the Spin Cycle about? This week, I’ve been laid up with a fairly nasty bug (as of this writing, Wednesday evening, I’m feeling a little better, but still pretty crappy), that has pretty much hindered the progress of this post. Because trust me, I begin thinking about it the minute Jen hands out the next week’s assignment every Friday morning. This week when The Young One asked me what the subject of the Spin Cycle was and I told him “Appearances” he naturally asked (he is, after all, a teenager), “You mean how you look?”
“Sure,” I said. “In fact, some of the bloggers who are participating have written excellent posts along those lines. But I think mine is going to be more about how the world perceives us.”
He looked a bit confused, so I said, “When my mother was growing up, and even more so when my grandmother was growing up, it was very common for people to worry about what other people thought of them. If something bad happened to them or their families, they often didn’t talk about it – sometimes they went to great lengths to hide it.”
I regarded the incredulous look on his 15-year-old face, and considered the fact that he is living in the age of Jerry Springer and YouTube and 24-hour news channels that seem obsessed with what is going on in the lives of Tiger Woods and Sandra Bullock and apologies being issued by the Vatican. In a world according to Nancy Grace, nothing is private.
Some very ugly and traumatic things have happened to me and those close to me in the 47 years I’ve been on this earth, and I don’t for a minute excuse the way some members of my family have glossed over and out-and-out ignored those ugly and traumatic things, but I also strenuously object to how every detail of our lives has the potential to become public property. Does it all have to be on the evening news and/or splashed all over the internet? Aren’t we allowed to say “Yes, we’re human with all the faults and foibles that humans possess, but we should be allowed to work this out in private, with some sort of dignity?”
What do YOU think?