The Hite Report on Shere Hite (6 page)

BOOK: The Hite Report on Shere Hite
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I don’t think I was ever invited to a boy’s birthday party at that age, so I didn’t know if they got day-of-the-week underwear, but I was almost positive they only made such an item for girls, because I saw them sometimes in stores, and they were only for girls. I didn’t really understand what the message was supposed to be, but I was getting a message. It was that it was appropriate to point out ‘girls’ bottoms’. The ruffles on the backside exaggerated the area to suggest, ‘take note, here is a part that sticks out’. Also, the position of the name of the day of the week on the back would indicate that it was intended that this is where someone should look.

In the 1950s films I used to see, a common scene was when the male hero would take the girl he was trying to get to marry him over his knee and spank her. Sometimes this was justified by being in a Western, so supposedly those things happened on the ‘rough and ready frontier’. The last film I remember it in was the John
Wayne movie with Maureen O’Hara in which they are supposedly both Irish, and she is rather independent, and wants him to prove his serious intentions. He refuses and spanks her bottom, then slings her over his shoulder and takes her home. Carried that way, her bottom is directly exposed to the camera, which focuses pointedly on it as John Wayne walks along. What is the message here? That women’s sexual organs need to be dominated and captured? That is the real high point of the film, or is meant to be?

Deliah Barthold was the musical director of the school Glee Club choir. She was of the 1920s Victorian girls’ school tradition. I wonder how she ever wound up in St Joseph, Missouri. She lived with her sister.

She loved to gather all the girls together, and sing glorious and complex choral pieces. She demanded great devotion and hard work, and you had to be prepared for her classes. Her sister played the piano to accompany us and once, Miss Barthold even organized a small orchestral ensemble of the students (in which I played the clarinet) to accompany the fifty-odd girls’ chorus. Our classes took place at 9:30 every morning, and our voices would echo through the halls into every room in the entire school. Sometimes Mr Blair, the principal, would interrupt our classes on the intercom system, to make an announcement about the day’s events.

Ever since I was about five, I had studied music, taking piano and clarinet lessons. Now I began my own
collection of classical LP records. My first record was Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto (with Eugene Istomin at the piano). It was sheer, lush passionate sound. Inside the record was a flyer that described the music and the composer. The flyer had an illustration which is still clear in my mind. I used to stare at it endlessly, trying to see through it into the adult world. On it was a drawing of a man and a woman sitting on the edge of a bed, leaning on each other, the woman’s head back in ecstasy, as they listened to the music together! This looked so tender and so passionate at the same time – especially the woman’s face, I remember. I found it really shocking and revealing. Did adults do this together?

Such intimacy looked great to me, and I hoped I would someday enjoy being together with someone like that – but it seemed almost too wonderful – to sit in bed close to my lover and share these beautiful sounds. Would I someday share a bed and a life with someone who liked this music too? I hoped so. I hoped it would be beautiful and intimate like the picture, and that we would love each other with intensity like the music, that our relationship would have as much beauty as I could hear listening to the music. I could hardly dare to imagine it, this seemed so desirable, yet forbidden.

Around that time, I began to notice my face and how I looked. I remember one day, especially, when I was putting away the good silverware in the dining-room standing by the large mirror next to the chest of drawers. I happened to look up from the drawer where I was separating the knives, forks and spoons into their
sections, and suddenly catch sight of myself. I was surprised. I thought, ‘I look like a beautiful woman. That is not me. Can it be?’ And I stared, and put my head back even more. The more I tilted it back, the more I thought I looked like a beautiful woman – though a little less like me. It was alienating, looking at myself, but thrilling, to look so adult. And, I
be her! Then I got bored with the experiment and the silverware, and forgot about it for another year or so.

