I was born in the fifties. It was such a confusing world, even then. By the time I was six, it was the sixties. Being raised in a religious cult-like sect made it even more confusing. When I was nine we moved to the suburbs, a big deal. There were about three models of brick homes, or homes that looked brick, anyway. Ours was the plain vanilla box version but we were very proud of it. We had a lot on the corner of Linda Sue and Leonard Lane. Since my father’s name was Leonard and my oldest sister’s name was Linda it was meant to be.
We had a fenced yard and an incinerator where we burned our trash once a week. There was a clothesline where our mother hung clothes to dry and we kids made tents, flinging blankets over the line, shining flash lights in each other’s eyes after dark, telling scary stories.
Being a religious kid, I gawked at the sophisticated ways of neighbors, my mouth hanging open, greedily drinking in a world I couldn’t imagine, but secretly longed for. We dressed like the Lord’s people, so I felt dowdy, plain, and even naked, next to Binky and Pat, the neighborhood party couple. Binky was a pro baseball player and he and Pat had a sleek convertible parked in their driveway. Pat wore silky scarves and dark sunglasses before Jacqueline Kennedy, looking glamorous with her nude lipstick and matching nails. Binky and Pat threw wild parties with another couple, Lou and Betty, from the neighborhood. Once, in the early morning hours, I saw Binky, clearly intoxicated, wandering down the street with Pat on his shoulders, whooping and hollering. Betty and Lou stood on their concrete porch laughing and waving cocktail glasses as the rising sun cast a pink glow all around.
I doubt my parents were invited and even if they had been, they would never have attended such a “worldly” event. We were the chosen people, the implication of which made us better than others, people like the Binky and Pats of the world. As far as I could understand, we were better in a sad sort of way, because we had to sacrifice a lot to be God’s people. Instead of having fun, we had to be examples.
But at the swimming pool, I stole quarters from beneath other people’s towels. I shoplifted candy from Duckworth’s, slipping it beneath the bathing cap I twisted nonchalantly on my fist.
I was that kid.
We didn’t own a television set, so I had to see the local kids’ shows in Denver like Fred and Fay, and others like The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Leave It To Beaver, and Superman, at my friends' houses. Once the magic box was on, light and shadows flickering across the forbidden screen, I was mesmerized. My friends, accustomed to its spells, often had to physically pull me away and out of the instant trance I would fall into as soon as a favorite show came on.
“C’mon!” they might yell. “Yoo-hoo!”
They waved their hands in front of my face and laughed at my inability to see or hear anything but the sights and sounds emanating from the screen. Reluctantly, with much yelling, shaking and pulling, I would drag my attention away from the magic.
“Huh?” I might mutter, eyelids blinking in confusion. Sometimes they had to just go stand in front of the set or turn it off to release me from its spell. I felt guilty then, as though I had just secretly masturbated or something worse. As far as my parents knew, I was outside playing.
We lived in a magic time. We kids ran up and down the streets of the suburbs hooting and hollering, wearing towels like Superman capes, playing hide and seek, Red Rover, Mother May I, even as the street lights blinked on, dark fell, and one by one, we headed off to our respective homes and bedtime. Every Halloween we went trick or treating. It’s all mixed up together, how the times were changing then.
President Kennedy was shot. I was in fourth grade and we all laid our heads on our desk in a moment of silence. I was too young to understand anything but the dead silence underneath the quiet sobbing of my older sisters as it echoed through the rest of the day, the weeks, and months, even years that followed. It was like a warning, that silence, full of dread, covered over by the hysteria to come: the manic flood of young people, the blasting beat of rock and roll accompanied by the drifting sweet smell of patchouli oil and marijuana, into the streets.
When relatives from small towns out of state came to visit, my parents took them for a drive down Colfax so they could see the long haired hippies. They’d come home shaking their heads, muttering disgust. I watched their consternation from the corners of my pre-pubescence, my stomach twisting with the clashing mores. My head ached with wanting.
My friend’s brother was sent to Vietnam. She had scant information, garnered from conversations by adults not meant for her ears. My sister skipped school and, in a family scandal of huge proportions, was featured on the front page of the Rocky Mountain News wearing a mini skirt and picketing to change the school dress code. She had become sick of kneeling down before the school authorities to have the distance between the hem of her skirt and the top of her knee measured. My friend and I had no words for the fear we felt for our siblings, unnamed worries circled our heads like vultures.
One sister got married and moved away. The other sister joined the hippies on Colfax. I worried about the neighbors, who were going to hell, because they didn’t know the Truth, weren’t God’s people.
It didn’t seem fair. Plus I was struggling, just like David facing Goliath in the Bible story.
When I went to Carol and Cheryl’s house to play, we got into their big sister’s make-up kit and I brushed mascara on my eyelashes, smeared lipstick on my lips. Their parents both worked so we had the house to ourselves. Carol and Cheryl put on records by Bobby Darin, again raided from their big sister’s stash, and we danced so hard to “Dream Lover,” replaying it over and over, that we fell, exhausted onto the floor, breathless with giggles. Then I tried to scrub all the makeup off before I went home where my parents would see it.
I loved dancing to Bobby Darin, Chubby Checker, and James Brown at Carol and Cheryl’s house. They taught me (or tried to teach me) how to do the Twist, the Mashed Potato, and the Frug, among other dances. Their parents weren’t religious and their older sister was an endless source of inspiration. I liked mascara and lipstick; I who had been forbade even clear nail polish. Carol enticed me into playing girlfriend and boyfriend. We placed our hands in front of our lips and fervently kissed.
Like I said, it was all very confusing. Dancing and makeup were considered worldly in the Truth. My public face was kept scrubbed, clean of adornment. Scissors, true to biblical instruction, had never touched my waist length hair. My dresses, hand sewn by my mother, reached the middle of my knees. Man would soon land on the moon.
Age thirteen, I huddled in my bedroom, listening to the Monkees, “The Last Train to Clarksville.” At fourteen, babysitting, I discovered the Beatles and “Hey Jude.” NaNa Na Na Na. Hey – ay-ay-ay Jude, I sang.
I thought I might die, the way my heart pounded against my ribs day after day.
Everything, it seemed, was denied me.
This essay was first published October 1, 2014 at: http://essay-a-day.blogspot.com/2014/10/lead-us-not-into-temptation.html