I’ve been feeling a bit dry on posts lately. It’s like I try and try to think of something funny that happened and I just can’t come up with anything. Tonight, however, I was talking to Mom and something came back to me.
To say that my father was antiestablishment is probably the understatement of a lifetime. He was the ultimate rebel without a cause. So he made causes.
He also had an impish sense of mischief and fun. Ninety per cent of the time, this was harmless and entertaining. But it also meant he had great talent and ingenuity in “Sticking it to The Man,” which he did at every opportunity. And if you’re going to do it that often, you have to have a pretty broad definition of who “The Man” is.
For example, he was hospitalized once when I was in middle school. One of the questions on the admittance form asked you to list your faith.
Dad said that he was a worshipper of Mighty Thor.
(I don’t know why, but he seemed to have particular venom toward born again Christians. I suspect that what he was really upset about was that people tend to assume that if you are white and American, you’re also Christian. I say this because he once told me that I could find no better role model than Christ, and on another occasion spoke of Christ as the original hippie. Considering the source, this was pretty high praise. No, I don’t know what he actually believed, because he could dodge questions like nobody’s business.)
I’d like to remind everyone that I grew up in a VERY rural area of western Virginia.
So now the story starts. When we were kids, there was a family of whom we saw quite a bit. Karen was my age and had my interests, Kelly was Lydia’s age and had Lydia’s interests, and Mrs. McGee drove a school bus, just like my Mom did.
They were born again Christian. Pentacostal, I believe, but I’m not prepared to swear to it.
Anyway, we bumped into each other quite a lot. 4H meetings, Academic Team meets, band recitals, PTA meetings… you name it. I won’t say we were intimate, but we were friendly and cordial and always happy to see each other.
Dad and Mrs. McGee were both obsessive readers. They were the kind of people who carry a paperback with them and read it while waiting for the meeting to start. So one day, Dad was reading a copy of Heinlein’s “Job.” If you’ve read this book, please feel free to skip the following paragraph.
It would be fair to say that “Job” is a modern day/science fiction retelling of the biblical book of the same name. It would also be fair to say that it is a deeply offensive parody, laden with sex, crises of faith, and … alternate cosmology. I love it and highly recommend it – if you aren’t turned off already.
I was about thirteen at the time, and I had read “Job” already (because I’d been forbidden to. Duh.)
We were waiting for a PTA meeting to start and Mrs. McGee looked over and asked Dad what the book was about. Dad told her that it was a retelling of Job from the Bible.
Mrs. McGee decided she just had to read it. Dad loaned it to her.
Now, in order to get from my locker to Mom’s bus, I had to walk right past Mrs. McGee’s bus. I mean I took that sidewalk at a dead sprint every afternoon for six weeks. Difficult to manage carrying a tuba, especially when you stand 4’10” and weigh a wopping 85 lb, but with the proper motivation, it can be done.
Except one day I had a run in with the resident bully. Right in front of Mrs. McGee’s bus. Of course she stepped down as a force of discipline and authority, and then asked me to step into her bus for a second. She handed me the book. I shall never forget her words or the look on her face.
“Please thank your father very much for being so kind as to lend me that book.” Pause. “I shall certainly never forget it.”
Of course, Dad laughed his butt off when he heard that.
Flash forward three years. Our junior year of high school has just ended, and we have been given a list of books that we ought to read before heading off to college. I don’t know who thought that list up, because some of them I’d read in elementary school (“Lord of the Rings”) and some I was forbidden to read until I was thirty two (as Mom screamed when I brought “Clan of the Cave Bear” home from the library). But, barring parental interference, I was bound and determined to read every book on that damn list between this year and next. I got every one except “Clan of the Cave Bear.” Karen was right behind me on this project.
So summer is a pretty busy time in 4H. I’m sitting there waiting for a meeting to start and I’m reading “War and Peace,” which was also on the magic list. Karen’s mother asked me what I was reading and I told her. She sort of paused.
“Is that really appropriate for someone your age?”
“Oh, sure! And it’s really good and it’s all about Russia in the Napoleanic Wars.”
“Oh.” She’s really lost here.
Dad was never one to pass up putting in his two cents’ worth.
“I agree. There’s nothing in it that I would object to my teenaged daughter being exposed to.”
And Mrs. McGee looked from Dad – to “Stranger in a Strange Land” in front of him – to me – to “War and Peace,” all in very slow motion.
Karen never did read “War and Peace,” I hear. But through a serious oversight born of parental ignorance, she did get her hands on “Clan of the Cave Bear.”
Want to know how this came up? Mom had just found out that the entire population of Rockingham County believes that Lydia and I were brought up as godless heathens. She simply could not figure out how this had occured (the fact that it was pretty close to true never crossed her mind. Which is as may be, because that isn’t what people know about. But EVERYONE knows about Job and Mighty Thor.)