my dad was involved in local politics. he thought it “behooved” him as a walker to take part in politics in walkerville, even though we did not have any money left.
“behoove” was a word i learned as a child but did not know that nobody used any more.
anyway, dad would say something like “that bill wilson is a skunk. he is the lowest specimen of humanity that ever walked the earth. he is totally, unspeakably vile. if you shake his hand you better check your fingers after you are done to see if you still have them all.”
and mom would think about it and say “but he’s such a fine-looking man”.
or dad would say, “ mary roberts is just a wonderful human being. always has a smile on her face, always willing to help others out. the world would be a better place if everyone in it was like mary roberts.”
and mom would sort of squint her eyes and say, “but she’s not very attractive” .
that was the way it was - men were “fine-looking” or not, women were “attractive” or not.
mom spent much of her existence reading books - especially picture books - about famous, beautiful people, especially famous beautiful women.
she liked reading about their “tragic” lives (any of these people’s lives were “tragic” if they grew old or did not live forever). she could get somewhat emotional about these sad states of affairs, especially if she had a drink or two.
marilyn monroe, jacqueline kennedy, and audrey hepburn were her special favorites. marlon brando and gary cooper among the menfolk.
for the rest of the human race, she never expressed much interest.
although she was a forrester (another old family swirling the drain) and had married a walker and was not totally not a snob and cared a little about such things, good looks trumped “good family”.
she would go to woolworth’s (where she did most of her shopping, sad to say) and come back and regale dad and me with something like -
“there’s a new girl at the cosmetics counter who is absolutely stunning! really gorgeous.” and she would look kind of sad and wistful and say “i just hope the poor child escapes from walkerville and gets the life she deserves”.
she never said anything like that about me! (sob, sniffle, whimper. )
so, after my first couple of days at school, since i knew they were both up on such things, we were sitting down to a fine dinner of hamburger patties, wise potato chips, and creamed corn, and i asked if they knew anything about the molesworths.
they were both kind of surprised that i would ask such a question. i don’t mean they dropped their forks or spilled their food on themselves, but they looked at me kind of funny. ( i never asked questions or talked much at dinner.)
“chub molesworth is not a bad fellow,” dad finally answered. “a good family, not the oldest or the newest. does his part in the community, you can’t say he doesn’t.”
“why do they call him ‘ chub’ ? “ i asked. “is he fat?”
“oh no, no - ‘chub’ is a time-honored nickname among the better class of people, like ’skip’ or ‘chip’ or ‘buster’.”
“oh.” i didn’t really care if regina’s dad was fat or thin, i had just said it to be saying something. (typical human conversation).
but now i had gotten mom’s attention, and she squinted her eyes at me in that way she had, and she asked, “why do you want to know?”
“ohh - there’s a girl in my class named molesworth. i thought it was kind of a funny name, and i was just curious.”
“does this girl have a name?” mom asked. “a first name.”
“regina. i see.” mom was looking at me like she was seeing me for the first time. “and what is regina like?”
“she’s just a kid.”
“is she attractive? does she dress nicely?”
“i guess so. she’s just a kid.” how i wished i hadn’t opened my stupid mouth!
“but is she attractive? do the other children crowd around her - like moths around a flame?”
“she’s -“ in a flash of inspiration i said - “she is six years old, like the rest of us.”
dad laughed and said “good answer,” but mom was not so amused.
“a little too good an answer, maybe. kind of a smarty pants answer.” mom took a sip of her pepsi-cola.
“oh for god’s sake, mona. you complain that the child doesn’t speak up, and she finally says something , and you grill her like she’s nixon and you are sam ervin.”
mom sighed. “but i suppose it’s a good sign. if it gets her interested in her smartening up her own appearance for a change.”
“her appearance?” dad laughed. “like she said, she is only six years old.”
“you are never too young to start looking your best.”