As I mentioned already, growing up with two older brothers is an educational opportunity that not every five year old is fortunate to have. These guys tried to keep their language and their knowledge and their exploits away from my fascinated ears. But, often as not, they forgot I was within earshot.
I was intrigued to learn, one day, that women have a cat between their legs! Who would have thought it? Crazy right? But then nothing about icky girls can be too crazy to believe. I mulled that over for a few days until curiosity was driving me up a wall. So, I decided to ask someone I trusted that might have knowledge that he'd be willing to share. I speak, of course, of my friend Jimmy. He was another kid about my age that lived a few doors up from me. And (this is the part I figured would help me out) he had a younger sister. Now I supposed a four year old girl might just be too small to have a cat between her legs, but she might just have a kitten.
I found Jimmy at home, in his back yard, burning ants with a magnifying glass. Well it was easy to get caught up in that and I became fully involved in helping him out. His little sister was in the house, he said, playing with her dolls. This seemed like a good a time as any to sound him out.
"Say Jimmy, does Suzie ever play dress up with her kitten?" He just barely glanced up at me before setting back to the task at hand.
"What are you talking about? We don't have a kitten. My Mom's allergic to cats."
Oh man! This explained so much. His Mom was about the grumpiest person I knew, and it was no wonder, carrying a cat between your legs when you're allergic to it. "Yeouch!" But that still didn't explain why he insisted they didn't even have a cat, much less a kitten. The only thing I figured that could explain his ignorance would be if this were some sort of female secret.
Okay, time to try a different tactic. I'll just have to be forthright and come out with it. It was just the two of us, I'd glanced around to make sure his sister hadn't slipped up behind us or anything.
"So then... ummm... have you seen your sister naked?" This, again, only merited a half glance in my direction.
"Yeah, lots of times. We used to take baths together."
Eureka! I've struck oil. I had a bona fide expert with me.
"What does she have between her legs?" It was a rather breathless question because, in my temporary excitement, I had slipped out of my worldly, experienced persona.
My rather anxious question got me Jimmy's full attention. He looks at me with a kind of smirk on his face.
"You ain't never seed a girl naked, have you?"
"I have so seed a girl naked."
"Who?" He replies, with an insolent tone.
"My Mom, that's who. I seed my Mom naked."
"Well, dummy" he asks, "what does she have between her legs?"
"Just a bunch of hair is all. All she has is a big ol' clump a' hair."
Now, this conversation took place back in an era where women didn't trim that area. Besides, my Mom attended Catholic boarding school growing up. She said they were made to bathe wearing loose shifts, like night gowns, while in the tub! Try wrapping your head around that!
"Oh" he exclaims, "I never seed a growed up woman naked before. Suzie ain't got no hair, just a bump."
Sigh, this isn't helping me one little bit. Unless... hold on, do you suppose that cat reference was about that clump of hair down there? Now that I think about it, how could someone go about their daily business with a cat attached between their legs. Why, they'd have their legs all scratched up in no time. Of course, it can't be a real cat, it's just a name for their hairy place. Pheew, live and learn.
I had my answer and my curiosity was assuaged, but Jimmy's had just been peaked, learning that I'd seen my Mom naked had him intrigued.
"So, did you see your Mom's boobs" he asks.
Aha, the shoe's on the other foot now.
"Maybe, but you've seen your sister's boobs."
"Oh, come on Paul... you know she ain't got no boobs. Only growed women have tits."
"Well, what does Suzies boobs look like then?"
" They're just like brown dimes with dots in the middle. They look like your tits" he says, pointing at me.
I knew that. She wore loose and frayed tops occasionally to play in. I'd seen them a bunch of times and didn't think anything of them. But, this was an opportunity to get the upper hand from my friend. However, he was growing irritated and I didn't want him going into the house in a huff.
"Tell you what, I'll tell you all about my Mom's boobs if you let me keep your magnifying glass for the rest of the day."
"Deal" he says, and hands it over.
So I go into all the details that my 5 year old memory can recall. I'd actually only seen my Mom for the briefest of seconds when I'd walked in on her while she was standing up in the tub. I'd backed out of there fast with numerous apologies as I ran out to the back yard to take a piss. Mom never mentioned it because she knew it was her mistake not to have locked the bathroom door.
