I had almost completed my first week of kindergarten at St. Joseph’s Catholic school and I had a question for my Mother.
“Mom. I head some words at school and wondered if they were bad. Can I tell you what they were?”
My mother put down what she was doing and looked at me. “Yes, you can tell me the words you heard at school. It’s alright.”
With permission granted, I happily ran through an extensive and well rounded list of epithets and interjections that one would normally associate with bars and pool halls rather than Mrs. Jobin’s AM kindergarten class. As my mother sucked in a long breath, he eyebrows rose up her forehead as if she was inflating. “Yes,” she added as evenly as she could, “those are bad words.”
I was thrilled to have my assumptions affirmed and before the special moment was lost, asked, “Does Dad know any worse ones?”
“No. Your father doesn’t use that kind of language.” Was the reply. Happy for what I had but wishing I had found more, I left the kitchen and headed out into my five year old world to hunt down what ever knowledge I could find. After all, I had some swear words in my quiver now!
The best part of this conversation to me wasn’t the fact that I had been sent to a religious school and immediately discovered the world of blue language, but rather my mother’s response to if Dad hand any other gems that I might not yet know about. My Father, though a good and kind man, was also a platoon sergeant and must have been at the nexus of foul language for much of the time he was in uniform. Oh, if I had only known.
My Kindergarten discoveries were not however, my first dip into the swearing pool. The very first cuss word to escape my little mouth was a time honored favorite. It rhymes with “fit.” I don’t recall what made me say it, but I’ve been told about the conversation that occurred after I said it. Dad looked up and my Mother and simply uttered, “He didn’t learn it from me!” Dad had worked very, very hard at cleaning up what he said at home since when he was at the barracks, swearing was a necessary part of every sentence. You didn’t ask some one to pass the salt. You asked then to pass the fu**ing salt. You didn’t get into the jeep, but rather got into the godd**n jeep. Not using the swear word would have been like serving a burger with out the ketchup. He lived in fear of sitting down to dinner with his wife, child or in-laws of and asking for the “d**n gravy.”
No, my initial venture into the world of expletives came, much to her embarrassment, from my very straight laced Mom. The fecal swear was perhaps her one real vice. It was not used loosely about the house but came out only in once geographical local, and from this it derived it’s nickname. We referred to it as “the kitchen word” and when you heard it, you knew that things were not going well in there. Often, it was used following the sound of pots and pans hitting the floor.
My Mother has never been the swearing type and her mother, famously in family lore, once castigated her for using “Bull Tickies” when something didn’t work right. She glared at her adult daughter and replied sharply, “That’s pretty close to something I don’t like!” Grandma was hardly unfamiliar with swearing in the house she grew up in and reportedly, when he Father let loose with his ultimate, “God D*mn it all to Hell”, you knew that he had reached the end of whatever rope he was currently hanging from. To this day, that particular sentence still carried weight within the family.
Having apparently taken her Mother’s admonishment to heart, my Mom came up with her own fill-in swear. One that could never be tisked at by Gramma: Sugarbunnies.
This wasn’t the family’s first foray into renaming dirty words. For what ever reason, my Grandmother, the same one who wasn’t fond of “Bull Tickies” decided that she needed to come up with something else to call poop. For some strange reason, she settled on “Bunkie.”
I have no idea why.
What it meant though was that I grew up surrounded by an extensive family of aunts, uncles and cosigns who all used the word, “bunkie” to describe a bowel movement. It was normal to hear and for one of my more rambunctious cosigns, served as his vehicle for his first full on tirade. Confronted one day by our Grandfather and having been told by him in no uncertain terms that things were not, in fact, going to go the way he was demanding, the young and aggrieved party squared his jaw and told Gramp, “Your name is Bunkie and you live on Bunkie Street!”
This, naturally lead to peels of laughter. Not what he was hoping for. Later that week, my parents made a fake street sign reading, “Bunkie Street,” placed it at the end of their road and took a photo to give as a gift to my Grandparents. It was well received.
I have worked hard at keeping my own language in a realm that would keep both my Mother and Grandmother happy with me and for the most part, I succeed. I do slip from time to time, but it’s fairly rare. I never thought of my lack of swearing as terribly noticeable, and as it turned out, it isn’t… until I swear.
The time that struck this home to me was back in college. My roommate at the time was of the “thick” variety and had a habit of doing knuckleheaded things. Sometimes to me, sometimes to others. He wasn’t bad, just numb. One night, I had come home to find that he had ruined some of my things though his all to often, careless behavior. I had liked these things he had ruined and was justifiably mad. I had also had a really rotten day. Apparently, the other folks on the hall were so caught off guard by my litany of swearing and vitriol that one of them was dispatched to find my roommate and instruct him that he was not to come home that night, lest he loose a major body part or several quarts of blood. Now, I’m not the violent type and I truly doubt that many would find me imposing but these fellows whom I lived with were so caught off guard by the nice, quiet guy letting loose with his best profanity that they the consensus was that I had snapped. From this episode, I learned that swearing needs to be used carefully. Measure it out and place it well and your point will carry that much more weight. Just don’t do it when Gandma is within earshot.
Working by my self for years made keeping my language clean pretty easy for me. Action Girl has had a rougher time. She works as a sea captain, longshoreman and is a card carrying Teamster. The vocabulary of a sailor is a colorful thing and it has taken a good deal of effort, discipline and glares from me over the dinner table, lest Short Stack catch on, to keep her more dynamic speech in check. She works hard at it and I’ve become an excellent covert glarer.
My Mom also has worked hard to overwrite “the kitchen word” with “Sugarbunnies” and she has pretty much succeeded. It tumbles off her tongue without a thought and now, Short Stack has picked up on it. He thinks it’s hilarious. As she stands in the counter making a meal, she drops a fork to the floor and utters an exasperated sigh. Short Stack is making a pass thought the kitchen at the time with his toy dump truck and stops to examine the fork and the situation. He looks up at his Grandmother and in true Short Stack fashion, asks a question.
“Gramma. Why did you not say ‘Sugarbunnies’?”
With a little luck, he should be swear free until Kindergarten. Then all bets are off.
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