Nanny-Nanny Boo-Boo: Taking Back My Truth
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
By Suzanne Hudson
Painting, above, Pizzazz, by Fidelis/Linda Perry Ledet, a portion of the cover image for Shoe Burnin’ Season: A Womanifesto (by R.P. Saffire)
Finally, the book, my fictional memoir/social commentary/crazy poetry/part self-help advice/plus whatnot, is finished, done, put to bed, etc.--it took a while to process it all--a lot of pain, a lot of grit, not to mention eviscerating honesty, heart, and determination. In spite of efforts to shut me up, demean my efforts, bully me into soul-selling, I held on to my elusive backbone and purged my own truth. Maybe it will resonate with someone. It’s for anyone out there who has been told they aren’t good enough, don’t know enough, can’t handle themselves; in other words, urged to surrender all control, and, of course, ultimately, disappear. It’s a rebuke to those few wretched souls out there who would not only thieve a person’s narrative, and shamelessly, for the almighty dollar, but also thieve property, undermine friendships, and betray confidences, all the while rationalizing, self back-patting, and dancing the victim dance like a manic-driven obsessive. Sounds so serious, and in places it is, but I hope it offers many more laughs than not. So . . . here’s a small sample, the first chapter (although there is much that prefaces this chapter). I hope it gives you a grin or two . . .
Chapter 1: Home page/Formatting: My Bizarro Family
I did not grow up in the aforementioned Climax, Georgia. My parents were only passing through when my monster—I mean, mother went so serendipitously into labor. My actual hometown was the steamy, tiny timber town of Anyplace, Alabama.
I grew up (much to my own credit) a player in a patriarchal parody within a consanguineous satire surrounded by an inherently black comedic drama that was peopled by beings quite unlike oh, pick any black and white family show of the squeaky-clean, pre-clitoral Cold War era—Father Knows Best or Ozzie and Harriet. Such halcyon days were lived out by “Kitten,” “the Beave,” and “Princess,” and all the other happy, fresh-faced, milk-drinking, cookie-eating (mom made them from scratch!) white children I watched every week on the boob tube. Their dads had it all figured out, by gum, and their moms had the cleanest starched aprons imaginable. Meanwhile, my own dad barked crazy prayers over crappy meals, and my mom was a chaotic mess. Their dads read the newspaper as their moms looked up from darning socks to occasionally beam adoringly at their buttoned-down spouses. My parents hardly noticed one another and when they did, it was not necessarily pretty.
I present my certifiably crazy family to illustrate Tenet Number One of my Manifesto: Thou shalt not have children, whether it be via biology or adoption or test tube or commerce or whatever, unless it is an endeavor that is well thought-out, meticulously studied, and the product of a healthy relationship, a healthy singularity, or a pure love of any kind; and once children have been birthed or otherwise acquired, Tenet Number Two: thou shalt not brainwash or otherwise mentally cripple thy children.
(As one who has dealt professionally with children, seen the decomposition of their compositions, the gradual degradation of their thought processes, the dumbed-down tenor of their discussions, and the overbearance of their parents, I can safely say our society is in grave jeopardy. We need creative, inquisitive minds to take hold, not inhibited little robots, threatened by ideas that are different from what they have been force-fed. The situation is grim; the gravity of the situation seems to demand an entire book . . .)
My dear dysfunctional family’s days, far from halcyon (more like hallucinations) seemed laid out like a schizoid teleplay; I felt that I had been dropped into a sitcom Bizarro World. In the Rutledge household the perverse script had these two parent creatures, whose behavior was diametrically in opposition to that of the gray-grained images on the old Zenith on any given evening.
For example: my father, Bizarro Ozzie, decked out in white short-sleeved shirt and tie like some Kennedy-era NASA geek, would come in from a day at the Anytown Insurance Agency, begin opening via church-key a series of Falstaff or Pabst Blue Ribbon beers, and by the time he hit number four an hour or so later, he and Bizarro Harriett would be engaged in two one-sided conversations that might go something like this:
BH:(whirling dervishly through the kitchen, a clatter of cutlery, the sharpening of knives—not for use, mind you, but because she liked to sharpen them—the chew of an electric can-opener) How was your day, Dear?
[Yes, she really did use that TV line, only she did not really want an answer.]
BO: It’s a goddamn jungle out there.
[Which it wasn’t; as noted, we lived in a very small town.]
BH: I have the biggest pile of dust bunnies you ever saw that I swept out from under our bed. It was criminal, what I swept out from under there.
BO:(turns the pages of his newspaper) Me Tarzan.
