Pernie liked to wear low cut frilly blouses, and often bent over to give us a view of her ample teenage bosom. Sherry was older, and dated servicemen from the nearby airbase. One of these grunts turned out to be a pedophile, and ended up getting drummed out of the service and going to jail. Nothing ever happened between him and any of the local kids, but his perversity did excite our interest when we heard about it.
In fact we were too busy emerging out of Freud's polymorphous perverse stage into a kind of undifferentiated childish curiosity to pay much attention. The woods were a convenient shield for the kind of innocent sexual play that often goes by the name of "playing doctor," and play we did, in a variety of gender combinations and numbers. We implicitly understood that one did not share these experiences with the grownups, but that rule was occasionally broken, and earned expressions of parental disapproval.
Sometimes this childish erotic play took place at our house, while the parents were at work. On one occasion I was curious about what it would be like to pee on a neighborhood girl, in the small hallway that separated the bedrooms from the bathroom and kitchen. What I discovered was that it created a big mess that one had to clean up to avoid discovery, that and it wasn't such a big turn-on in the pleasure department. It was like catching the robin all over again.
When we did question our parents about these matters, we were referred to a thin, clinical book entitled "Being Born," which described the mechanics, but said nothing about the rich array of sensations, feelings and the unfathomable mystery of it all. This period of experimentation did not last long. It was over within a year or so, but was accompanied by the discovery of masturbation. I think that most boys (I cannot speak for girls) never forget the first time that they masturbated to climax. My particular experience was in the bathroom, and at first I thought that something was wrong with me. This was the 1950s, and a significant percentage of the American population thought it was a sin, a sign of weakness, or a surefire route to perversion and drug addiction, rather than a perfectly natural method for relieving sexual tension practiced by at least 99% of the male and a similar percentage of the female population of the world, (the other 1% is lying.)
Beginning in the fourth grade, my friendship with Dickie Rowland ended. I don't recall why, but I think that it was because he may have been transferred to another school, or possibly had been held back a year. Up to this time I had not made many friends in school, and remember feeling isolated. This isolation persisted until Valentines Day. Every year a box to collect valentines had to be decorated, and because of my artistic skills I was chosen to do the decorating. A kid named Bruce Redding volunteered to help, and we adorned the box with cupids topped with Frankenstein monster heads and big red hearts with sutures. Bruce and I became fast friends around that enterprise, and remain so to this day.
Bruce also lived on 29th, almost exactly a mile away, up on the plateau that formed the South Hill. He shared a small house with his parents Ersel and Robert, and a short, reddish brown mutt named Nature. Bruce had a brother named Bob, who was already out of the house. We must have traversed the mile between our two houses thousands of times, with my dog Sarge in tow, and I became fast friends with Bruce's other confreres Curt Hanson and Mike Elkins. Curt became a painter, and we were friends until his untimely death at age 68. Mike developed schizophrenia in his late teens, but I had already lost touch with him before that.
On one occasion we found a cache of men's magazines in an old garage. We hauled them home to Bruce's house. Bruce's parents were gone, and weren't expected to return until late. We had them spread all over the twin beds in Bruce's room, our eyes filled to the brim with naked breasts and bottoms, until Mike went to the bathroom in time to see Bruce's parents coming up the back porch stairs. When Mike sounded the alarm Bruce thought he was kidding, until we heard the key turning in the latch. The magazines immediately disappeared, in drawers, under the mattress and behind the shoes in the closet. Operation Ditch-The-Magazines took seconds, but seconds which seemed like hours under the threat of exposure. It was a wasted exercise. Ersel Redding found the magazines that weekend while cleaning Bruce's room, and arranged them on the bed before asking him to "explain" his particular interest in what was patently on everyone else's mind as well.
On trips downtown we discovered P. M. Jacoy's, a business that had a large news and magazine rack, a counter where cigars were sold, a soda fountain and other offerings. The news rack was populated by mens' magazines and newsweeklies that exploited a morbid fascination with death. "Man Cut In Half By Train" was a typical headline, in periodicals that bore the name The Enquirer or Midnight Magazine. The mens' magazines ran the gamut, from True Detective, For Men Only, Argosy and other rags devoted to adventure stories decorated with illustrations of scantily clad women in distress, to magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, which showed photographs of women with seductively exposed breasts. It became an exercise in stealth to pull out the centerfold without attracting the attention of the owner behind the cigar counter.
One of the other downtown merchants that I frequented then was Clarke's Old Book Store. There was a section devoted to out-of-date periodicals, where I would find back issues of Mad, Cracked and Famous Monsters of Filmland. On one occasion I found a magazine illustrated with photographs of vampires and monsters threatening and fondling women in panties and bras. I secreted this rare find between copies of some other innocuous fare, and purchased them at the bulk price for used magazines. The clerk at the counter did not suspect that I had found some verboten material in their stacks. I immediately took this to an isolated bathroom on the fifth floor of the Crescent department store, where I jerked off to these strange and fetishized fantasies. Briefly two obsessions had collided, but the resultant libidinous-monster/helpless-femme fascination was short-lived, and I soon discarded the magazine.
This was what sex education consisted of in the 1950s. Children were left to work it out for themselves, and in the absence of consistent parental instruction had to rely on literature intended to exploit adult fantasies, and experimenting with each other. Into this vacuum came Hugh Hefner to the rescue. Playboy magazine, which began publication in 1953, espoused a philosophy of sexual freedom and tolerance, which like its photo essays was often exploitive of women. You will not find the Playboy Philosophy between volumes by Nietzsche and Richard Rorty, being rather a rationale for the fulfillment of selfish male entitlement. There were, however, common sense truisms within Playboy's pages that settled questions for the pre-adolescent youths that managed to steal a copy from the local drugstore, or furtively borrow one from their father's nightstand; masturbation was normal; there was such a thing as sexual repression; sexuality included shades of gray. Some of these revelations were welcome to young boys anxious about their normal feelings and interests. Unfortunately there were other aspects of Hugh Hefner's worldview that set the stage for the extreme emotional damage that we exacted from each other in our early adult years, but more about that later.
There were other random sources of enlightenment. I found copies of the books of Henry Miller, which were banned in the United States until 1961, and D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterly's Lover beneath my parents bed. And these experiences were tempered by others that were truly innocent. Bruce and I both had girlfriends in the fourth grade; Peggy Stark of Glenrose and Marge Herbert of Cherry Lane, respectively. They would coerce us into "playing married" which consisted of sitting at a tiny table on tiny chairs and drinking water from tiny tea cups. Neither Bruce or I could understand why anyone would want to aspire to such a life, or why girls would find this at all fun. We couldn't wait to break the bonds of play matrimony, and go scuff our shoes in the dirt, under the sky, amidst the pine trees and rocks.
Throughout this time we instinctively shielded our parents and other adults from our sexual interests and activities. It was as if we mutually conspired to reinforce a conception of youthful innocence that our parents, by virtue of their own childhoods, must have known was most certainly false. It was an inversion of the common narrative of parents' protection of childhood innocence that served as the principal method of transfer for the psychological baggage of sexual repression that was so prevalent at the time.