My education as a woman – part 1 (in which I digress)

This is not part of my education as a woman. It’s part of what I know as a human. The pieces came together over 40 or more years, and the story begs to be told.

When I was 5, Gary M took me to his father’s garage and showed me his “bird.” I told him I already knew about it because my father had one. Two years later, Gary’s sister Kay, who was 3 years older, showed me hers and told me to touch it, which I did gingerly with one finger

But I have to back up to go forward here. Probably by now even they know the story.

Gary was my age, Kay 3 years older, and they lived three houses down from ours on the main street, Pottsville Street, in a town that only had two streets. Gary and Cindy Miller, who lived across from my Weist grandparents, were my best friends. My mother went to work when I went into first grade, and after false starts with both sets of grandparents, she arranged for me to stay with Kay and Gary while she was at work.

I’d been very unhappy staying with my grandparents, who had been too careful and worried about everything. Days with them had been interminable empty hours punctuated by frustrating and mystifying events, like my grandfather cutting off the cord of my toy iron and my grandmothers forcing me to take naps. I loved staying at Kay and Gary’s house, because we could play all day and Gary’s cute friend Dennis and even cuter cousin Mike often joined us. They were nicer to me than boys usually are to girls at that age.

Gary’s mother (whom he called “Mom” – I called mine “Mommy”) was older than my mother. She had gray hair and wrinkles, and she seemed old enough to be our grandmother. But she was more fun than my grandmothers, and she was nice. I liked the lunches she made of grilled cheese sandwiches and Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup, or Cambell’s Tomato Soup (with milk). It was good.

After a couple of very happy months, I overheard my mother saying to my father, “Everybody says ‘How can you let Diane stay with ‘that family,’ but it’s the only place she’s happy, so she’s staying.” I thought the disapproval might be because Gary’s mother was so old, despite the fact that my grandparents seemed even older.

Kay and Gary had a much older sister (I’m guessing she was in her early 20s), Kat. Kat wasn’t around much, but when she was, they could spend hours torturing her. They would lock her in her room upstairs so they could listen to her shrieking in anger, or they would open the bathroom door when getting ready for a date, make fun of her routine and get her shrieking in aggravation. I never saw any normal, calm interactions among them. Kay and Gary thought their pranks were hilarious, but Kat never thought they were funny, she tried to sneak around when they all were in the house together.

We moved away from that town when I was 8 years old, and I only saw Kay and Gary a few times after that, but I missed them the way only and 8 year-old can. When I was about 12, my mother and father and I were talking about the old days in the small town, and Kay and Gary came up. I said, “Kat was their mother, wasn’t she?” My parents froze. My mother said, “How did you know that? No one ever talked about that. We made sure of it.” I said, “I guess I figured it out because everybody’s ages made more sense if “Mom” was Kat’s mother, and Kat was Kay and Gary’s mother.” I said, “I knew that Kay and Gary didn’t know, so I never said anything about it.”

So for maybe 30 years I knew that Kat wasn’t their sister, she was their mother. THAT was the scandal about their family that everyone disapproved of. Kat was an unwed mother, and her parents set up the whole scam about “Mom” and “Pop” and “sister Kat” to cover for her. No wonder she was kind of the alien in the family.

That still wasn’t the whole story.

I was in my 40s visiting my parents from New York, and my parents were updating me on all the local news. My father said, “Guess who I saw at the Weis Market? Gary’s father – I mean Gary’s grandfather. He’s still a nice-looking man.” My parents tried to keep the conversation moving, but I said “Wait a minute. Back up. Did you just say what I think you said?” My parents just mutely nodded.

My first best friend was the product of incest. His sister really was his mother, and his grandfather really was his father. And he, the father/grandfather did it TWICE. And Kay and Kat were probably both Katherine. The fact that you would name two separate daughters Katherine was strange, but it wasn’t the most puzzling thing.

The hardest thing to picture was “Mom” seeming to take it all in stride, seeming better adjusted than almost any grown-up I’d known. Why did she do it? Was it for love of her daughter, or of her grandchildren or of her husband? Or for all of them? Or didn’t she have a choice? Women didn’t have as many choices in the 40s when all this would have started. And how did it end?

One last thing I think about is Kay, and how she showed me her “privates” when she was 10 or 11 years old. What made her say they were pretty, and that it would feel good to touch them? Had her father/grandfather transferred his attentions to her? Did Kay get out of that house? Did Kat eventually get married? Or was there another generation after Kay and Gary?


About Diane Weist

First year of the baby boom, ex-hippie who always had a job, born with a raised eyebrow, only child and it shows, occasional painter and writer, outsider. Raging, raging against the dying of the light.
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