Listening to Rachmaninov, I decided I wanted to be a classical composer, like Wagner or Verdi or – especially – Sergei Rachmaninov! What a seriously gorgeous name! I often heard Verdi and others on the
broadcasts, on our tiny beige plastic radio (no FM yet). It was very scratchy, and the applause seemed to come from very far away. This music and the interviews during intermission told me of a world that existed inside of me, but that I saw no evidence of around me – except perhaps in the large ancient trees and the great sky and colours of the woods where I played in summer. Such grandeur of emotion was what I wanted to express, what I wanted to share. I got the impression that my immediate life was very far away from some bigger civilization, and that it would be exciting to go there. There would be important things to do and see there. Real things happened there, things that made a difference everywhere. Where I lived, things were only shadows.

Almost every day, I walked in the woods. This was after school and before dinner, I was solitary except for my dog. The snow, which seemed to create a vast silence, let me join a more profound world, and hear the beauty of the wind in the bare trees all around me. Those walks and times alone in the woods with my dog were full of a silent privacy in which I could hear my own inner world, and feel another world grow around me, dream my own dreams. There was no one in the woods to disturb me or the world I discovered there, or to impose upon what was there.

But the cold snow frightened me. I did not like winter; we were always cold, and I became frost-bitten during the thirty block walk to school every morning. I remember those mornings: after having eaten oatmeal (sometimes fried, if leftover, which made me nauseous), and being spoon fed cod-liver oil which I would then spend the morning burping (it wouldn’t digest, and wouldn’t stay down inside me), walking through the snow to school.

I wanted to grow up. I could hardly wait.

My first boyfriend was four years older than me, he was a senior. I didn’t really like him so much. But I was intrigued by his interest in me. It was considered very prestigious if an older boy would ask you out, and I was only a freshman.

He was the first boy or man to notice me. I saw him looking at me in the library while I was studying. At first, I didn’t understand what was going on. I just saw a man-boy looking at me, and I thought, ‘Why is he
looking at me? Do I know him, or does he need to ask me something?’ Then, as I stared back for a few more minutes wondering, and he didn’t stop looking at me, it dawned on me that what he was looking at was
. That he
looking at
. That he found something likeable and attractive about how I looked, something about my body or my personality. I remember blushing, then looking shyly back down at my book.

Later, his friends told me he wanted to meet me, and thus began our few dates. He was just about to graduate, and he invited me, for our first date, to the Senior Prom. He had his own car, and we went in that, even staying out until after midnight. I wore a formal, strapless dress, with a full skirt and lots of petticoats, white with yellow flowers. My aunt and grandmother had picked it out with me.

To find it, we went shopping at Hershe’s, the nicest department store in town, where it always smelled good, and was always cool in summer. They had lovely ladies who worked in the store, who were always nice to you. In the women’s hats section (my grandmother’s favourite department), there were many oval mirrors at small tables with chairs where you could sit to try on the hats and look at yourself in the mirror. You would sit there, and the saleswoman would put the hats, one by one, on your head, to help you decide.

I don’t know if I had a good time dating him. It was interesting to have someone show such physical interest in me, I liked the affection, and experimenting with slight sex, and touching. It’s so nice to be held and kissed, and to embrace and kiss back. It was new to me
to feel excitement in my body, and wonder what would happen next. After all, like most children, I had been sleeping alone, not being cuddled or embraced physically since childhood, for at least eight years. Being held was like rain from heaven on parched earth.

Larry, my boyfriend, frightened my grandfather when he met him at the door one time by chance. Larry was a black-leather jacket, Leader of the Pack type, with greased-back hair and all. And he had his own car (a racing car) – and racing cars, in those days, were used for ‘parking’, i.e. doing sexy things on dark roads. Just when Larry and I were getting to that stage, and I was deciding that having a boyfriend was quite fun, my grandparents (even though separated, they conferred) freaked out.

