There’s this family that lived in a modest home on the edge of New Bern, Michigan. John Edwards, the father, owned a downtown store. His wife, Mary, was a traditional homemaker. They had two kids; Betty Jo, nine and Annie, getting on five. Mary’s mother, Ruth, also lived in the small, neat bungalow.
Nice family. God fearing. Loving. No debts to speak of. Mary and Ruth planted a vegetable garden every spring, made a big deal of attending the local 4th of July parade, went to church regularly, heated the house from the main room fireplace during the cold parts of winter.
We’re talking average, decent Americans here.
One day at school a classmate of Betty Jo’s said she knew how to make babies but she wouldn’t tell Betty Jo because the whole thing was so outlandish to her, so hard to believe, that she thought an adult needed to do it. They had together in recent years gone through the tragic outing of the real Santa Clause.
So Betty Jo went to her grandmother when she got in from school that day and asked her how babies were made. Ruth, the grandmother, thought that question should be answered by Betty Jo’s mother and said as much.
Betty Jo found her mother on the porch shelling peas. “Mother,” she asked, “how do you make babies?”
Mary Edwards, a very shy person, was absolutely flabbergasted by the question, especially the way her daughter phrased it. She wasn’t prepared, couldn’t even think of the words to get started, so she just sat there, the pot of half shelled peas on her knees, looking up at her daughter.
“If you don’t tell me, Mother, I’m going next door and ask Jimmy Peterson. He knows everything. He’ll tell me.”
Mary Edwards was forced to say something. She launched forward blindly with lullaby verses and phrases that she had read in the bible and Reader’s Digest. She stuttered often and would stop and look off in the distance.
As awkward and confusing as it was, Betty Jo grasped the general concept.
Within a week however she was reading a paperback romance novel that described a love tryst where, in a short but descriptive paragraph, the heroine, among other things, kissed the hero on his child maker. Well more than just kissed.
Betty Jo read it once, twice and a third time. She had no frame of reference. The visual picture she conjured made no sense. Was unconnected to anything her mother had said about this kind of thing.
So Betty Jo took the book to her grandmother and read the paragraph. “What does this mean, Nana?”
Grandmother Ruth, from the old school, had no idea, so she sent Betty Jo to her mother again.
Mary Edwards was even more embarrassed this time. She flushed and again was speechless. She knew she had botched the birds and bees explanation and was clueless how to handle this.
Betty Joe was determined to understand. “Do you ever do this to Daddy?” she asked.
“Well,” Mary Edwards was sweating, “Once or twice. Not often really. Rarely.”
Then there was silence.
Betty Jo left and went back to her grandmother. “It’s OK. Mother does it to Daddy, sometimes.”
And, thereafter until her death… Grandmother Ruth washed and kept her own silverware.