The answer seems to satisfy him and I spend the rest of the day frying things with that glass. Once I started a brief grass fire in a dried out piece of grass. But I managed to stamp that out with my heart in my throat. Dick told me that Smokey the Bear eats children that start fires. Nuff said. I lay in my bed that night listening for the sounds of padded footsteps and scratchy claws around my bed. Damn you Dick!
Another thing I'd learned from my brothers were some really naughty words. I don't mean the "poop" and "wiener" sort of stuff. This was the first time I had ever heard the "f" word in a sentence. The sentence was, "I'd sure like to f*** Charlotte Baker. Have you seen the tits on her?" This was from my brother Dick, talking to one of his friends.
The friend answers, "yeah, I'd f*** her all night long." And Dick laughs and says "you need to grow a dick first, Charlie."
"f*** you" Charlie replies.
Now, that's an interesting piece of information in itself. Charlie doesn't have a dick! Poor 'ol Charlie. I wonder how he pees? And, anyway, you evidently have to have one in order to f*** Charlotte Baker. And, it sounds like Charlie would do it to my brother as well... if he had a dick.
Dick had better not be teasing me in the near future. I'd hate to have to inform our Mom what you can do to Charlotte Baker if you have a dick, which poor old Charlie couldn't do because he doesn't have.
So I know it's something you do to girls, or perhaps to my brother, in Charlies case. But exactly what it was I wasn't at all clear on. The nearest I could tell is that it had something to do with kissing. I'd heard both my brothers brag about how good they were at kissing. My oldest brother, Billy, says if kissing were an Olympic event his lips would be on the platform getting a ribbon. And Dick replied back, "yeah, if kissing were an event, you'd have to share the platform with the ass you were kissing!" Then they punched each other in the arms.
I didn't pay much attention to the back and forth insults, only because I've never known Billy to kiss a donkey. An ass is a donkey you know. Mom told my Dad that her boss was an ass, and I asked her what it meant. Dad looked kind of cross at her and then he answered.
"An ass is just another name for a donkey, son. It's in the bible. Jesus rode into town on an ass. But these days we use the word donkey and not ass."
I'm learning new stuff all the time. A woman calls her bush a cat and my mom calls her boss a donkey. Hey, I wonder if Billy was kissing Mom's boss? Nah...the boss isn't really a donkey, he's just an old guy and not the least bit handsome. He doesn't shave much and he'd just give Billy whisker burn.
The nearest I can tell, f*** has something to do with kissing. Maybe it's just another name for kissing or a different type of kissing. But, two people put their lips together and, that's it. How many different ways can you do that? No, f*** has to be something entirely different. I'll just bide my time and, eventually, one of my brothers will let it slip.
I was a bit more observant about my brothers activities with girls from that point. I did learn that the boy and girl can have their mouths wide open when they kiss. It isn't the little peck my parents give each other or my Mom gives me. And it often ends with Dick trying to squeeze her boob and getting slapped in the face. That's how I can tell when any particular kissing session is over... by the slapping sound. And it usually takes place in the back seat of our station wagon. Later on I realized the ingenuity involved in picking that spot for his amorous adventures. The wagon was parked facing the house and right under the kitchen window. Mom, looking outside, could see down into the front seat but not the back seat. They had a warm, dry, private and comfortable seat all to themselves. By hunching over they weren't all that visible from the road either. I know these things because I'd snooped from the kitchen window and from the street. Couldn't see much either way so I'd stand right at the side window, a foot away from them, and watch them until one of them saw me. Dick finally learned he could give me a quarter and I'd leave them alone. Sucker, I'd of done it for a dime!
My Mom had a sister just a little younger than her. Aunt Rowana would occasionally come over to the house to visit with Mom. They'd sit in the kitchen, drink a cup of coffee and yak... and yak. Gaaa... could they yak. My aunt would usually make a bit of conversation with us kids before her and Mom got into the details of who was doing what to whom.
"Where's Richard? Eh? Where's your brother? I haven't seen him in awhile and at the rate you're growing I bet he's shooting up there himself.
