By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
They say you never forget your first. When it comes to curse words, that’s certainly true for me. But let the record show, I was completely innocent! And I was probably framed by Bette Midler. Let me explain.
The year was 1979 and I was an impressionable 6-year-old girl who was already on her way to becoming a word nerd. If there was a new vocabulary lesson in Kindergarten, I was the first one to memorize it.
At that time, my parents were 42 and 35 years old — parents to one 13-year-old boy who was fond of fireworks and allergic to doing homework and one 6-year-old girl who was overly sensitive and needlessly nervous. They both worked full time and – thanks to a lot of pulling and tugging – found a way to make ends meet each month.
They didn’t go out often, mostly because of money and because they were tired. But one night in late 1979, we went to a movie. My brother was at a friend’s house that night, so he didn’t go.
We only had one small movie theater in town that had two screens. It had a concession stand up front with one screening room off to the left and the other to the right. The theatre was staffed mostly with teenagers, evident in the way its concrete floors stayed sticky year-round with what I assume was layers of dried Dr. Pepper.
The movie we saw was called “The Rose,” starring Bette Midler. According to a Google search I just did, it was about a rock star who craved approval but was manipulated and overworked by her greedy manager. She fell in love with a limo driver, but her rock-n-roll lifestyle of drugs and alcohol led to an eventual breakdown.
To be clear, I remember ZERO of those details. I don’t even remember Bette Midler because – again – I was only 6. I remember exactly two phrases I heard actors say during the movie, and they were like shiny stones I scooped up and put in my pocket to examine later. The first phrase was “son of a gun.” (Fun rhyme!) The second was “son of a (rhymes with ditch).” I’d never heard either phrase before and had no idea what they meant, but at the time they sounded grown-up and fancy.
Roughly two weeks after seeing the movie, I was helping my mom search the house for my missing piano books. It was almost time for my weekly lesson, but my piano workbooks had been missing for days. We searched everywhere. Finally, my mom found them between the sofa cushions and held them up like she’d struck gold.
Mom: “Look! I found the books!”
It felt like the perfect time to use one of those shiny new phrases. Did I try the one that would’ve been more acceptable? There was a 50/50 chance. But I’m not that lucky.
Me: “Well, son of a (ditch), Mom!”
Her: “WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?!”
Me (sensing a wrong turn): “Son of a (ditch)?”
What happened during the next few moments is a blur, but it involved being chased around the living room while my mom swatted my behind with piano books. There was also some loud lecturing about how “we don’t use words like that in this house!”
Trust me, I know what you’re thinking: “But it was her parents’ fault for taking her to that movie! Maybe her mother should’ve swatted herself with those piano books!”
And maybe you’re right. But keep in mind this happened long before online movie reviews and content warnings. I’m sure my parents had no idea what the movie was about since the title didn’t give it away. They probably thought the show would sail over my head and I’d fall asleep 15 minutes into it. They didn’t know my nerdy brain was as hungry for new words as they were for movie popcorn.
Because I’m now a married mother of three, I’ve learned that raising kids without screwing up now and then is an impossibility. Things happen. Kids hear things. Parenthood is sticky, much like the floors of that old theater.
And I’ll give Mom credit for this: I have never, ever again uttered either one of those phrases in conversation. (And I’m still a little twitchy around a piano book.) Pass the popcorn.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book is available on Amazon.