A young couple moved in across the street when I was 14. It was a small town in Ohio and the street was just like so many fly-over streets in the fly-over states American mid-west of the late 1960s. There were sidewalks. There were jobs. Kid’s played “Red Light, Green Light” and “Mother May I” in the streets at dusk and the counterculture was something off in California, still.
A house was moved onto an empty lot, and a new family moved in. The circus-like atmosphere of a house being moved onto the property was pretty big for our neighborhood street. If I remember correctly, the house was either two or three floors. It was large and kind of old. Lots of woodwork inside but the outside was asphalt shingles. A typical small-town Ohio house.
The woman in the new family was the daughter of the couple that lived next door. I imagine that is how they made their entry into the neighborhood. There was a toddler boy and an infant boy in the family, and since both parents worked, I ended up nearly a full-time babysitter for them. That summer of 1969 I will remember for many reasons. Not the least of them is my introduction to hard-core pornography and other events of the summer.
We sit in the wake of the Pussy-grabber Presidential election, the revelation of Bill Cosby’s true nature, Fox News firings and now, Harvey Weinstein’s scandal which will only deepen more and more every day. I find I am thinking about the events of that summer and wonder how I managed to get through my teens, young adulthood and even later years without something worse happening to me.
What happened was pretty simple and not tremendously confrontational. It comes to mind because of the depth of the activity I now realize was part of these people’s lives, but also, I wonder about those two boys of theirs. They are adults now. Perhaps with children of their own.
The grandfather was working on the house and in the yard nearly all the time I was in the house babysitting. As time progressed, over the days, I thought I would help the couple by doing some tidying and cleaning for them while the boys slept. As I cleaned up the living room I kept coming across a lot of hard-core pornography. Much of it was photographic, from the 1940s and 1950s and mostly black-and-white. Other items were printed material. This material, I now understand was pretty hard-core, and in most cases fetishistic. Some of the activities described are taboo and illegal.
After a couple of weeks of cleaning, suddenly grandpa was everywhere I looked. I didn’t realize at first, that the muscular and bald old man with the wife-beater T-shirt and hole in his pants would give me a full view of his penis, but when I did, it was a shocker.
I didn’t say anything to the daughter and her husband. Because of things happening in my family dynamic I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up at home. I stayed quiet, and I am lucky, I guess, after his first attempts at approaches, he decided to leave me alone. I already felt a little soiled by my own curiosities in the reading materials and photographs I now realize they were left for me to see. I can only imagine how I might have slammed into adulthood had this old man persuaded me into something or maybe even assaulted me.
And I hope those two boys made it ok. Whatever their parents or grandparents were into, maybe they were spared. Maybe, if they were not spared, the boys decided it all stops with them and they chose not to have children.
Most of all I deal with the guilt of having not said anything. I was only 14 and on shaky ground with my family context at the time. But still, I feel guilt and I wonder what would have happened if I had spoken up?
original photo by David Siglin on Unsplash – alterations by yours truely.