Last week’s column was of a pretty serious nature. So this week, although the topic is serious, I’ll try to make the presentation a bit more of a fun read.
I grew up at a time when respect of all kinds was a hallmark of existence. Especially in my home where I was being raised by a mom, a grandma and a slightly older sister, and respect for the female human was of paramount importance. If my mom would ask me to do something, and I did not move immediately to comply, my dad had this way of lifting his right eyebrow that said, “Your mother just spoke, hop to it!”
This respect included all of woman kind. My dad only had two short talks with me about the birds and the bees, and neither talk was really about birds or bees. One talk was about the use of protection for the sake of the woman if sex occurred so that she would not become pregnant as disease was not nearly as big a problem in those days as it is today.
My dad mentioned condoms, but I had only the haziest notion of what he was talking about. Now as it happened, in 1945, I turned 14, and under the new child protection laws, I became old enough to work. I immediately got a job as a soda-jerk in our neighborhood pharmacy on the corner of my street. I was great, inventing two new sundaes and a new style and flavor of milk-shake that were soon in great demand and brought in up to a dime more each in revenue.
The pharmacist and owner of the store came to like and trust me. He lived upstairs from the drugstore and his trust was shown in that, if he had to run upstairs for something, I was in charge of the entire store. In those days, where there were many laws to protect the public, if a drug store was open, unlike today, there had to be a pharmacist on duty.
At age fourteen, I, like many boys my age, probably thought it would be manly to have in my possession a condom, because who knew what might happen? But in those days, condoms were never on display. They were kept in an often locked drawer behind the pharmacy counter, stored, individually wrapped with almost no variety and most importantly, believe it or not, it would be at least seven more years before I would be legally old enough to buy one!
One day, when Doc had gone upstairs to his home, I found the condom drawer to be unlocked and packed, and I stole a condom. It went into my wallet where, after a few weeks, it formed a perfect and permanent tell-tale circle in the wallet’s leather wall. In August of that year, my friend Harold informed me that a distant relative, an older woman, was coming to stay for a few weeks before starting nursing school and that there were stories about her. I was mature looking and was introduced to Vilma as a friend of Harold’s nineteen year old brother.
That introduction led to the momentous day of Sunday, August 19, 1945 when I found myself sitting on Harold’s sofa next to a female person whose only clothing was around her waist, and not knowing or remembering how that had happened and in a panic that Harold’s mom would come downstairs, see us, and my life would be over; I got Vilma dressed and out the front door. Now, who should be driving by but my dad? He was on his way to get his car serviced at a station open on Sundays that was on the far side of the all-girls Western High School grounds that was much like a park.
We got a ride from dad to the north side of the park-like school ground and Vilma and I went walking, hand in hand, exploring the area. Vilma noticed the brick-walled stone stairway leading up about one and a half stories to the closed and locked cafeteria and we found the upper porch level with its brick wall. There, on this beautiful sunny day Vilma removed my condom from my wallet and in a glorious, magnificent and ever memorable moment this never to be forgotten older woman taught me the proper use of my condom and led me into manhood in one of the most profound and intense moments of my young life.
Walking home across the park, hand in hand with Vilma I remember thinking, “So this is love!” and, “I guess we will be getting married but wait, I’m only 14, and my mother isn’t going to let me get married.”
Well, my new glory wasn’t to last. After dropping Vilma at Harold’s house, I walked the block home not remembering if my feet even touched the ground.
As I walked in my front door I found my father sitting in his favorite chair there to my left, his feet propped up, reading the Sunday edition of The Baltimore Sun. He lowered the paper and looking at me over his glasses with that all knowing grin of his and yelled out to my mom, “Hey Pal (his pet name for mom), guess what Ken’s been doing!” HORROR!!!
How did he always know everything? Worse than him knowing, he was going to tell my mother. He just laughed and went back to his paper. I slinked off to my bedroom to hide. Then, two days later Vilma walked into the drugstore having discovered my real age and explained to me using some very spicy language how, what it seems only I considered our great romance, was not only over but certain physical things of a scary nature that she wanted to pursue against my person. I did not see the never to be forgotten Vilma again for over three decades when there was a chance meeting that was far more pleasant that Tuesday in the drug store.
Now let us fast forward just over six and a half decades (that’s right, 66 years) from that eventful 1945 to 2011. I am standing in the aisle of a Walgreens drug store in Houston listening to the conversation between my wife and our son, a teenage college student as they stand in front of a large, colorful display of an outlandish number of brands of condoms. My wife is pointing to a colorful box containing the same brand that I first stole back in 1945 as she says to our son, “This is the brand your father prefers.”
Our son looked at the package being indicated by his mother and in his normal, thoughtful way asked his mom, “Mom, dad has seven children doesn’t he?” Then, without waiting for a reply and pointing to another brand of condom said, “I think I’d best go with this brand instead.”
That’s My Boy!