Friday, February 24, 2012

Truth and Lies

One of the reasons I so treasure Rachel Maddow author and host of the Rachel Maddow show is her dedication to truth. Tomorrow night in San Jose she receives the prestigious Steinbeck award given annually to an activist who exemplifies the themes and values found in the writings of Steinbeck and his commitment to the common people. Particularly in politics Rachel searches for the facts behind the stories. When her research is wrong, occasionally, she rights it without hesitation. Steinbeck's son, Thomas, comments "Listening to Rachel Maddow is like listening to Walter Cronkite. We have that kind of trust in her."
At a much simpler level the struggle with my own truth, or lack thereof, has long been a theme. Perhaps you will enjoy this story of my remembrance of my first lie. Or was it? You decide. I'm relying on my childhood memories for I have no way to check the facts.

I was six and a half or seven at the age of the first lie. It is imprinted in my memory because I felt so unjustly accused. Maybe you can decide.

My voluptuous young mother whom I loved but could seldom fathom was shunned by most of our neighbors who envied her seductive appearance yet frowned at her scandalous behavior. To us she was funny, flamboyant and loving. Mostly my mother just wanted both of us kids to be inconspicuous to deflect the unwanted negative attention of all but the milkman or travelling salesmen at which times she wanted us to disappear into the basement or the nearby woods.

In sharp contrast to her beauty and outgoing ways I was duck-footed, myopic and introspective. Dancing school did little to improve my coordination or thin, straight hair cut in a boyish bob. My black pit bull, Mike, slept at my side and trailed me everywhere. In his eyes, anyway, I was perfect and could do no wrong.

Arriving home from dinner my mother struck a petulant pose.

“Did you have another fight with Barbro,” she queried? Bewildered, I denied her charge.

“You’re lying to me” she accused. “Barbro’s Mother just called and told me you two were fighting again.” I’m telling your father when he gets home from work that he has to punish you.” How confusing. This was the first time I had ever heard my mother express a cross word. The only punishment I’d known was to sit quietly in the corner for five minutes or to have my flashlight temporarily confiscated for reading under the covers after lights out. I was either a very obedient kid or my misconduct went unnoticed, possibly a little of both. I’d never had a reason to lie that I could recall, and from the Presbyterian Sunday School three blocks away I well understood the moral of honesty and the punishment for sin.

I intuited the wisdom of being invisible as well. Since about four I’d sensed I was different. I did not have a name for it, but I realized I had uncommon feelings from and for other little girls. Unlike my big sister, I felt utterly no interest in the neighborhood gang of boys who habituated the swings in our back yard and played kick the can in our alley till the light faded. Sadly there was only one girl to play with, Willa. Willa lived half a block north. She was chubby and a bore. Besides, her mother was a prude.

A dramatic change happened in the second grade. Playing hopscotch alone one Saturday afternoon on 27th Ave. I encountered a new girl, Barbro. Not my usual haunt, this was the only street around with sidewalks which were needed to accept chalk markings. Barbro had just moved into a rundown old house a half a block south. Her family was fresh from Sweden. I was smitten. Barbro was petite and graceful. Her thick wavy hair was the color of a newly opened bar of ivory soap. She was dressed in a colorful embroidered dirndl and wooden shoes. Her cheeks shone pink like the peonies in our side garden. Her accent was magical and her blue eyes danced. She played Hopscotch like a pro even in her clogs. She knew how to charm. I was hooked, an infatuation that was destined to last well into our teens.

Barbro turned out to be not only the most popular but the smartest member of our second grade class, and Willa second. I was somewhere down the ladder, though I excelled in reading. I decided their superior achievement was because they were both left-handed, and being a rightie I could never catch up. Surely I was genetically deprived. I saved my weekly 25 cent allowance for gifts and treats for the new object of my affections. I was tormented when at times Barbro would favor Willa over me. I could only stand it so long, and then being a little sturdier I would throw Barbro to the floor, yanking her thick blonde hair until she screamed. Willa would quiver in the corner. Of course Barbro knew I worshipped her and this was a game she invented to get my goat. It ended quickly with no tresses to sweep up. I hardly thought of it as fighting, for I worshipped the ground she walked on, as the expression goes. To me it was a way of showing my undying affection. Apparently her Mother did not understand the ritual or grew tired of her daughter’s screaming.

When Daddy got home he asked me to come sit in his lap in the living room. He explained softly that my Mother had told him to punish me for lying. I still didn’t get it but I lay obediently across his knees as he directed. My Mother was out of sight in the kitchen. His hands made contact with my buttocks seven or eight times with about the force of a puppy batting a kitten. I looked up at his face, still confused. “This is hurting me more that it does you, ” he murmured. It was then that I noticed two tears sneaking down under his thick trifocals. My heart sank. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt my gentle, adoring father. I still felt totally confused but I knew that somehow in the future I must figure out a strategy for coming to terms with lying and furthermore that it meant I might have to construct some kind of a secret double life, which is what in essence I did.

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