I am not sure whether Mom and Dad thought about what they were doing all the time. Theirs was not a generation much given to self-reflection and certainly not to self-criticism in front of the children…or anyone else so far as I know. (In truth my Mother died without ever having said, “If I made mistakes I am sorry.”)
One of the many odd things (odd now, but “normal” when I was a child) they taught me was that we were better than most people. Better socially, economically and, well, just better, ya’ know? We were in The New York Social Register and few of the other kids at Lloyd Harbor School were… so far as I knew. I accepted without questioning the simple concept that we were just better according to the system which my folks were using. It didn’t change who my best friends were… Phil, Jimmy, et alia. In fact I felt a little bit queasy about it because I was, like most ten year olds, anxious just to be like everyone else, not better or worse.
We had never lived anywhere longer than a couple of years and were now sitting on the North Shore of Long Island (The North Shore was Better than the South Shore) and there was no way this kid from New Orleans was going to be like everyone else, especially knowing that there were scads of better folks “better” than we were! (Once you get on the “Better” train you must learn to accept that there are people who think you are worse than they are. Perfect example: People who lived in Laurel Hollow were Better than people who lived on Lloyd Neck except for Marshall Field, but he had made his money running a department store so that was not really better, just richer.) Life was clearly constructed on this gigantic spiderweb of ever-higher-and-lower things and if you weren’t hip to the hierarchies, you’d wind up less better than everyone else and a major Loser. Just die of shame and have done with it.
So many rules, accepted but rarely spoken of aloud. Just learn to accept the pecking order and you’ll be fine. If you are even vaguely neurotic, you quickly get the hang of the multitudinous hierarchies. (Bear in mind that not everyone except your parents and their friends agreed on which was correct.) For another example, Golf was “tackier” than tennis and therefore tennis was better than golf. (Bet you had no clue. And I doubt Bill’s parents would have agreed. It is not significant that neither of my parents had ever played tennis or golf.) French was better than Spanish because Spain was tackier than France. Italy, well, forget about it. People who didn’t drink cocktails were boring. Only alcoholics drank before 6PM except on weekends and holidays when you could drink at noon, unless you were on a yacht whereupon you might drink an India Pale Ale before noon or at a resort where you might have a Champagne with a bit of orange juice.
My parents never sat us down and taught us these things and there were no mimeographed hand-outs to memorize, but these were the zany TRUTHS that were given at the breast, on the porch at night, in the warp and woof of daily existence. I am sure my parents learned them the same way…an offhand comment, a laugh at someone else’s expense, a sarcastic comment at just the moment juste.
I took years to 1) realize I had been taught these things, 2) realize that they were totally whack and 3) that kids learn things we don’t even realize they are learning.
Next time maybe I’ll dig a bit deeper and tell you what being raised in the deep South in 1940+ was like vis-a-vis Reconstruction redux.
I hope I live long enough to educate myself back to before I learned all the weird shite.