BH: You could stuff a mattress with what I swept out from under there. I think I’ll collect all the dust bunnies from under all the furniture and put them to some kind of use.
BO: Where are my cigars?
BH: I mean, surely something needs stuffing, wouldn’t one think?
BO: Did they just walk off?
BH: And I’m almost finished with Deborah’s dress for Vicky Watson’s party. It’s so sweet—the dress, I mean, not Vicky. That child is a horror. And it was so hard to cut—the pattern was so complicated. And it’s Simplicity, too, not McCall’s. If they are going to call it “Simplicity” it should be simple. There could be grounds for a lawsuit.
BO:(gets up, rifles through the drawers of the end tables).
BH:(opening another can) I think we’ll have some peas with our Spam tonight.
BO:Since when can cigars walk?
BH:I wish they would come out with Spam gravy.
BO: Where are my goddamn cigars?
BH: You silly man. Tarzan doesn’t smoke cigars. I wonder if they have rabbit tobacco in Africa.
You get the idea. Ping-ping-ping, the words would go, like ricocheting rounds from a couple of Tommy-guns. BH usually took the conversation around the world and back, all the while fixing meals from boxes and cans. I don’t think I ever saw her make anything from scratch, but that could be my tendency to exaggerate her flaws, which I am wont to do. After all, she was my very own “Mommy Dearest,” who overshadowed, stage-directed, attention-grabbed, and badgered until my true Self could only later finally erupt in shudders, seizuring the day from whence Ruby Pearl could emerge.
At any rate, once the canned veggies were set out on the table with the main course (frozen fish sticks, say, or chicken pot pies, or the aforementioned Spam), we were expected to sit around the table like the Nelson boys (but within the Bizarro alternate reality), chatting amiably about our day—after asking the blessing, of course. This honor, of raising the blessing, usually fell to BO. One holy riff went, “Let us pray. Sounds like lettuce spray. We are grateful for the pesticides that keep the goddamn bugs off our lettuce. Amen.”
Another heartfelt prayer went, “Let the food we enjoy at this table, surrounded by our loved ones, be taken in to our bodies without repercussions to the yards of intestines through which it shall surely pass. Amen.”
Sometimes he lampooned one of the classics: “If God’s so great and God’s so good, then why we got to eat this food? Amen.”
During the Watergate fiasco he offered up this emphatic plea: “Dear Lord, I pray with all my might that you strike Martha Mitchell lame and mute. Amen and amen.” BO was a big Nixon fan.
Yes, this was the same “daddy” who bounced me on his knee when I was small, calling me his “jewel of the Orient,” his “twinkly-sparkly,” “bubbly bauble,” “errant ear bob,” and “multifaceted moonstone.” My theory is that, over the years, as my mother became crazier and crazier, his own nascent mental illness kicked in, transforming him into the scrappy disengager he ultimately became. Sounds good, anyway.
For her part, my mother, who (as earlier revealed in the Addendum to the Disclaimer) was a bona-fide, certifiable, card-carrying “manic-depressive” (the psychiatric lexicon had not yet evolved to the velvet-gloved “bipolar disorder”), never failed to “amen” him at the dinner prayer and insisted that we girls do so as well.
“You did not ‘amen’ your father, Ruby Pearl. And everyone knows that if you do not ‘amen’ the prayer, it will not go through to Heaven. End of connection. Finito. Ex libris.”
“Where does it go if it doesn’t go to Heaven?” I remember asking at four or five.
“It goes straight to the New York City dump and gets bulldozed under all the filth.”
My dear Bizarro mother had such a lovely way of putting things, especially when she went off her lithium, which she did regularly, wreaking havoc during the occasional social event, church supper, or bridge club soiree.
“I just love the ride too much. I miss it.”
The ride was her euphemism for the manic “high” she claimed to be pharmaceutically lobotomized right out of her brain chemistry. BO never batted an eye when she announced that she would be off the lithium for a while. He would simply grin at Deborah and me and say, “Fasten your seatbelts, girls.”
I never recall being embarrassed by my parents’ behavior as a child, but, when adolescence descended, my estimation of BO and especially BH declined in a hail of hormonal humiliation as my friends and the community continued to witness drama heaped upon crazy drama. It was mostly the things she uttered that turned the social lens on her. She was helped, though, by the fact that small towns can be loyal in tending to their own, so my mother did not catch a whole lot of grief, as in the form of a general shunning. Still, the moments could be dicey. When she was on the ride she was extremely verbal. As also earlier revealed, sometimes she would go for days speaking nothing but French; never mind that the rest of us did not speak that language. We were literally not on the same page. Still, I can probably scrape up enough charitable feelings toward her to grant a bit of credit for instilling within my childhood bosom a love of words and language (although I am still seized up with anxiety when I hear someone speak more than a sentence or two of French), but her words were more often than not socially inappropriate.
