As we all settle into our new normal of “social distancing,” however temporary it may be, I can’t help but think of how this was the norm during our childhood. Allow me to explain (as if there were any doubt at all that I wouldn’t pick up this thread and ramble for a good 800 words or so!).
If you follow this blog, it won’t surprise you that our dad was much a self and family isolator. He often took his self-isolation to extremes by not leaving his bedroom or closing all the curtains in the house to shut out light and people for days or weeks at a time. Sometimes it included blankets over the curtains, which was a bummer in the winter because we kind of favored the blankets in our beds. Overkill on the isolation thing, you say? Well, maybe. But dang! He would have been Corona-virus-free for sure! Let’s take a look at social distancing, Seley-style.
Ours was not the house all the kids came to, ever. That sounds kind of sad, but it wasn’t a big deal because our parents never had friends over either, so it just seemed normal. In fairness, Dad did have a charming and funny side to his personality, which was delightful but unpredictable. His Mr. Hyde-side was completely antisocial and could surface as quickly as it took for us to go to school and return. It was too risky to bring someone home even with a rare advance permission. So, for most of our childhoods, we were well-insulated. Today that would be ideal! No people, no germs!
As I’ve pointed out to a ridiculous degree throughout previous blog entries, I was exempt, for whatever reason, from the worst of Dad’s indiscretions with his own children (producing a nice package of gratitude buried in a lot of guilt). But as the youngest, I think I had some unique experiences; I suppose it’s typical for the rules to loosen with the last kid. I made my first friend, Kris, in the sixth grade, and we quickly became BFF’s. It was wonderful. Fortunately (and I should have capitalized that), she never noticed anything strange about the old man, and he was very fond of and entirely appropriate toward her. Maybe she was sprinkled with my immunity-from-him fairy dust? I don’t know. But in years to come, after my sibs all moved out, I became more social, and sometimes my two worlds were allowed to overlap. Although there were definite windows of time (closed curtain times) when I wouldn’t have dreamed of having anyone over, there were exceptions. They didn’t always go well.
I’ll ease you in with a reasonably harmless Lesson #1 on the value of isolation/distancing in our house, once I was the only kid left. It came at about the age of fifteen when one of the coolest girls I knew was coming to our house for a sleepover. This was a huge deal because I was kind of a shy nobody; I was nervous and excited. So, over she came and when it was time for dinner, honestly, what was going to be on the table was the least of my worries because my parents were great cooks. Silly me.
When we sat at the table, Mom looked embarrassed, and Dad was just as charming as could be. Charming, indeed, as he dished up the cold pork and beans from the can with a side of canned store peaches. That was dinner. Allow me to elaborate. We had lots of other options, humble, perhaps, but stuff for real meals. While over the years, our fare during lean times might have been bread with gravy, bacon and beans, or potato soup (all delicious) because there wasn’t much else, we had never, I mean never, had cold food straight from the can.
This wasn’t a case of me being a spoiled, entitled kid, it was a case of me, a shy kid at a critical social moment, being caught off guard by a mean person with an ax to grind for reasons I still don’t know. Mom was as mortified as me, but of course, held her tongue. My friend was a little surprised but very gracious. I kind of wanted to die.
I obviously didn’t die.
But I also never invited that girl again, which was easy, because I’m sure she couldn’t get out of there fast enough the first time. Sheesh! If I’d only known the value of driving people away decades in the future, I suppose I’d have been grateful for my COVID-19 prep training. If they don’t come over, they can’t bring in them germs!
Seley Isolation/Distancing Lesson #2 was when I had a second BFF who shall remain nameless. We were in junior high and utterly inseparable. And while her family life was far from perfect (I discovered we didn’t corner the market on dysfunction; my dad was too handsy, among other things, but her dad got drunk and beat her), she was very ill-prepared for what my fabulous father had in mind for her. This gets tricky. To keep it short and not get too icky, he couldn’t “have” me (a subject for a future blog, I’m sure), so he thought she would do fine. And he wanted me to ask her.
For reasons I hope are clear, I’ll vague-out here…I have my blog-blabbing limits, after all. But, no, his wishes did not come true. While she was very sympathetic toward me about the weirdness of it all, she obviously stayed clear of him after that, and things were never quite the same. If we’d had a pandemic right then, by golly, I would have been saved from getting too close to her. But at the time, it sucked.
Lesson #3 came when Daddy-o hit on the very first boyfriend whom I brought home (you can read that again, but you did read what you thought you read). Imagine my surprise. I guess the upside is that the cute boy came out years later and was very openly and happily gay; maybe he would have thanked my dad for helping him discover his sexuality? I don’t know. I’m happy for him. And, more importantly, I learned not to bring boys over for a long time and later, when I did, they were strictly supervised. I ensured they stayed at least 10 feet away from Dad. I instituted social distancing decades before COVID-19! My genius even astounds me sometimes!
While I would gladly deal with my late bizarre father again right now if it meant eradicating the insidious COVID-19 from the planet, truth and perspective are important. Because of him, I was predisposed to living by our current safety guidelines way before I even knew how to spell “pandemic.”
Finally, after all these years, I can say, “Thanks, Dad!”
And boy, was that weird.