When I was a teenager the 60s had arrived and I crashed into the decade for the colour, styles and brashness of the new world. Bright colours and the shortest of skirts with matching pants. My father tried in his gentle way to calm my style down, it didn’t work. My mother while adopting shorter skirts and trouser suits queried the shortness of my hems but went no further. They were worried but remembered being young.
Great Aunt Florence, she of tortoise fame, eyed my ‘proud as a peacock' new look, took me one side and in, whispers of anxious concern, confided to me that her husband had never viewed her unclothed. This wasn’t what I was used to hear from my elderly relatives! did I even want to know?
Now I realize she had confided this very private confidence to try and save me from the dangers of exposed flesh. She was concerned for my moral safety, what it had cost her to utter those words I can only guess at. I was speechless at the time but on reflection decided it would be kinder to wear trouser suits whenever I visited. Trousers may not be ‘ladylike’ but they didn’t reveal bare flesh.
Everyone it seemed was concerned about morals and dangers we were subjecting ourselves to in this bright new age. I understand looking back how frightening it must have appeared to the older generation. How their world they hoped they had saved was spiraling out of control. Still recovering from a war most of us children were intent of forgetting, or who had had little experience off.
My aunts had lived through two world wars, the decimation of their generation of men, the depression and rationing. My parents had been involved in the Second World War with it’s dangers, rationing, air raids and imminent feeling of disaster. Our wholesale dumping of their ways and values must have hit hard.
We had an elderly neighbour, a clerk, who’s claim to fame was his service in the First World War, in a cavalry regiment. He also confided in me, that his most embarrassing moment was when as a youth he had glimpsed a woman's ankle. He had been traveling in a train and said woman seated opposite had daringly worn a slightly shorter skirt than was considered correct. He said he hadn’t known where to look. That was the era my Great Aunt had grown up in.
Everyone it appeared had something to say about exposed flesh.
My secondary education was taken at a Convent. I found the experience quite intriguing; as I wasn’t Roman Catholic this was a whole new world to me. I made friends and learnt about banned book lists, sins lesser and greater, absolution, devils and temptations. That the sisters did not approve of the 60s was apparent in every word and action.
I remember a class when the sister in charge gave us a lecture on bathing! She gathered her conscience and faith around her to help and spoke out about perils of nakedness. Doubly difficult maybe than for Aunt Florence.
She hoped, she said, that we never took a bath with no clothes on.
We were stunned. How, we questioned were we supposed to take a bath?
In a cotton shift.
1)Wash oneself under said shift. (do not linger)
2)Dry oneself under said shift.
3)Dress under said shift.
Yeah. Well. That was never going to happen.
(Although, now it’s my turn to confess, a few years later on my travels, I often washed, dried and dressed under clothes when camped in areas where any hint of nakedness would have been a real danger to life. So one should listen sometimes to the craziness of oldies:)
In the playground we rolled around laughing. Unkind, Sister meant it for the best. But my Great Aunt confessing she had never been seen naked in her marriage and now this. Words to ponder. The gap between the generations could be huge.
How did Florence manage to. . . .
Did my parents . . .
No I wasn’t ready to go there.
The 60s were, famous for the liberal attitude the young took to life and love. It wasn’t quite like that of course many of us didn’t do drugs, were not promiscuous, didn’t rebel or run away from suburbia. We studied, passed exams talked into the night putting the world to rights, we went to college or to the alter, got jobs and joined the adult world. My Great Aunt Florence and the nuns should have had more faith in us.