Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Didn't know abuse was a crime?

Weakland, abuse

When Archbishop Rembert Weakland wrote,  "We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature," families of victims were outraged. "It's beyond belief. He's either lying or he's so self-deceived that he's inventing fanciful stories," said Midwest director for the Surviviors Network of those Abused by Priests, Peter Isely.

Is it possible that a man as brilliant as Weakland didn't understand the cost of abuse to its victims, never mind the church? That he didn't know it was a crime?

If you grew up in the 50s, you'd know that the answer is an unqualified "yes."

Back then, physical "discipline" was common. One of the most admired teachers at my suburban high school regularly threw boys up against the lockers and once broke one's arm. Disciplinary spankings by parents were common, and some used straps and paddles. And some escalated to outright beatings. Some boys showed their welts with pride. I don't remember anyone saying it was unusual or wrong.

Humiliation was also considered a proper way to get kids to do what you wanted them to do. My esteemed and otherwise wonderful biology teacher used to make girls in skirts (we were required to wear them) stand on the lab tables to humiliate us, while the boys sat around below us, looking up our skirts, and smirked. No one thought anything of it: it was business as usual.

I lived in the North Shore, in a suburb of people who'd made enough money to escape the city and, later, of corporate nomads. The neighbor behind us used to make his son move giant mounds of dirt from one spot to another day after day, in the name of discipline. When the boy, almost a man, caught rabbits and tied them to a stake while he tortured them, no one said a word. No one said anything when the wife and mother wore sunglasses to cover her black eyes. It wasn't anybody else's business.

It wasn't anybody else's business when the same thing went on at the contractor's house down the block, or the lawyer's house up the other way, either.

It wasn't anybody's business when the little girl across the street talked about playing "wiggle bottom" with her father.

Like all families, ours had a branch that was considered a little odd. The kids were seldom seen, and when they were, they seemed different. You couldn't exactly put your finger on it. They were shyer or more aggressive than others, their clothes were a little peculiar; they seemed older or younger than they were. Rumors and odd stories floated around, attributed to the imaginations of children and dismissed.

Not long before my mother died, going over old things, I asked her if she thought these kids had been abused. She grew very quiet, thought awhile, and said, "Oh my God. Of course they were. We must have known, but we didn't know."

The Greatest Generation was also the Silent Generation. They told their stories of heroism. But they didn't admit to the shadow side.

It was just how it was.

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