A child of the 60s, I was well aware of my dad's adherence to the old adage, 'Children should be seen and not heard.'
An old english proverb, the phrase came from a time when men were regarded as the only ones qualified to speak, a time when women and children were expected to respect men and remain silent.
In its original form this proverb was directed at young women who were expected to keep quiet. This opinion was recorded in the 15th century by an Augustinian clergyman called John, Mirk's Festial, circa 1450:
Hyt ys old Englysch sawe: A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd.
A 'sawe', or 'saw' as we would spell it now, was a mediaeval term for saying or proverb.
While the expression was aimed at women, the Old English names denoting gender are now somewhat altered. A 'mayde' usually referred to a young female, though the term simply meant young child.
Well in our home there was no question, we revered my dad. My sisters and brother and I were careful to show respect, follow his preference that we be 'seen, not heard.' We did not talk back, we did not argue and we did not swear.
Until the day I did...swear that is.
My first time was thirty-five years ago. I came home from school to an empty house and decided to make a snack of toast and peanut butter. A quick search of the kitchen produced no bread so I headed down to the freezer in the basement, where Mom kept the extra loaves. I shoved the frozen hamburger and frosted cans of orange juice aside then quickly realized we had no bread left. And I really wanted that toast.
"F * * K!"
Until that moment I had never dropped the forbidden f-bomb. Hollering that f-word in the muted still of my cinder block basement felt pretty damn good - kind of exhilarating - like the sensation of a cool wind billowing through my hair.
But of course I'm not the girl with the flowing hair, standing on a mountain, in the peppermint patty commercial. In that instant I noticed the flourescent light above my head, blinking and twitching - dark and light, dark and light - and I knew I hadn't turned that light on. Heat crawled up my back.
Very slowly - very slowly - I turned and peered over my shoulder.
"Yes, I'm here," my dad said, from the comfort of his lazyboy chair, where he had been reading a book.
In the silence of the basement, his words seemed to exit his mouth in slow motion, " Yessss, I'm heeeeere."
My face burned. "Oh, oh, sorry, I...I....I'm sorry," I mutterd, before tucking my tail between my legs and hightailing it up the stairs.
I was twelve years old and the bottom fell out of my world in that split second. To his credit, Dad never mentioned it. He never gave me trouble. He didn't need to and he knew it.
No matter how many times this little anecdote is repeated in our family, or how many ways it is embellished, we all have a good laugh though I do still feel a remnant of the horror and mortification I felt that day.
A few weeks ago Dad told me he was reading my book.
Now, 'A Thistle in the Mist' is liberally sprinkled with sex, violence and cuss words so I said, "Oh, Dad, now you are going to know exactly what goes on inside my head."
He smiled and said, "You're a big girl now, you can say whatever you want."