The Science Of Vulgarity

July 17, 1896
Margaret Spooner

I thought summer vacations were supposed to be a time of fun. They certainly used to be. Then of course you have to grow up, go away to college, and come home to be tormented about your status as not quite an adult and not quite a child. It is not always a bad thing but with father still away, mother has become a touch testy.

“How many times have I told you not to leave your books lying around the house?” Mother asked.

She was clearly annoyed and common sense told me it had something to do with a book I left someplace other than in my room. Why she had waited to begin the inevitable conversation in its regard until I was enjoying a fair amount of sun while writing a letter to Edgar, I do not know.

“Too many.” I replied.

It was likely not the wisest choice of responses but my slight exasperation at being disturbed was more than I could contain. I immediately bit my tongue after the words came out but it was too late to take them back.

“I should think so as well.” Mother said, exasperation creeping into her own tone. “Why then did you leave this one in the living room?”

Mother held up a book and waved in the air. My eyes struggled to follow it and read the title until I started feeling dizzy and sleepy. Okay, that is a slight exaggeration, but it was impossible to discern which book she held. I was tempted to suggest it might not even be mine.

“I must have forgotten about it.” I said.

Mother rolled her eyes at me. I find it annoying when she does that to me considering I am not allowed to do it to her. She is my mother though and I suppose there must be some privileges that come with the territory although I doubt they are sufficient.

“Just like you have forgotten your manner around guest, and forgotten to tell the truth, and forgotten to make your bed, and forgotten to clean the tub after your baths. I could go on for hours about all the things you forget. Is that what they teach you at college, to forget everything and think only of yourself?”

“No, Mother. They teach us to remember more things than our brains can withhold and so it follows that we forget other things which are not relevant to the examinations.” I replied.

Sarcasm is not usually a good choice with Mother. It is normally lost on her and in the rare cases it is not she takes offense.

“Are you mocking me?” She queried.

There was anger in her tone and enough of it to cause me to be wary.

“No, of course not. I was trying to write a letter to Edgar and it is not coming easily. I am distracted.”

“Distracted by what?”

“By you.”

“Pardon me?”

I should have realized by her inflection and tone she did not mean it as an apology.

“It is all right, but if we could have this discussion a little later I would be appreciative.” I said before I thought it through.

Her open palm connected gently with my cheek. Okay, it was not that gently. While I gazed open mouthed and in shock, she wagged a finger at me.

“Your frivolous writing to friends will not take precedence over me or anyone else in this house. Am I understood young lady?” She scolded.

“Yes, Mother.” I said with emphasis on mother.

“Watch your tone.” She said.

“I am sorry I left the book out. I will put it away now.” I said, holding out my hand for it.

“Not so fast. This discussion is not over, Margaret Ann.”

There she goes using my middle name again.

“What more?” I asked.

“What business do you have with a book like this in the first place? It is disgusting.” Mother said.

“Which book is it?” I asked.

“Evolution, Expression, and Sensation. It is vulgar and not worthy of the title of book.”

“It is some summer reading to prepare me for my upcoming science class.” I replied.

No doubt something about it had disturbed Mother but as to which paragraph, I could not imagine.

“They actually allow this trash in a school?” She asked.

The disbelief in her voice was going to make explaining rather difficult. I gulped and decided to try.

“Well, no, it is not a school book per se. Dr. Phallic suggested I read it for some advanced theory ideas, but the book itself is banned from the campus.” I said.

I bit at my lip, waiting for the explosion.

“I can clearly see why such vulgarity would be banned, but do you honestly expect me to believe a teacher suggested you read it?”

“I am telling the truth.”

“Just as you were about Mrs. Carrington’s letter.”

“No, this is different, Dr. Phallic really suggested it to me, that is even his copy, he loaned it to me.”

“I will be checking on that, Margaret Ann, directly with your Dean.”

“You could just check the inside of the back cover. Dr. Phallic’s name is inscribed.”

“I would not put you above having done that yourself.”

I sighed. There was no use arguing.

“What is you find so disturbing about it?” I asked.

My curiosity was genuine. In reading it thus far I had uncovered nothing vulgar, although the theory of evolution might be considered sacrilegious to some, we are not an especially devout household.

“Andrea picked it up and saw this!” Mother said.

She flipped the book open and shoved the pages nearly in my face. It was a diagram of the naked male body. I laughed.

“This is not funny. This is disgusting and has no place in my home.”

“It is a medical diagram, Mother. There is nothing sinister about it.”

“I will be the judge of that in my home.”

“I do not understand why this matters to you.”

“Your little sister is staring at a drawing of a naked man in a book brought home by her older sister, and I am not to be bother by it? What world is this on which you are living?”

“It is just a diagram, what harm can come from her knowing a little about the male anatomy?”

“She is far too young for knowledge like that and you should know it.”

“Please Mother, she probably saw nothing there which she was not all ready keenly aware of.”

“You will not speak of your sister like that in my house.” Mother replied leaning nearer my face.

“Yes, Mother. I am sorry Mother.”

“I will be keeping this until I have heard back from your Dean. If it does indeed belong to your Dr. Phallic he will receive it back by mail. If not, I will burn it and remind you how liars are punished in this house. Am I clear?”

“Yes, Mother.” I replied meekly.

“As for your attitude, I will see to it your father deals with it when he arrives home. I suggest you mind your manners and not make matters worse for yourself in the meantime.”

“Yes, Mother.”

She then grabbed my partially written letter, wadded it up into a ball and walked away. If I had any courage at all I would have followed her and slapped her silly for being so mean, but she is my mother. It just would not be right to put her over my knee, even if that is what she desperately needs.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Ashley, it is difficult to put myself in the mindset of that time.
Warm hugs,