Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mrs. Fish and the Very Bad Words (or, Another Explanation for Cynthia)

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. ;)


Anonymous said...

LOL I had a similar experience--bonked my head *hard* on a shelf when I was nine and my mom said I was allowed to cuss this one time. I ended up with, "Son of a B*tch, g*dd*mn piece of cr*p shelf."

...My vocabulary has always been a bit extensive.


Kelly Breakey said...

I want to hang out with Mrs. Fish. She sounds super cool!

Linda G. said...

Mireyah -- Sounds like you were a precocious child. ;)

Kelly -- Last I heard, Mrs. Fish was still terrorizing the old neighborhood.

Sage Ravenwood said...

I could have benefited from a Mrs. Fish in my neighborhood. (Hugs)Indigo

Susan Adrian said...


Except for the fingernail part. But I can take it. Sometime I'll tell you about my big toenails and ballet... :)

Angela Perry said...

I didn't realize that cr*p was a bad enough word that it needed the asterisk censor. Oops. What have I been teaching my child...

Linda G. said...

Indigo -- I think every neighborhood could use a Mrs. Fish. She sure kept things lively for us!

Suze -- Eek. I can only imagine what happens to toenails after hours in ballet toe shoes. *shudder*

Linda G. said...

Hi Morgan! Crap doesn't really need an asterisk, at least in my opinion. I was just doing that to tease Cynthia, who thinks my potty mouth is somewhat deplorable. *grin*

Deborah Small said...


Cynthia Reese said...

Deplorable rhymes with adorable, and I'll bet you were an adorable little angel (sure you were) pre-Mrs. Fish. But yanno, I think she was a cool customer. After all, you forgot about your finger. ;-)

Linda G. said...

Deb -- Glad I could provide a laugh.

Cynthia -- Oh, I'm still deplorably adorable. Or is that adorably deplorable? ;) And, yes, Mrs. Fish was brilliant in her way. I did almost forget the finger. (And thanks for being such a good sport about my teasing!)

Shannon said...

I love this story. I remember the days of running free, left to my own devises as a child. It was F*cking bliss. ;)

LR said...

Ah hah. That's why I have such a mouth too. Because I kissed the Blarney Stone. ;)

Linda G. said...

Shannon -- I see you go for the well-seasoned vocabulary too. ;) And, yeah, it was blissful--the summers, anyway.

LR -- See? There's always an explanation, if you look deeply enough. ;)

stagemanbob said...

F**king A! Smashed finger talk, sailor talk, and theatre talk are all pretty much the same.

Linda G. said...

Tsk, tsk, stageman. You'll scorch my delicate ears. ;)


OMG, I don't know which is more hysterical -- your curse-word freebie, or this quote:

"Young ladies, just remember one thing--a girl can run faster with her skirt up than a boy can with his pants down."

Love it!

Linda G. said...

Tawna -- Mrs. Fish was just full of good, if not always age-appropriate--advice to the girls in the neighborhood. But she did manage to teach us a lot, I'll give her that. ;)

Patty Blount said...

Great, just great, Linda. I grew up the same way, but I MISSED OUT!!!! I was never given permission to use *ahem* such colorful language. I grew up across the street from an intermediate school. One enterprising student spray painted the F bomb on the sidewalk near my house.

I was afraid just walking over the word might stain my soul somehow.

Yep, I was that young once.

Wonder if Mrs. Fish was related to my neighbor, Mrs. Mauro. Hmmmm. Did she wear a black wig that would take flight on windy days?

Unknown said...

You win for best starting gun story, heralding (I'm old too) a lifetime of carefree cussing! I only learned from my father, taught in sessions as things needed repair around the house. MRS. FISH for PRESIDENT!!

Linda G. said...

Patty -- So you made it okay with unstained soul? Or did you trip up and step over it without thinking one day? ;)

Mrs. Fish did not, to my knowledge, ever wear a wig. The hair Mother Nature gave her was by-gawd good enough for her. *grins*

Linda G. said...

Misty -- Actually, I'm kind of surprised Mrs. Fish never progressed into anything beyond school politics. Maybe she was too honest for it. ;)

Hayden said...

wonderful story! Had a good laugh (and a pensive moment thinking of my nieces' babes. Noooooo, she'd shoot me.)

Rhoni@ckybooks.com said...

Oh my...that was hilarious. What a great story...and a good lesson.

Unknown said...

this is a great story :)

Linda G. said...

Hayden -- Glad I gave you a laugh. And always beware of nieces with guns. ;)

Rhoni & Eileen -- Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. :)

Kari Lynn Dell said...

I had the rather unnerving experience of encountering several of my former teachers at a local gathering a couple of weeks ago. One of them commented that I never got in trouble, I was a real angel. I told her that wasn't entirely accurate. I wasn't really an angel. I was just scared.

Linda G. said...

Kari -- LOL! Yup, I hear ya. It wasn't so much that I wanted to be good as that I really, really didn't want to get caught being bad.