by Don Shaw (U3A Redcliffe)
I was horrified one day when Johnny Fitz told me his mother was stupid. Dad and Mum had belted it into me that boys had to respect women and girls. They didn't say anything about girls respecting boys, though at the time I had no idea what respect meant. Whenever my sister, Maureen, saw me in trouble, she would put her tongue out and sing the following ditty:
"Little girls are made of sugar and spice
And all things nice
Little boys are made of snakes and snails
And puppy dogs tails."
She probably thought she was getting one up on me, but being a boy, I was quite delighted with the idea of being made up of things like snails and slimy things like that, though what that had to do with respect, I had no idea. Whenever Fitzy and I approached Mrs. Hanson, she used to shoo us away, crying, "Go away, you smelly little boys." as if we were some sort of unwashed animals or something. Maybe we weren't being respectful?
Maureen and I had been fighting over some sweets, she wanted the black ones and so did I. Just as I whacked her one, Mum came into the room. She grabbed me by the collar, gave me a cuff over the ear, and hauled me into the kitchen.
"Don't you ever hit your sister again," she raved at me, "that's the worst thing any boy can do," and she gave me another whack over the ear.
"But she hit me first," I sniffed.
"It doesn't matter, you're a boy and she's a girl, and one day, when she's grown up, she'll have babies," and Mum grabbed me by the ear and turned my face towards her. "If you hit Maureen in the wrong place you might damage her in some way."
"What do you mean 'she'll have babies,' Mum?" I was all ears.
"Shut up, and don't change the subject. Girls aren't as strong as boys, you're supposed to protect them, not bash them, do you understand?" And she shook me until I rattled. Leaning towards me, she stared into my eyes. "If you ever hit a girl again your father will give you a good hiding, and if he doesn't, I will, and while I'm at it, there's some more things you should know," and she ran the rest of the women's rules off on her fingers.
"From now on you will always walk on the outside of the pavement, with the girl on the inside, because girls' skirts can get splashed by passing cars if it rains."
"What about boy's pants, Mum?"
"Boy's pants are easily cleaned, and another thing, you never, never swear in front of a lady," her forefinger was jabbing into my chest.
"How about 'bloody', is that a swear word?"
"Especially 'bloody', who taught you that terrible word anyway, that Johnny Fitzpatric I suppose.” and she stood in front of me, arms akimbo, looking down accusingly, "If this carries on, I'm going to stop you playing with him."
"It wasn't Johnny, Mum, it was the nun, Sister Philomena." Mum was shocked, she sucked in her breath.
"Don't you dare lie to me about the nuns," her face was becoming red, she was really upset.
"But it was, Mum, at school, she was so upset with us kids that she bashed her fists on the table and shouted, "You bloody kids, I can't teach you anything, I don't know why I bother."
Mum held her breath for a while then blew it out and started to laugh. "That poor woman, she's got you kids for the rest of her life, day in and day out. I don't blame her for swearing, but," and she poked me in the belly, "don't you copy her, and stop changing the subject again, you do not swear in front of women or girls, do you understand?"
"And never, never, walk in front of your mother or sisters, or any other lady for that matter." She unclenched her fingers from my shirt collar.
"Why not, Mum?"
"Because it's disrespectful, that's why. It's bad manners, and any boy who's disrespectful will get a clip over the ear, do you understand?"
"And another thing, never raise your fists to a woman, any priest will tell you that. If you lay your hand on a woman, God will turn his back to you, and you will have bad luck all the rest of your days, alright?"
"Yes Mum." I turned and dashed outside, heading for Johnny Fitz's house. Did I have things to tell him!