"Mom just kind of shrugged her shoulders. We weren't expected to keep our parents appraised of where we were constantly like kids are today. But I knew where he was. He's was out in the station wagon. I'd just collected my quarter so I should know. And I'd finally figured out that f*** was when the boy and girl stuck their tongues in each others mouths. Mystery solved.
I really didn't want to lose my quarter by giving away my brothers location but, after all, this is his aunt and I'm sure he'd want to see her.
"Oh, I know where he is, aunt Rowana. He and is girlfriend are in the backseat of our station wagon. They're fucking." This, I explained to our loving aunt and my mother with the total innocence of my youth. I expected her to ask me to invite him inside so she could visit a bit with him and meet his girlfriend.
That's what I expected. What actually happened was that two, full mugs of coffee struck the floor simultaneously. There was a rather loud crash and a fair amount of hot liquid flying in different directions. Two sets of eyes opened like hoot owls and they stared at me kind of slack jawed. Then they both looked at each other then they looked at me again.
Now, I'm no detective, but, I could pretty much determine, by that reaction, that my definition of the word f*** was really, really off base. And, it just might behoove me to tell them so.
"Errr... ahhhh, maybe they're just kissing." I backtracked.
But they didn't hear it. They were already half way out the door. I jumped to the window to watch and they'd both ran up to the wagon on opposite sides. They each threw open a door and the screeching began. It only lasted a second or so when, I guess, they were able to see that nothing more than some innocent necking was going on. Poor Dick. He explained to some friends a few years later that he'd almost made it to second base and was about to hold a real, live boob in his hand. The poor girl was humiliated. She rearranged her clothing and ran off crying. My Mom yelled after her "I'm sorry dear. You're not in trouble." But Dick was, and I was quite certain that I was too.
Well, Dick was forbidden to use the family car as a trysting spot in the future. She also suggested he find a less trampy girl to befriend. I got my mouth washed out with soap and was sent to my room. I could hear my Aunt and my Mom laughing in the kitchen. The thing that upset me the most about the whole occurrence was that Dick took his quarter back.
A week or so later, the three of us were in our room, getting ready for bed, when Dick asked me why Mom and his Aunt were so upset. I told him and his eyebrows shot up, his eyes popped open like a hooty owl. I'd seen that expression before and I was glad he wasn't holding a cup of coffee. But Dick just laughed and laughed and laughed. And then he punched me in the arm.
Fall had arrived over night it seemed. One day the sun was beating down and making the asphalt so hot you couldn't walk on it barefoot. The next day you could see your breath when you were outside playing real hard. It was at a temperature where it was too warm for a winter coat but too cold for shirtsleeves.
It seems I had outgrown my lightweight, Levi jacket from last year. Mom hadn't been paid yet and so she couldn't get me a replacement. What I got, instead, was one of Billy's cast-off sweaters. The thing was way too huge for me. But Mom insisted I could just roll up the sleeves and it would be fine for about a week, then we could go to Sears and replace it.
I was feeling grumpy because I just knew I looked silly. I was sitting on the couch and sulking when Dick wandered by and gave me an eye roll and a sneer.
"You look like a hobo" he said, and that really hurt my feelings. Now I'm not sure I even knew what a hobo was but he made it sound like a bad thing. I felt myself tearing up so I ran into the kitchen so he wouldn't see me crying. Crying always resulted in worse teasing.
Mom was in the kitchen and she saw my face and could tell I was upset.
"What's wrong, baby? Why are you upset." I didn't want to admit that I'd allowed my brother to get under my skin so I just kind of muttered the answer.
"Dick said I look like a hobo," I said with a sob. Evidently the sentence came out sort of strangled because Mom got a fearsome look on her face. She got up from the kitchen table, where she had been doing her crossword, and stepped around the corner into the living room to confront Dick.
My Mom had a powerful voice when she raised it. I could be a whole block from home and hear her call me to lunch or dinner. And when she was mad... you might wanna be wearing earmuffs. And that was the voice she used with Dick!
