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SUMMER READING / Lisa Knopp DURING MY TWELFTH summer, each excursion I made into the world of adults was foUowed by an even deeper retreat into myself. Learning about sex was one of those excursions. It began foUowing a Little League baseball game, during which my brother, Jamie, sat on the bench whUe I sat beneath a tree with my nose in a book—as it would be most of the summer. Joy Adamson's Born Free and Carson McCuUers' A Member of the Wedding interested me much more than basebaU. After the game, my mother, my Uttle brother, John, and I were in the car Ustening to the radio while Jamie and my father, the assistant coach, packed the equipment. The disc jockey joked about the rhythm of a song he had just played (I remember neither the song nor the joke). He quipped that if the number of chUdren they had was any measure, Bobby and Ethel Kennedy apparently had no rhythm at aU. My mother found this amusing and observed that ever since the debut of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In—a risqué television program she never missed—people could say anything on the air. When I asked her what was so funny, she tried explaining the rhythm method of birth control, but reaUzed it was futile since I knew so little about sex. She explained the mechanics of intercourse, a necessary prerequisite. What she described was worse than anything I could imagine. I wanted to believe this notion of people touching each other with their private parts wasn't true, just as I hadn't wanted to believe Walt Disney's "The Story of Menstruation," which the fifth-grade girls and their mothers had viewed in the Corse gymnasium. I hadn't had a period yet, and wouldn't until the summer I turned thirteen, but some of my friends had them, and certainly my mother did; Td seen the evidence in the wastebasket. Menstruation, the first awful thing "they" had planned for my body would eventually happen to me. So, too this other, graver abomination. My only consolation was that when McCuUers' Frankie Addams heard about sex from her friends, she too had been horrified: "They were talking nasty lies about married people ..." But I knew my mother wasn't lying. The awkward and messy system she had described was too outlandish for anyone to have made up. It had to be true. Nonetheless, I hated my mother for teUing me about sex and I 130 · The Missouri Review hated her for participating in it. I knew my parents had touched each other with their sexual organs four times because there were three of us and one miscarriage. It was a sacrifice they had to make, I supposed, but it was a sacrifice I didn't want to think about anymore. During that same summer, my famUy moved from a tiny Cape Cod in a seedy part of town to a California bungalow in an old, elegant neighborhood on South Main Street, halfway between downtown and the city parks—a physical change that coincided with and perhaps emphasized the mysterious inner changes I was experiencing. This move represented a fuU step up on the socioeconomic ladder in BurUngton, Iowa, but I knew nothing of socioeconomics at that time. I only knew that my father did not park the noisy, beat-up '55 Chevy he drove to the railroad yards each day in our garage, or on the street in front of our new house. Instead, he parked a few blocks away on Sweeney Street, and stealthily walked home in his dirty overaUs and heavy work boots, lunch-bucket in hand. He said he didn't want our new neighbors to know that the decrepit, green monster belonged to us when he fired it up at 6:15 in the morning. A temporary arrangement, he assured us, untU he could afford a newer, quieter second car, a '64 Volkswagen bug which he did park in the garage: a clear sign to me that we had moved up in the world. My mother was convinced that our new house was haunted, and my brothers and I believed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 130-146
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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