“I’ll wash your mouth out with soap.” That was always mom’s threat to us, empty as it was, if we used filthy language. Typically, this threat was dragged out when we kids (me, brother Scott and sister Net) were fighting and saying mean things to each other. But as kids, the ‘filthy’ was just kid stuff, we were not into swearing back at that early age.
No, I did not swear publicly until I was in the seventh grade. Moving to Miami had been a real eye-opener. In the fourth grade I went from goody twoshoes Lancaster PA to sunny, metropolitan and thoroughly mixed South Florida. Why would swearing be more prevalent there? Well, I guess the metropolitan aspect would expose us to more than the bucolic suburban PA life.
So I started hearing it much more among my peers (I’d always heard my dad swear, that was no big deal); that’s where it took root, all my peers swearing because it was cool, so of course I did too. In a sense, it was a rite of passage, like taking one’s first drink or puffing that first cigarette, or doing any other stupid thing that one feels one must do in order to fit in or to grow up.
Well, onwards: one day I was driving around with Scott, who was in the tenth grade and could drive the family car, and I used the word a$$hole. Big deal, right? Looking back across the decades it sure seems like nothing, but when Scott mentioned to my parents what I’d said, it was a big deal. They did not punish me or freak out, but my mom was not pleased, and that was enough for my parent-pleasing self to feel chagrined.
But she did not wash my mouth out with soap! Whew!
The first time I swore in front of my mother would come much later–it was only five years, but it seems like light years between seventh grade and twelfth grade. There near the end of high school I was driving, and on the day in question I was driving mom to the grocery store. As I pulled into a parking space I was cut off by another car, driven by a woman. Without realizing what I was doing, or hesitating, out of my mouth shot the c-word. Dang, not good. My mom just looked aghast, her mouth dropped open. Oops. Again, no soap in the mouth. Just embarrassment for doing that in front of her…
That’s about all the filthy you are going to get out of me, for now. I still need some time before I really open about things with you, but I’ll get there, don’t worry.