From the mouths of babes

Ed
Ed Smith
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“Mom, there’s something I want to know.”

That’s what the son of a friend of mine said to her not long ago. He went on to point out that he was now a teenager and should be treated more like an adult. Therefore, he had a question to which he wanted an answer.

These are words to strike terror into the heart of any parent. What does the young savage want to know now? What have the older boys over at school been telling him? If it’s really embarrassing, how can I avoid telling him the truth? Probably won’t be as innocent as, “What sign was I born under?” Because then I could tell him the sign was “Keep off the Grass.”

Or I could tell him the truth, which was that had we kept off the grass that night he probably wouldn’t even be here. He was obviously long past the birds and the bees stage, she reasoned, and knew all about begetting.

I well remember the day some older boys told me what the word “begat” meant, in rather raw terms. It was out back of the school in

St. George’s and I was as horrified as a nine-year-old could be. What blasphemy.

“That can’t be right,” I burst out. “That word is in the Bible 1,000 times. It couldn’t mean anything that bad.”

Obviously a part of my education as a developing young boy had been seriously neglected. Either the Bible or sex education had gone by the way. I leave it to you to decide which part of the school curriculum we were not following in the 1950s.

But it got worse. The boys explained to me in equally raw terms just exactly which part of the begat process my parents had to undertake in order to bring me into this world. It was too much.

“Don’t you know,” I screamed at them, “that my father is the minister? There’s no way he’d be doing that dirt!”

It was quite some time before I was able to accept the truth of that revelation. I think it was after OH told me she was pregnant.

Anyway, my friend in fear and trembling asked what it was he wanted to know. Well, he told her, there’s this word that I’m not allowed to say and I think it’s time that I should be allowed to say it. That was as bad as she feared; you know what word she was thinking of, and she was prepared to give the savage a dressing down he would not soon forget.

“If that’s a four-letter word ending in k and meaning intercourse …,” she began. But he stopped her.

“Don’t be foolish, Mom.” He was almost embarrassed. “Of course I know what ‘talk’ means. The word I want to know about is crap.”

She nearly fell off her chair with relief. Crap she could handle. Crap presented no problem whatsoever. Bring on the crap. So what was the problem, she wanted to know.

“I think,” he said, “that at my age it should be able to say shit.”

I thought, and said so, that it was a fine compliment to his parents that he felt he had to ask permission.

Classroom laughter

During my years supervising school classrooms and evaluating nervous young teachers, the teacher I felt most sorry for my whole career was a young primary teacher with her first class. I knew from long experience she had them coached beforehand to be on their best behaviour. I tried to put her at ease and then we all went into class.

The first few minutes were uneventful, but was she nervous. And then it happened. I young fellow sitting just in front of me decided the time had come to stir up things. Accordingly, he called upon his last meal of beans and fired. Only the teacher was deaf to the auditory effect. The youngsters tried heroically to hold in their reaction, and then one by one they succumbed to pressure no child should have to bear and began to laugh.

The poor teacher had no idea what was happening, but decided to try to take control of the situation. Fixing her gaze on one young miscreant, she demanded to know what was happening.

“Please, Miss,” he blurted. “Jimmy let go a fart and he stinks.”

It took a few moments to get myself under control, then the teacher, and between us the classroom. It was one of the high points in my career as a teacher evaluator.

My own preschool beginnings were not nearly as humble or innocuous, but no less noteworthy. For a four-year-old, who was the child of a brand-new minister in his first church, it was, shall we say, the stuff of legends. It heralded the beginning of a life spent outside what is regarded as normal behaviour.

My father wanted so badly to do well in his first church. We can all understand that. We can understand, too, that he wanted no blot on what he hoped would be an unblemished record, particularly if that blot were to come from the mouth of his precocious son. Several people called it precocious. Others called it holy terror personified.

A lady of this church was in the habit of catching me on Monday mornings and grilling me as to the content of my father’s sermon the night before. Evidently, I had my own way of ending this torment. One notable Monday, she caught me playing in our yard.

“Now, little Eddie,” she said, patting me on the head, “tell me what your father preached on last night.”

It was the patting on the head that was her downfall. I hated it before I was born and I have hated it ever since. I’m not sure if it was premeditated or not, but my horrified mother listening through the kitchen window as I gave my reply was prompt and as clear as crystal,

“None of your god-damn business.”

Pretty impressive for a four-year-old.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in

Springdale.  His email address is edsmith@nf.sympatico.ca.

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