“Did you hear about Caroline Rushing? It’s just a tragedy, an utter tragedy,” gushing with the kind of effluvial enthusiasm that gets most sane folks’ nut-o-meter a-twitching. “You didn’t know? My goodness, I would’ve thought everyone would know by now because it’s been over a month.” Here she might take in a long breath, widen her eyes, and shake her head in disbelief. “It’s just a god-awful shame what she’s endured. Such an unbelievable turn of fate,” BH would dangle the juicy bit of gossip before her audience, a delectably seductive scenario.
The Whoever on the other side of the dialogue would prod for a while, as the suspense was built upon, ballasted, shored up, and mounded into what must certainly be some terrible, life-altering fate that had befallen poor Caroline.
By the time BH had meandered all around the subject, when it was time to either put up or shut up, she sometimes actually did shut up, as in, “Excuse me, I must have a word with so-and-so.” And yes, she would say, “so-and-so.”
Other times, the climactic drama of the Caroline story would be so lame as to be eons away from the heavy-handedness of the Big Build-Up: “Poor Caroline’s hairdresser gave her the wrong color last month. It’s a whole shade darker,” or “Poor Caroline accidentally threw away a whole book of Plaid Stamps. Can you imagine?”
If she was in one of her funks but still managed to roll out of bed long enough to go to a tea or a company function with BO, the conversations were simply disjointed—long periods of silent listening followed by blurty insertions of wholly unrelated (often distasteful) remarks, most often having to do with male genitalia in a kind of uncoordinated colloquial copulation with politics: “Bombs are like huge phalluses—but the really big pricks are in charge of them.” Or: “If my husband gets blue balls, then do communist men get red balls?” Or: “The hors d’ourveslook absolutely scrotal. I shall not be partaking.”
It is amazing, upon reflection, that my parents actually had a social life—but they did, when BH was in relatively sane mode. It was all very white-collar, the occasional cocktail party or steak dinner (BH could usually manage potato baking or a salad)—the cranking up of the hi-fi, the breaking out of the silverware, the good china. BH would chat with the other Stepford Wives, all perfumed and coiffed and decked out in high heels, cinched waists, and pearls. BO did the honors at the grill, talking business and football and hunting with the men, who had also cleaned up for the occasion. After dinner there would be drinks and dancing, cigarette smoke coiling about the living room, furniture pulled back so the grown-ups could jitterbug and cha-cha the evening into midnight. I watched from the hallway, sometimes dozing until the slide and slap of another 33 rpm record revived me. Other evenings, even after I had hunkered down beneath the blankets in my bedroom, the laughter that grew louder as the hours went by and the drinks went down brought me back to the show.
So there was a semblance of normalcy, but even that seemed surreal when contrasted with our usual atmosphere: the barrage of criticisms, the lack of genuine engagement, the disjointed ramblings, and the cyclical darkness, when BH’s “ride” inevitably crashed and she drew the shades, sucking any remnants of joy into the black hole of her bedroom.
My goodness, this is taking a most disturbing turn. Enough!
I lived with Bizarro Ozzie and Bizarro Harriet for as long as I legally had to do so, which was for much longer than I could take it. Which is why I married as soon as I could after being handed a high school diploma.
My most delicious and warm-fuzziest memory from my Wasteland of a growing-up era? Easy: it was my very first look at a color television program. It was at our obviously more well off neighbor’s house, on a Sunday evening, and the sense of wonder that blanketed the entire experience was unlike anything I had ever known. There was that NBC peacock, its feathers spreading like playing cards in my mother’s bridge-playing hands, vibrant colors overlapping, changing hues by degree, dancing to the magical accompaniment of the notes of the network’s logo tune. I wanted to BE that bird, resplendent, new, the very best next thing. It made no difference that the peacock was a boy, that the girl pea hen was plain, unremarkable, drab, destined for plain Jane world and a grainy gray future. I was going to be extraordinary; I decided that would be the course of my life at that very moment. And, in a most remarkable, roundabout way, I feel in my marrow that it has/shall come to pass.
(Note how short this chapter about family has been. If I can ever bring myself to purge my childhood from my crippled inner tyke, it will no doubt be in the form of an entire book—as revealed, my next book, a novel. ‘Nough said.)