They became agitated and uncomfortable, and decided it would be ‘better’ if I lived with ‘younger people’ who would ‘know what to do about this’. They wanted me to move to Florida and live with my Aunt Cecile and her family. Really, I think in part they just felt guilty for keeping me, that it wasn’t somehow ‘right’ for grandparents to keep a child, or for a child to grow up in a slightly different family. Their own guilt, perhaps, because of their separation, overcame their judgement. Would they have been less permissive than my aunt and uncle? I don’t know. I would have been glad to listen to what they had to say. In addition, my grandfather had recently remarried, and his wife was terrified that I would move in with them. She was jealous and insecure. It was a difficult decision all around.
During the time my grandfather was freaking out, and deciding he could not handle the situation, he asked his daughter, Cecile, the blonde, smiling radiant beauty, for advice. She said she had always loved me, and would I come and live with her? She and her new husband were just starting their family. My uncle came all the way from Florida to Missouri to formally invite me. He was very handsome. He had been a champion diving star, and now he was a businessman.

I didn’t want to leave my grandfather. He had thought and thought about it, he said, and he didn’t want to do it, but felt it was best for me. It was the second time I would move, without really wanting to.

Though I was silent and moody, unsure at first, I had always adored my Aunt Cecile. She was the happiest, wittiest and most spirited person in the family. And I knew she liked me, too. It was she, in fact, who told me about menstruation, two years earlier, when visiting. She happened to pass the bathroom when I was there (that famous bathroom again) and noticed, to my embarrassment, my underpants lying on the floor.

‘What’s that brown spot on your pants’! she shrieked gleefully.

‘Uh …’ I looked down at them, not knowing. It just looked like they were a little used to me. It was only a small spot!

She laughed. ‘Oh, you don’t know!’ Then she became compassionate and friendly. ‘Dear, when girls are about your age, they all get this. It happens every month. You’ll bleed. It doesn’t hurt. You wear a pad in your underpants and this catches the blood.’

‘What’ I was incredulous.

‘I’ll go to the drugstore and get you one. I’ll be right back.’ And she was off and back in a flash.

There we were in the bathroom, she fastening the strangest white elastic belt around me, with loops at each end, into which you hooked the white cotton pad. I remember standing there, while she put it on me, feeling very naked and idiotic. But her attitude was so casual, so friendly, that there was no reason for my shyness.

She must have said something to her mother, my grandmother, like ‘I told her,’ but I don’t know what. My grandmother never mentioned it, not even to say, ‘Oh, you started menstruating.’ I always hated wearing those bulky white things, and was glad to discuss better alternatives a couple of years later in Florida, with a new best friend. I recently asked my aunt, and she doesn’t remember this (to me) momentous event. She does not remember that she was the one to tell me. But she did a good job of it.

A year or so later, I asked my grandmother whether they were selling Kotex when she grew up in New Mexico. ‘Oh, no.’ she said, ‘We didn’t have anything like that.’

‘Well, then, what did you do?’

‘We used rags. We had to wash them out ourselves.’

Moving from Missouri would mean moving from a poor background into an upper middle-class milieu. I would have to learn a lot.

The summer I moved to Florida, I was very moody. It
was a summer between childhood and adulthood for me, a summer of dreaming and preparing for adult life. I found some records around the house, and liked to stay in my room, my bedroom, playing them – Nat King Cole, and later, Bob Dylan – but I missed Rachmaninov and my classical record collection. I much preferred them, as well as the many violin and cello sonatas I had collected by then, but I had not been able to bring them with me. The focus in Florida was not on classical music, but popular. Yet my aunt that Christmas bought me a piano so I could continue with music and the classics I loved.

I now believe that having several families gave me a bigger perspective. I saw that different people have different ways of living, and that they all seem to work. No one way is the only way, despite what people may say. I probably got a lot of my own feeling for freedom from my Aunt Cecile. She went about creating her own life before anybody was talking about women’s right to do so.

Cecile was the blonde beauty of the family. When people said we looked alike, I felt accepted and proud. Especially because she beamed with pleasure, hearing it.

I become nervous writing this text about my aunt, more nervous than in writing about any other members of my family. I feel the palms of my hands going sweaty! That’s because she essentially functioned and still functions as my mother, so it is hard for me to speak with objectivity!

BOOK: The Hite Report on Shere Hite
8.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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