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Wednesday, 05 December 2012


By Johna Ferguson

As a child I grew up with a list of forbidden rules all of which I hated even though I understood their whys.

Every summer we went to our beach house and of course the water was so inviting since it was usually very warm. But Rule 1 was: until one could swim, no boat riding unless wearing a life preserver.

In those days they were huge, bulky things that rubbed and chaffed one’s skin everywhere. Therefore, we all ventured forth from the time we could walk into that dream land of soothing water but always trussed up in a life preserver until we could prove we could swim 50 feet without any aids.

My father couldn’t stand my wailing as I stood on the shore watching all my older cousins cavorting in the bay. He finally, when I was four, picked me up and tossed me over his shoulder into the water.

At first I foundered like bat in the sunlight, screaming at the top of my lungs. But soon I somehow got the hang of how to keep my self afloat. I guess I’d watched my cousins so long I figured out how to manage to get back to my father.

Well, from then on it was simple and I was able to swim the 50 feet within a week.

But then my mother insisted on Rule 2: no swimming until an hour after eating. She told us vivid stories of people suddenly getting a cramp, unable to swim and drowning. She told us we must let our food partially digest first.

Therefore we sat on the beach, often in the hot sun, just waiting while the minutes took forever to tick by.

Back in town I learned of Rule 3. I was not to cross any neighborhood streets without first stopping and then looking both ways. I was not to cross any other streets unless there was a light or school guard to guide me across the busy thoroughfare.

In spite of this rule I remember being hit by a car that ran the patrol guards flag. I was in first grade and to my utter shock, I also wet my pants at the same time. Oh mercy me, embarrassment at such an early age.

By the time I was in sixth grade, my friends and I had matured – well, at least in our own minds - but Rule 4 was always there: do not trespass on others' property especially the railroad tracks.

We lived on a high cliff above where the trains ran. We had all seen the flattened pennies and nickels our older siblings brought forth and the temptation was so great to have the same but the neighborhood mothers banded together and forbid our doing that.

When anyone forbids something, that makes it all the more tantalizing so of course we ventured down the cliffs to carefully lay our coins on the tracks, then ears pressed to the rails waited until they started to jingle and we dashed partway up the path to be out of the way of both passenger and freight trains.

Then Rule 5: don’t smoke or drink. My father being a lung specialist had shown me x-rays of lung patients with cancer, enough to make me not want to smoke. As far as drinking, I knew the legal age was 21 so I had a long wait.

And finally Rule 6, enforced with much discussion on the part of both my parents, both in the medical field: don’t get pregnant before you are married.

My mother's stories of the untold miseries I would face as a single mother and my father's graphic descriptions of the doctors who performed miscarriages and the oft times results were enough to warn me thoroughly.

Somehow I survived all those rules. I never had minor rules, like you must be in by so and so time, or any others. I learned by watching my parents examples and luckily they set high standards so I am who I am now. Thanks mother and dad, I owe you one.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Johna, You were fortunate to have such caring and careful parents. These are good rules, except for Rule 2 about not swimming for an hour after eating. That one has apparently been completely discredited.

Thank you for sharing your parents'Rules with us.

Parents have obligations to provide and enforce the rules.
Sadly, today many are absent or wanting to be friends with their kids.

You are lucky, and so were your parents to have you. Glad you survived the accident. I remember the crossing flags, gee whiz.

Another great vignette Johna. I enjoy your writing. There will never be a shortage of rules in life, the government will make certain of that.

By the way, I noticed you used the term miscarriage, instead of abortion; interesting substitution.

Dan: In my time we didn't use the word abortion, at least not in my family. It's like it was a dirty word.

Yes, Johna! I grew up under the same rules. :-) That one about waiting an hour before swimming was agony!

I will admit that I fudged on the swimming one, made my kids wait a half-hour and supervised them carefully, because I remembered how long an hour was for children.

Okay, so did no one catch the fact you were hit by a car? What happened there? And all you did was wet your pants? I'm surprised you didn't do worse!

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