"DID YOU JUST CALL YOUR LITTLE BROTHER A HOMO, MISTER?" I swear I could feel charged particles in the air. Now I know I didn't use the word homo, I was just struggling at the time to sound coherent. Hobo was bad enough, in my opinion, but whatever homo was it had to be ten steps above hobo.
"No, Ma, no. I swear. I said he looked like a hobo in that big sweater is all. He must'a heard me wrong."
That took the wind out of her sails. She must have believed him. She calmed down and then told him to go outside and sweep the walk.
When she wandered back into the kitchen she gave me a kind of a clinical look and asked.
"What did you say your brother called you?
"A hobo, Mother. He said I look like a hobo."
"Sigh. All right. Listen, you know that's just your big brother being the nincompoop that he is. Try not to let him get to you so easily, okay?"
"Okay, Mother, I won't."
"What's a homo?"
A look of pure exasperation. She knows this is all her doing so she can't be upset with me. I know it to, that's why I dared ask the question.
"Honey, that's just one of those questions you are going to have to ask your father about when he wakes up later."
Oh my God! This is big! This is really big! It's a father question! This is the kind of question that involves a drive in the station-wagon with Father; just the two of you. You will probably stop for ice cream on the way. I haven't been so privileged yet myself, but both my brothers have. They ignored me when I asked what they talked about with Dad in the car. Except for Dick, who told me, "you're too young to know, pip-squeak."
To heck with the sweater. I had to go tell Jimmy and my older friend Craig my big news. I'm going to have a homo talk with my Dad! I shot out of the house like a rocket, only to run into Dick sweeping the walk.
"Why'd you tell Mom I called you a homo, you little turd?"
"I didn't. She heard me wrong. But I'm glad she did cuz now I get to have a homo talk with Father." And I was off, express legs to Jimmy's house. I swear I heard my brother laughing his fool head off behind me.
Mrs. Grundle, Jimmy's Mom, said that he's spending two weeks with his Grandmother. Both the kids are. "So don't you come by pestering me because I'm kid free for two weeks!" She sounded like someone told her she'd just won a thousand dollars. I took off. Three more houses to the end of the block, turn the corner and mid block is Craig's house.
I'm not really supposed to play with Craig. He's three years older and tends to get into a lot of mischief. He treats me okay though and he knows lots of stuff. Hey, he might already know what a homo is.
I knock on the door and Craig answers. I ask if he can come outside cuz I've got some news. "Just a minute" he says, and shuts the door. There is a heck of a nip in the air. He comes out after I hear him yelling back and forth with someone inside. He'd put on a jacket.
"My stupid brother" he says. "He just has to argue about everything. Dumb ass!"
"Yeah, the dumb donkey, I repeat."
"Craig, do you know what a homo is?"
He barks out a short laugh. "Hell yeah! That's my stupid brother. He's the world's biggest homo and a dork!"
"Your brother, Sammy, is a homo? For really reals?"
"I said so didn't I?"
"Yeah, I guess you did. But what does it mean? What's it mean to be a homo."
"Simple, a homo doesn't like girls. They just like other guys."
I let that sink in for a minute. Then, "does your Mom count?"
"Don't be silly. Everyone loves their Moms, even homos."
Now, this is starting to sound worrisome. I don't really like girls myself. I tolerate Jimmy's little sister but we aren't friends. I love my Mom and My Grandma. But Craig says that's to be expected.
"Do you have a girlfriend, Craig?" I respond.
"No, I don't like girls yet."
"Well, are you a homo then?"
"Listen kid. Did you come over here to pick a fight? I'll knock you into your next birthday. You'll wake up with candles up your ass."
That took a second to register and then I was braying like a donkey. He'd just made me realize that an ass could also be your butt. My laughter got Craig smiling in return and things were kosher again.
"Why'd ya wanna know what a homo is, Paul?"
I went into the story of how I first heard the word. I made my brother the main culprit in my story, as I always tend to do.
"That brother of yours, that Dick, he doesn't like me too much. He's always telling me to hit the bricks when I come by your house to see if you're there. He makes wise ass cracks like:
"Paul's dead. He fell down a well and Lassie refused to save him. Or, he can't come out. He's being punished for eating poop out of the toilet. Your brother's a jerk."
