When my parents moved us to Indiana upon my father’s retirement from active duty in the Navy, they would frequently ship us off to my maternal grandparents’ farmhouse in northern Indiana. My sister and I didn’t mind at the time because we didn’t know our grandparents all that well, having spent the majority of our youth thousands of miles away from any of our family. Plus, they gave us total crap to eat and let us watch television all day.
My grandfather – before a series of heart attacks and mild strokes – was a big fan of canned puddings, Jell-O, Twinkies, Hostess chocolate “cupcakes,” and any other manner of trans-fat-filled desserts. At my grandparents’ I had my first taste of white bread, real butter, eggs fried in bacon grease, and sugary cereals.
My folks weren’t exactly hippies, but they weren’t extremely wealthy people who could afford to give us organic homemade meals, either. They just didn’t want us to fill up on cream centers and Froot Loops whilst absorbing hours of mind-numbing cartoons. They bought wheat bread and skim milk, grapes and apples, and Cheerios with strawberries was considered a “special treat.”
On Saturdays at home we were allowed one hour of television, only half of which could not to be educational. My sister and I tired easily of the semantics involved in determining what constituted as “educational” and eventually stopped trying to fight for Bugs Bunny at all. To this day, there are scores of television shows to which my peers know all the theme songs, characters, and plot lines (however thin). I don’t know the difference between Tom and Jerry (which is the cat, which is the mouse? Is it a mouse or a rat?), the song that accompanies “The Brady Bunch” or “The Love Boat” opening credits, or how many people were trapped on that island with Gilligan. I do know, however, that the professor often built ridiculous devices when he should have concentrated on just making a boat for them to escape.
Rather than spend our time watching these popular television shows in my mom’s parents’ hot, humid, air-condition-less home during the weeks we spent over our summers, we hung out in their barn (where I quickly discovered I had disabling allergies) and wandered the fields or just read quietly in the shade; an activity my grandparents were incredibly suspicious of. We did these things not because we could have watched “Fantasy Island,” but because we couldn’t. My grandparents were much more fond of watching the neighbors through binoculars for “sinful” behavior and religious or “wholesome” programming like “Gomer Pyle” and “Petticoat Junction.” The potential thrill of endless hours of forbidden TV was quickly quashed since we has zero interest in Jim Nabors. We couldn’t even watch Dick Van Dyke or Lucille Ball because, for whatever reason, those people were “too racy.”
My grandparents were (and remain to this day) so religious that my grandmother swatted my butt once for using the word “crap” and refused to allow my sister or me to bring makeup with us when we came to their house. I asked my grandma why this was and she told me “God made you just the way you are. Wearing makeup ruins the image God created.” Also, she went on, did doing things like dyeing your hair or getting your ears pierced, tanning on purpose, or any number of other vain habits young ladies exhibited.
Why then, I asked several nights later, did she spend an hour every evening pinning up her hair to make it curly? My grandma would take a shower and, while her hair was still wet, curl small sections and hold them down with the same 25-or-so bobby pins she kept in a Sucrets tin, then cover her head with a cap while she slept. Wasn’t this changing the way God created her, I asked? This made Grandma angry, I think, and she told me I was too young to understand.