Sometimes when the Catholic priest spoke to high school students, he said, “The only way to prevent pregnancy is through abstinence … but I didn’t think it worked very well to be obstinate because my parents were obstinate they had 14 children.
Whenever I asked my mother questions about pregnancy she simply said, “All you need to know, young lady, is to never allow a boy to kiss you because that’s how you get pregnant.”
When I persisted with more questions, she said. “What you don’t know can’t hurt you!”
My mother had a saying for everything, but I never liked that saying because what you don’t know can hurt you.
When I was in seventh grade Chris Lenz tried to kiss me in English class. I remembered what my mother said so I kicked him. I was wearing soft-toed shoes so yikes that hurt! In fact, my entire big toes nail turned black and fell off. However, poor Chris was limping around for two weeks. He never tried that stupid kissing thing again.
We didn’t have a TV until my Uncle Bernie gave us one for Christmas when I was in fourth grade and my father made strict rules on what we could and could not watch.
“You cannot watch any programs that have shooting, cursing or kissing in them,” he said.
That pretty much left Lawrence Welk and the weather report.
When my father was gone to South St. Paul with a truck load of animals for market, however, my mother would turn on the TV and watch her favorite soap opera, General Hospital. I noticed one actress who did a lot of kissing in that program and she never got pregnant. So I asked my older sister Pat, “How come that actress can do so much kissing and never get pregnant?”
Pat looked at me with a straight face and said, “Oh, that’s because she wears a special kind of lipstick!”
Wow! I wanted to get myself some of that special kind of lipstick so I would not have to worry about getting pregnant. I looked at all of the lipsticks on display in our local Potter’s Five and Dime store, but I could not find it. I was really disappointed, but I was sure they would carry it in the big city. So after I graduated from high school and moved to St. Paul, I started looking for it again.
You’ve probably heard of girls who turned “sweet 16 and never been kissed.” Well, I turned sweet 16, 17, 18 and 19 before I was ever kissed. I was not about to allow any boy to kiss me until I found that special kind of lipstick.
It would have helped if I knew what it was called. I thought it might be something like “Pink Protection” or “Red Rubber” but whenever I asked a store clerk about it they always gave me such a strange look and said, “Never heard of it.”
When I was 19, a guy I met in the greeting card section of a drug store asked me to go bowling and he seemed like such a nice guy I decided to take my chances. But before going on my first date I wanted to be strong in the Lord so I decided to go to a Catholic Church up on the hill.
“I’m going to go to confession at that Catholic Church up on the hill,” I told my roommate who shared her apartment with me. She grew up in the same home town as me on another farm.
“Oh no, don’t go there!” she said.
“You should wait until you go home on a weekend and go to confession there instead.”
“Why?” I asked. “One Catholic church is just like another Catholic church, right?”
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she said.
Warn me about what I wondered. She did not tell me that the Catholic priests in big cities are used to hearing some extremely hot confessions and she knew that would not be the kind of confession I would be giving.
When I finished confessing what I thought was a long list of sins the big-city priest started asking me questions I was never before asked. His questions and my answers went like this:
“How old are you?”
“Didn’t you leave something out of your confession?”
“No, Father, not that I know of.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Yes, Father, I just got one.”
“Did you have intercourse?”
“What’s that?” I had to ask because I didn’t know that word meant.
At that moment, I heard a thud like the priest might have passed out. I wondered if he had a heart attack and needed medical help. For the longest time, I tried to figure out what I should do. I could not leave the confessional because the priest had not yet given me my penance and absolution for my sins.
Finally, after a long silence, the priest talked again.
“You are not from around here are you?”
“No, Father, I grew up on a farm in a small town.”
Next, he gave me some instructions and it went like this:
“I want you to go home and ask your mother to tell you about the birds and the bees.”
“Why, Father? I already know a lot about bees because my father is a bee keeper.”
“Just go home and ask your mother where babies come from?” he said.
Then the priest gave me the smallest penance I had ever received, the shortest prayer in the Catholic religion – one Glory Be.
I could not believe it – one Glory Be — a 10-second prayer for all those sins! In my hometown, the priest would have socked it to me. I would have been on my knees praying the entire rosary for a whole hour. Going to confession in the big city was not so bad, after all.
I was so happy with my short penance that as I walked back to my apartment, I sang Ava Maria out loud.
I was slender and my long hair that went down to my waist was blowing in the breeze. It was the first time I was dressed in a new blue suit and wore high heels and nylons. I not only felt happy but I felt beautiful. .
Suddenly, as I passed a motel, a man jumped out in front of me with a fist full of money. For some strange reason he wanted to give it to me. I knew I was singing extra good, but I didn’t know I was singing that well.
“No. You keep your money. I’m glad you like my singing but I’m singing for free today, so I don’t want your money,” I said.
As I continued walking the man followed me and kept pulling out more money and more money. “No,” I insisted.. “Keep your money. I don’t want your money. I really cannot take your money.”
When I finally got back to the apartment, I told my roommate about the strange man who was trying to give me a bunch of free money.
“Oh, my, God!” she said. “What street did you walk back on?”
“Don’t you know that’s where the prostitutes hang out?”
“Prostitutes … What’s that? What do they do?” I asked.
It was the first time I ever heard that word, too.
My girlfriend handed me a book and said, “Read it!”
The following weekend, I went home for a visit to see all my younger brothers and sisters..
“Mom, I’m 19-years-old and the Catholic priest in St. Paul told me I should ask you where babies come from.”
My mother looked surprised and said, “You know, the stork brought you!”
“Mom, no bird in the world would be so stupid that it would drop 14 babies here and only one at the farm down the road!” I said.
Looking back on my first experiences as a naïve, good-looking, slender young country girl in a big city, I believe a guardian angel must have been protecting me because I sure did not know much about anything I needed to know to protect myself.
What we don’t know could hurt us!