Some of you (*cough* Cynthia *cough*) may have noticed my tendency--rare though it is--to drop the occasional F-bomb, or pepper my prose with a hefty helping of "cr*ps" or "sh*ts." I previously explained how, having once upon a time kissed the Blarney Stone, I really couldn't help having a potty mouth.
Which is entirely (or perhaps 98.7 %) true.
But really, that episode only watered (um, so to speak) the seeds that had been planted in childhood. Because buried deep in my psyche was permission.
On the street where I grew up children ran wild all summer long. (Yes, I am that old.) I harken (See? Proof. Only old people use that word.) from the time before every second of a child's day was scheduled and micromanaged. We were forced to *gasp* think up Stuff To Do on our own.
Oh, some kids were in scouts, and the ones with really obsessive parents might be forced to join the swim team, but mostly the kids in my neighborhood were left to their own devices, secure in the knowledge that somebody's mom would always be watching out her window, ready to instantly phone-tattle any misdeed.
Not that I, personally, ever got into trouble. (Stop laughing. It's true.) I was an absolute angel. No, really. I was. It's tough not to be angelic when your nose is mostly in a book, and you have three brothers handy for easy comparison. The bar was set low.
But, my angel-hood notwithstanding, I *cough* sometimes managed to be in the vicinity when other kids were getting into trouble.
The leading cause of mischief was, of course, the luxurious amount of boredom we were allowed to wallow in. Boredom led to all sorts of interesting activities, usually at one of the houses where the block mothers were not gathered for their coffee klatch.
At least, I'm pretty sure it was coffee they were klatching with...though, come to think of it, they sometimes looked suspiciously jollier after their get-togethers.
One fine day, when all the block moms were gathered at my house, my gang o' girls was hanging out at my friend Rose's house. (Not her real name. I've seen her on Facebook, so I know for a fact she's internet savvy, and if she comes across my blog I'd like plausible deniability.)
Anyway, Rose's mom--let's call her Mrs., um, Fish (there being a Piscean element to her real name)--was never meant to be a stay-at-home mom, but her kids made it necessary. Nobody else would babysit them on a regular basis. She still managed to do every volunteer job humanly possible, though, and not out of the goodness of her heart. More because it got her out of the house in a socially acceptable way.
Mrs. Fish terrified me. She was so in-your-face active. Full of answers to questions no one was asking her. And loud. Yelled at her kids, and everybody else's too. Not in an abusive way, exactly--it was just how she communicated.
A piece of Fishly advice I remember vividly came after one of the coffee klatches. She was walking down the street, back to her house, hugely pregnant and not looking particularly happy about it. (Well, it was her fourth, and her first three were somewhat...challenging...children.) She stopped in front of a bunch of us playing tag in somebody's front yard. Shook her finger and said, in her no-nonsensiest PTA-President voice:
"Young ladies, just remember one thing--a girl can run faster with her skirt up than a boy can with his pants down."
She had a point. But we were eight years old and didn't quite know what it was...
Anyway, it was Mrs. Fish who gave me permission to cuss.
My cohorts and I (two of whom were Mrs. Fish's daughters) were experimenting with the stove in the Fish kitchen (being ever so careful not to burn the house down) when the terror of the PTA returned from the coffee klatch rather earlier than expected. As she came in the front door, the lot of us high-tailed out the back. All of us made it, too...except my hand.
Yes, the door slammed shut on my poor digits, pulling me up short.
It was bad enough to...
[if you're squeamish, skip this next part]
... pop the fingernail right off my middle finger. Well, not entirely off. More like up. Akin to raising a car hood. (Yeah, wearing the bandage to school the next day was all sorts of fun.) It hurt so bad it literally took my breath away--I couldn't inhale enough air to squeeze out a decent sob.
Mrs. Fish came running at the sound of the screams. (Not mine, mind you. My friends'. Apparently seeing what the underside of a fingernail looks like really freaked them out.) Mrs. F took one look at my face and said, "You're allowed two bad words--as bad as you can think of--and you won't get in trouble."
Well. I was flabbergasted. None of our mothers let us get away with bad words. At ALL. Dads could say bad words, and sometimes big brothers (if no adults were around), but it was unthinkable for the girls.
I was so stunned I almost forgot about my finger.
The worst part was, I couldn't come up with any naughty words. Oh, I'm sure I knew them, but my mind went totally blank. So, while she took me by the arm and sat me down at her kitchen table, and fetched the ice and bandages, I thought.
Silent tears streamed down my face, and I thought some more.
Finally, as she was finishing up her first aid, I stammered, "P-p-poop."
She smiled and said, "Is that the best you can do? Come on, you don't get opportunities like this very often."
So I took a deep breath and said, "Shit!"
She patted my back and said, "That's my girl! You get one more--poop doesn't count."
By then I was almost laughing. "I can't decide between 'hell' and 'damn,'" I said, feeling very clever at sneaking in a third bad word.
Mrs. Fish winked. "Well, hell, Linda, that is a damn tough choice."
So there you are. Permission to say bad words. And given at a very impressionable age.
It didn't take right away. I was still pretty much an angel for years after the smashed finger incident. But later--perhaps reawakened by by the Blarney Stone, perhaps not--it came to me that an occasional slip of the tongue had its place in my vocabulary.
After all, a little salt enhances the flavor of any good conversation. ;)