Star Splangled Sex Education

In 1956, when I was 12 years old, my mom and dad bought a 13-acre farm in Fulton, California, seven miles north of Santa Rosa, where we lived for three years before moving back to town.

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My sister, Gaynl, age 9, brother, Mike, age 7, and I enjoyed many wonderful experiences that provided us with childhood memories we are still fond of sharing. On the farm we had a Collie named Bonnie, a horse named Princess, cats, chickens, vegetable gardens, and fruit trees. We had fresh-laid eggs with brilliant yellow yolks and we learned that fresh eggs, when hardboiled, are nearly impossible to peel.

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Mom was the quintessential Good Housekeeping Mom who canned peaches, pears, apples, pickles, jams, and jellies. Each summer she would make an embarrassment of applesauce, apple pies, and apple butter with Gravenstein apples grown in orchards not far from us in Graton. She froze the pies and we enjoyed them on cold winter evenings, still warm from baking, as we watched TV in front of a blazing fire. Canned pears were used to make pear crisp, my favorite dessert, which we enjoyed warm with fresh cream.

To enhance our awareness of and appreciation for the miracle of life, Dad bought two ewes that had been bred and who, in due course, produced a single lamb each—unlike our female cats who regularly produced large litters of kittens. Following an early morning walk around the farm on the spring morning that the first lamb was born, Dad came into the house to herald its arrival. “It’s a beautiful day in Fulton, California!” he proclaimed in a booming voice. “Come greet our new lamb!”

Mom, Gaynl, Mike, and I jumped out of bed and hurried to dress. We walked excitedly to the pen where the sheep were kept. Silent with wonder, we stood at the fence staring at the new arrival.

“Is it a boy lamb or a girl lamb?” Mike asked.

“It’s a little boy lamb,” Mom said. “A ram.”

“How do you know?” he asked.

“Because,” said Mom, “I saw his ram parts.” Silence ensued as we watched the little ram wobble tentatively testing his unsteady legs.

“So that’s what that means!” I said, breaking the silence.

“What what means?” Mom asked.

“O’er the ram parts we watched,” I said.

God bless the moon!

kenny-2My oldest nephew, Kenneth, spent a lot of time with us when he was two to three years old. Afternoons, when I would put him down for a nap, I would read to him from a Hallmark nursery rhyme pop-up book given to me by my mother on my first Fathers’ Day. Kenny loved hearing the rhymes and pulling the tabs to see Jack jump over the candlestick, the mouse run up and down the clock, and turning the page to reveal a pop-up scene of a frightened Miss Muffett running from a menacing spider hanging over her head. His favorite, though, was making a smiling full moon rise in the night-time sky as I read: “I see the moon, the moon sees me; God bless the moon, and God bless me.”

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Often, at dinner time, Kenny would “help” me in the kitchen with the preparations. I would place him on a stool opposite me on the other side of a counter separating the kitchen and the dining area. He would measure, pour, mix, and stir ingredients, crack eggs, and grate cheese. On one occasion, I was drinking a beer as we were preparing a favorite dish, macaroni and cheese. Kenny asked if he could have a taste of my beer. Recalling that my dad occasionally let me have a small amount of beer in a shot glass, I took a shot glass from the cupboard and poured some beer into it. Kenny picked up the shot glass and was about to drink when I stopped him. “Just a minute,” I said. “We have to have a toast.”

“What’s a toast?” he asked.

“It’s like making a wish,” I said. “Here. Hold up your glass.” He raised his glass. I clinked the rim of my glass against his. “Here’s to your health,” I said. We both drank, then went on with the macaroni and cheese preparations. A bit later, Kenny asked if he could have more beer. I poured another splash into his glass which he picked up. “Make a toast,” he said.

“No,” I said. “It’s your turn. You make the toast.”

Closing one eye and twisting up his mouth, I could see he was thinking hard as he continued to hold up his glass. Suddenly, shoving his glass toward me, he shouted, “God bless the moon!”

Thirty-some years later, when our family is together for holidays, celebrations, or other occasions at which a toast might be appropriate, a family member will offer the family’s traditional toast, “God bless the moon!”