Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Columbia girls & making babies

This is another of those old photos --- of my grandmother, Jessie, and some of her friends --- that I enjoy looking at. It's artfully arranged and beautifully finished and I wish I knew what the occasion was. A school class? A Methodist Sunday school class? Or just friends?

My guess is that it was taken some time during the 1890s and all of the young women were from Columbia, the small town just over the county line northeast of here where Grandmother was born and raised. You look into those faces and wonder what they were thinking, what their aspirations were and what happened to them.

My granddad added the identifications, probably after Jessie's death in 1945, so one of the women is unidentified most likely because he didn't know her name. The others are Eurato (or Erato) May, Stella Burns, Claudia Stotts, Jessie Brown, Beneti May and May Harhard. The May girls were daughters of George and Harriett May, who operated the Columbia store. The others I know little about.

Quite frankly, it had not occurred to me to think about how many children these women collectively gave birth to until I read a piece in this morning's Des Moines Register by Marc Hansen about an Iowa woman whose children's book, "My Mom's Having a Baby!", was found so "disgusting" by a woman down in Texas that she went running to Fox News to complain, thereby causing a mild uproar.

Grandmother Jessie, who waited until she was 30 to marry and therefore got off to a relatively late reproductive start, had seven babies --- one of whom died as an infant. The others I'm unprepared to speculate about. Granddad had a part in all of this, too, of course; but then as now the initial male input was minimal.

The author of that shocking little book is Dori Hillestad Butler --- suspect right away in Iowa because she's a resident of Coralville, adjacent to Iowa City in the United States of Johnson County, where all those dreadful liberals live. It's not clear, however, that Texan Rose Schifferdecker, who found the offending book in the Carrollton Public Library, knew about Johnson County's reputation.

What got her knickers in a twist were some of the shocking words Hillestad Butler used --- like sperm, egg and uterus --- and the watercolor illustrations by Carol Thompson. One reportedly depicts Ma and Pa under the covers embracing. Tsk, tsk.

Schifferdecker argued none of this was "G" rated and therefore didn't belong in the children's section of a library. Hillestad Butler responded that it was intended to be shelved with books about raising children for parents to examine before deciding whether to use it.

It's an interesting topic --- and one I'm almost totally unqualified to tackle. But it did get me to wondering, too, what sort of sex education program my grandmother and her friends had been enrolled in. Fairly informal, I'd guess. But that was a time when most Iowa kids were raised in close proximity to livestock and so the basic processes would not have been unfamiliar. And it probably was a little difficult to pretend human babies appeared by magic under cabbage leaves in households more cramped than most of us enjoy today where nearly all  heterosexuals were enthusiastic reproducers and infants were popping out every year or two.

I'm not even sure what the current state of heterosexual sex education is. Lord knows many have thrown off all constraints and feel free to discuss graphically what LGBT people do in bed. Whether they're as comfortable talking about the facts of life with their own children I'm not so sure. Personally, I'd be grateful for a book like Hillestad Butler's --- shelved appropriately, of course; and I'd guess that most children's librarians are up to that task.

1 comment:

Ed said...

If people can raise a stink over Tom Sawyer, nothing can surprise me these days, this included. It makes me want to purchase the book to read to my daughter because I certainly would rather her learn these things from me than by ignorance and experimentation.