I wonder how many other girls and women eventually paid a price for the lessons she taught the young boys of our neighborhood. She ran her school from her own bedroom; her advertising was all word of mouth and her admissions policy lenient. This was at a time when people simply didn’t talk about certain topics and would certainly never admit knowledge of a neighbor’s sexually predatory proclivities. So Beth was able to maintain her ‘salon’ for as long as they lived next to us.
Every pubescent boy in the neighborhood had experienced her approach. The second that maturation evidenced itself, whether through croaky voice or downy upper lip or even a sidelong look at female anatomy, Beth’s attitude would change from one of careless indifference to keen interest in your every activity until she got you alone.
We all knew about her. Boys eager to demonstrate their approaching manhood spend a lot of their time speaking of girls and women and the wonders that they hold but in Beth’s case, there was no wondering about it. She was expert at ‘accidentally’ exposing breast or thigh or more, then gauging the reaction so she could decide on her next move. Her grooming behavior – what I now know was grooming behavior; at age eleven it just felt creepy – involved leaving some of her husband’s ‘men’s’ magazines lying about, open to provocative pages. If a boy evidenced interest in the glossies, she would ask if he’d like to see the real thing. As an educational enterprise, doncha know.
‘Unripe’ children were not allowed inside her house. I never knew her daughter to have a friend over and her sons were themselves habitually banished while their mother’s school was in session.
Far from objecting, her husband seemed to encourage her tutorials. I recall one time going to collect (I was the neighborhood paperboy) and the husband told me to come in and get the money from Beth in their bedroom. I walked through the open bedroom door to find Beth, naked from the waist up, in bed with a teenager from a couple of blocks over. Let me tell you, this was not the way you want to see your first grown woman topless. (Okay, second – there was the incident with Mrs. O’Donnell but in that case it really was an accident.) My job as deliverer of newspapers could be very educational but Beth’s was a lesson I could have done without.
Beth’s two sons were the hellions of the neighborhood, the younger a thief and the elder given to unpredictable rages and physical attacks. One of his episodes involved hanging by his fingernails from the exposed skin of my back, an experience from which I can feel the pain to this day. We all learned to keep a weather eye on Danny. I often wonder whether either of Beth’s sons made it through life unincarcerated. By third and fourth grade respectively either of them could easily have won the vote as Most Likely to Spend Time in the Hoosegow. Their lives were preordained.
But it was the daughter, Kitty, about whose life I’ve most wondered over the years. I never knew much about her except that she seemed perpetually sad. I don’t recall her relationship with her mother but her father seemed to view her as an indentured servant. If – and this was a big if - clothes were washed or floors swept or a meal cooked and served, it was Kitty who did the work. She seemed to fill in for her mother in the roles of homemaker and husband pacifier.
Over the intervening five decades I’ve tried not to wonder in what other areas of domestic life she was called upon to serve as her mother’s surrogate.
I wonder what price Kitty paid for the being born into that household. And I wonder how many other girls and women paid dearly for the type of education ole Beth provided for the boys of that neighborhood. Regardless the sex of the original miscreant, it seems like women and girls end up paying in the end.