Speaking About Sex and Romance
Here in New England, we don’t much want to talk about things in the area of sex and romance, particularly in mixed company and even when the mixed company is one’s own spouse. We may be noted for calling a spade a spade, but all of us country people over 70 remember that we never, for instance, referred to a bull as a bull when ladies were around. And, I’m told that ladies never referred to a bull directly even in all-female company. I recall the two farmhands we had on our Vanceboro, Maine, farm, hand-milking our 60 or 70 Guernsey and Holstein cows (this was during the 1930s and ’40s-prior to milking machines) and chatting away, in very explicit fashion, about farm sexual matters and even sex in general-until my mother or my sister happened into the barn. Then the bull would become a “gentleman cow” or “he one” or just plain “him.” I think “the old gentleman” was occasionally used, too.
One just didn’t use words, as it was sometimes put, with “carnal overtones.” So, as I’ve said, a bull wasn’t a bull-and you didn’t mention chicken “breasts” or, for that matter, chicken “thighs” or “legs,” either. Women didn’t “sweat,” nor do they even today. They “glow” or perhaps “glisten.”
I guess this sort of “verbal restraint” influenced how people thought about sexual matters-or perhaps I should say didn’t think about sexual matters. Otherwise, I would find it difficult to explain a little advertisement I have stashed away in my files, taken from a 19th-century newspaper on Nantucket Island. Before reading it, one should know that many women on Nantucket were alone in those days because their husbands were off whaling for months and even years. The ad reads: “Wanted: A job! I will sleep in the homes of timid women for 15 cents a night, or two nights for a quarter.” There’s a lovely sort of old-fashioned innocence about that little ad.
Of course, once you’re comfortable with some sort of theory about New England, you’ll soon encounter something that’ll blow it to smithereens. Have you ever seen the plain marble slab on the site of Brigham Young’s birthplace in Wilmington, Vermont? I haven’t in years, but I assume it’s still there. The legend on the tablet: “Brigham Young, born on this spot in 1802, a man of much courage and splendid equipment.”
Well, maybe that was innocent, too. Think so?