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The mystery of the wasn’t that was

DAVID SILVA

My mother called me the other day to tell me that my nephew and his

wife were expecting another child. I did a double take on that piece

of information. Hadn’t the two of them, Andrew and Susanna, just

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gotten home from the hospital with their last newborn?

“I know, I know,” Mom sighed. “And Susanna really had a hard time

with that last pregnancy. Someone really needs to talk to your nephew

about the birds and the bees.”

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It took every ounce of self-control I had not to laugh out loud at

that last part. For my mother to speak now, in her golden years, of

the birds and the bees was almost too comical to be believed.

In the home of my youth, the birds and the bees were mythical

creatures. They simply didn’t exist. This, my brothers and sisters

and I inferred from our mother’s conservative views, was a good

thing. Because if the birds and the bees somehow did manifest

themselves and got within three feet of each other, Mom would give

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them the beating of their lives.

Sex simply was not discussed under my mother’s roof. Any time my

brothers or sisters or I dared broach the subject, we inevitably

received the same exasperated reply:

“Why are you asking me that? You’re not old enough to tie your

shoelaces!”

I was 12 the first time I caught that response. I thought for a

moment to inform my mother that I had been tying my own shoelaces

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since I was 4, but one look at her expression told me it was best not

to push it.

It was a bit confusing, growing up with five brothers and sisters

in a household where the birds and the bees did not exist. My

siblings and I would all look at each other and logically conclude

that we had to come from somewhere. But to our sternly Catholic

mother, even the fable of the cabbage patch was too racy a tale to be

told.

It was even more confusing given that my siblings and I all came

of age in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. We would read the papers and

magazines or sneak into an R-rated movie at the local theater, and

everywhere catch glimpses of couples who seemed perfectly adept at

tying their own shoelaces. You couldn’t tell us something funny

wasn’t going on.

But to hear Mom tell it, nothing was going on. And judging by her

reactions whenever this mysterious nothing occasionally intruded into

our living room via the TV set, whatever it was that wasn’t was

enough to send our mother into raging fits.

“Ay! I can’t believe they’re showing this on television! Davey!

Mickey! Close your eyes! This is an outrage! Diana! Close your eyes

and get me the phone! I’m calling NBC!”

You might say that Mom’s abject denial worked for that brief

period when her children were little, but one by one, as we hit

puberty, the mystery of the birds and the bees became a subject that

simply could not be ignored. Since Mom refused to speak on the

matter, we turned to our friends, each of whom was ready and willing

to give us advice that would give a high school guidance counselor

nightmares.

I can’t speak for my brothers and sisters, but I had just enough

common sense in me to realize that half my friends’ advice would get

me nowhere with the opposite sex, while the other half would probably

get me arrested. But still, all the half-truths and myths and

boastful lies that teenage boys are famous for telling each made the

mysteries of romance seem even more mysterious and all-important.

Finally the answers came, as they did for so many youths in my

town, in the form of the legendary eighth-grade sex-education

lecture. It was the lecture all the kids had been whispering about

since elementary school, the one where entire classes of

eighth-graders were reportedly led en masse into a big auditorium

like pledges to a secret society and finally let in on the Big

Secret. None of us little kids knew exactly what was discussed in

that shadowy auditorium. But we knew that whatever it was it must

have been huge, because it required a signed permission slip from our

parents. To our knowledge, no other academic lecture required such

formal consent.

And if any of us fool kids got it in our heads to forge that

parental signature, our health teacher admonished us in the most

solemn tones, we would immediately be expelled from school without

trial and never get into college and be bums for the rest of our

lives.

“So whatever you do, make it look real, dude,” I warned my friend

Buck as he forged my mom’s signature for me. The forging of the

eighth-grade sex-education lecture had become a rite of passage among

the Silva children. My brothers had both forged theirs when their

time came, just as our sisters had before us. If our mother wanted to

live in denial, so be it.

And finally, the big day came. Our health teacher, Mr. Reinstein,

walked into class, examined our permission slips one last time, then

had us all stand and follow him out of the room to the big

auditorium. After having us take our seats, the girls on one side of

the room and the boys on the other, Mr. Reinstein walked on the stage

and pulled down a yellowed and torn projection screen.

Then the lights dimmed and the rickety projector started to roll.

And over the course of 30 minutes amid grainy, 1950s-era images and

the voice of a narrator who sounded a lot like Walter Cronkite, the

big mystery that everyone was talking about and no one was talking

about was at last revealed.

The lights came on, and we wordlessly stood and left the room, the

boys avoiding eye contact with the girls like our lives depended on

it. Buck and I glanced over at each other, the expressions on our

faces conveying the same message:

We knew it. Something was going on. THAT was what was going on.

Buck and I walked home in silence. The big mystery revealed, the

world suddenly seemed a thousand times more mysterious.

* DAVID SILVA, a Burbank resident, is a Times Community News

editor. Reach him at david.silva@latimes.com.


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