Well, I couldn't argue with that. But what Craig didn't know was that it's our Mom that doesn't want Craig hanging around me. So Dick felt free to tell him whatever he wanted.
"I'll tell you what," he continues, "next time one of your brothers piss you off, just call him a faggot!"
"Why, what's a faggot, Craig?"
"It's just another name for homo is all. And it's a guy that likes wieners instead of pussies."
Pussy, he said pussy! And, that's the word my brother used before, not cat. A girl's bush is called a pussy. Things are making more and more sense.
"I gotta go back in, Paul. Mom's mad at me for yelling at my brother. You wanna come in though. Maybe you can stay for dinner."
My head was swimming with new knowledge and so I needed some quiet time to figure things out. I told Craig that I wasn't supposed to be out long.
I take my time walking back home, thinking. So, a homo is a faggot and a boy that doesn't like girls. I don't like girls so am I a homo faggot? I suppose so, but is that a bad thing? My Mom sure exploded when she thought Dick had called me a homo.
You know what? I think this does require a dad talk. There's no way I'd get the truth out of my brothers. And besides, I could use some ice cream right about now.
Dad was a fireman on the U.P. Railroad. He'd be gone for four days and then be home for two. At that time I didn't know a lot about what a fireman did on the railroad. But I did see a fire-tender in a cartoon once. It was a tug boat and Mickey Mouse was driving. He was whistling and pulling a cord to make the whistle toot. Then he'd bob up and down and shovel coal into a really hot furnace. That, I was told, was being a fireman. Altogether it looked pretty fun.
And, as luck would have it, my Dad came home late last night. He should be waking up right about now. Feeling better, I skipped all the rest of the way home.
Dad was sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and eating eggs when I got there. Mom was smiling and I could tell they'd just shared something amusing.
"Hi ya, Sport. Your Mom says you have a question for me."
"Not now, Bill, take him for a drive or something. You know I don't like to hear that stuff."
"I swear, Francine, you should have become a nun. Well, just as long as you never tell me I can't get nun, we'll be okay."
"She play slaps him on the shoulder."
"Dad reaches over and slaps her on the bum." I giggle.
Dad looks down at me, smiling, and see's what I'm wearing.
"Look at that big ass sweater. You look like a hobo, kid." And he winks at me.
"I heard your Mom yelling at Dick. She was my alarm clock today." Mom gives us both a sheepish look.
Instead of taking me for ice cream, we go to Sears. I don't think I'd ever had the opportunity to ride shotgun before. There were no seat belts in those days and kids got to ride in the front seat if they wanted. On the way I had my arm out the window and would tilt my hand up and down, allowing the wind current to raise and lower my arm. This is a game every kid did back then but it's something today's kids don't know much about because their parent's cars are air-conditioned and the windows stay closed. At Sears he buys me a nice Levi jacket that will probably fit me next year too. The sleeves are just a little too long. "You'll grow into it" he said.
The ride back was memorable.
"Father, am I a homo?"
He glances over to me and then back to the road.
"Why don't you tell me what you think a homo is, first, son."
"Well, I think it's boys who like other boys instead of girls."
"That's true son, but it isn't boys, it's men. The polite word is homosexual and it is a grown man who prefers the company of other grown men rather than a woman."
"Shoot," he continues, "no little boy likes girls" he says. "That doesn't make you a homosexual. It's not a question you even need to concern yourself with until you're as old as your brothers."
"So, Dick and his friends are old enough to know ain't they?"
"I suppose so but, don't use he word ain't."
He looks at me with a grin and says "You ain't supposed to say ain't."
"Well, I'm pretty sure Dick's friend, Charlie, is homosexual."
Father's next glance took a more serious expression. "Why do you say that?"
"Well... I heard Charlie and Dick talking about some girl. Charlie said he'd f*** her all night long. Dick laughed at him and said he'd have to grow a dick first! Then Charlie said f*** you."
I look up at my Father. "So, poor old Charlie doesn't have a dick, but if he did he'd want to f*** my brother."
"What does fuck mean, Father?"
My Father didn't answer me right away. He was having trouble steering while laughing so hard.