Sep 20, 2013

Fall 1967: The Marvelous Dollhouse

Fall 1967, second grade at Hansche School in Racine, Wisconsin.  A girl -- I think she was Pam, who officiated at my wedding to Doug last year -- asked me to come over to her house after school to play.

Boys and girls didn't usually play together.  The teachers at school didn't even like us talking to each other.  We were herded through separate doors in the morning and to separate tables in the cafeteria, and at recess the boys had to play dodge ball far off in the grass, while the girls jumped rope and played singsong games in the shadow of the school. I liked to jump rope, but the teachers often shooed me away. Once when I was just sitting on the steps nearby to avoid the glare of the recess sun, a teacher screamed wildly at me to move away, as if deadly danger lurked there, against the cool bricks.

But Pam had a legendary dollhouse, so I agreed.

It was enormous, the biggest I had ever seen.  It opened up to reveal three floors, all with precisely detailed furniture. You could see plates on the dining room table, and tiny folios of sheet music on the piano

.  We spent hours exploring, hosting a music recital in the ballroom, cooking a rich kid's supper and serving it to 100 guests in the gold-draped dining room.  Then, because it was almost supper time for real, Dad arrived to pick me up.

During the five-block drive home, Dad kept turning and grinning at me. “Pam, Pam, Pam,” he repeated, as if trying to memorize the name for future reference. “Is she cute?”

I didn't understand the question.  Girls could be mean or nice, smart or dumb, brave or scaredy-cat, but how could they be cute? Only boys were cute. Maybe he was talking about her outfit? “It was ok, I guess.”

He laughed. “You guess. . .I’ll bet you guess!” He reached over to squash me on the shoulder as if I had won some prize. “Did you ask Pam to come and play with you tomorrow?”


 “Well, why not? You have to be quick. If you’re not careful, some other boy will horn in, and then where will you be?”

At home, Mom asked the same questions --  is Pam cute? Did you ask her to come and play with you? Well, why not? And my brother Kenny, a roly-poly kindergartner, burst into singsong: "Pam and Boomer-y sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g!”

“Knock it off!” I exclaimed. “We weren’t kissing!”

Giggling uproariously, Kenny lay on the floor and kicked his feet in the air and continued: “First comes love, then comes mar-riage. . . .”

“Knock it off, or I’ll pound you!” I yelled. “I’m not marrying Pam!”

Kenny leapt to his feet and ran from the room. He called back: “When are you gonna kiss your girl-friend?”

“I don’t like Pam!” I yelled. “I don’t like girls!”

Mom laughed. “Then why did you go to a girl’s house, Mr. Smarty-Pants?”

But now, finally, I understood. When a boy went to a girl’s house, it always meant that they liked each other. And not just a shy, casual liking – everyone thought that they wanted to get married!

That must be why Dad had only men friends. If he made friends with a lady, Mom would think “He wants to get married to her instead of me!”

That must be why the teachers kept boys and girls from playing together.  They were too young to get married!

After that I carefully avoided playing with girls, however fun their jump ropes, jacks, and dollhouses seemed. I didn’t want anyone thinking I liked girls, not boys.

It didn't work.  To this day, my parents insist that, whatever happened later on, in second grade I was heterosexual -- after all, I had a girlfriend!

See also: Why Brother Hanson Got a Divorce