Thursday, September 24, 2009


To the cat, the experimenter is problematic. 
- quote found at

When my sister and I were children we made a pact that we would never marry when we grew up. Instead, we would live together all our lives in a house full of cats. It was my idea but she fully agreed.

Some years after this photo was taken at my grandmother's house, our family seriously and devotedly attended a small Baptist church in Reno for a period of maybe two years. I was around nine years old and my sister around seven when, one warm sunny Sunday (car windows all open) as our stepfather was slowly driving in the neighborhood nearby the church, I saw the most wondrous structure in the side yard of one of the houses. It was a little two-story house about ten feet tall, with lots of extra flourishes, and brightly painted, with windows and a wide open door space. At that moment, a man walking on the sidewalk approached the vicinity of the same side yard. He smiled at my parents, then they all three broke into laughter, at my loud and excited exclamation. What I squealed to my sister in the backseat was, "Look! A cathouse!" 

My mother corrected me, calling it a dog house, but she would not tell me what was so funny about what I said. I don't remember now how or when I learned the meaning of the word cathouse, there in Nevada where prostitution is legal. I do remember, though, in ninth grade when one of the popular boys was the first to utilize the services of one just outside of Reno.

When school buses and parents dropped students off at the circular driveway in front of the school, and as others walked from home, we all gathered in the lunchroom that had a bank of windows looking out onto the driveway in front. The school day began with a cacophony of tribal yelling and laughter as we broke into cliques and groups in the large multipurpose room. One Monday morning our groups were quickly roped together by the rapidly-spreading rumor of one classmate's sexual initiation over the weekend just passed. He was expected to be dropped off by his older brother. We rushed for the windows, crowding and poking one another for a best glimpse while the two teachers appointed as monitors demanded order in vain.....futilely demanded to know what this was all about.

The moment an old pick-up truck approached the school the boys in the crowd began whooping, but, by the time the truck was ideling in the driveway and while our classmate and about eight close friends spilled out from the back of the truck, there was a hush in the lunchroom. We held our breath as we held onto some last moments of innocence, until the door opened and the boys burst through like a bunch of young cattle and all the boys in the room hollered and cheered and rushed for the man of the hour to heap upon him awed congratulations and we girls stood there trying to be cool, smiling goofily and shyly.......wondering if this would change things.

photo: Lydia right, grandmother Nellie's cat center, sister Nel left


The Clandestine Samurai said...

Did it? Did it change things for you? Was sexuality a distant thing for you until that happened, bringing it much closer to home?

I first visited my grandparents in Vegas when I was in junior high school. Ironically, I went into Vegas expecting bright lights and show girls everywhere. Even in the bathroom. But I actually found it to be more humane than previously thought. I love it over there, especially being able to come out of my grandparents house, turn, and see the mountains. Doing that in New York City will just allow you to see more project buildings.

The Clandestine Samurai said...

Oh, are you guys still holding on to the "no marriage/pro cats" thing? That is definitely the future I was aiming for.

the watercats said...

I founs this really lovely to read, such a mixture of pure innocence and the loss of... I was not aware of the name 'cathouse'... hhhmmmmm... I feel a song coming on :-)

Indigo said...

Rambunctious innocence held in time within the moments before the truth was revealed. Love it! (Hugs)Indigo

M Riyadh Sharif said...

Hey Aunt!
I was so sure that you were in the right. I'm so glad to discover that I was right! :) You were so cute Aunt and so was your sister! Where does she live now?
Your 'cathouse' story is really funny.. haha... I enjoyed it.
Have a good time aunt. Love you.

kj said...


kj said...

i have more to say. i hit the send button because i was so excited!

lydia, you can WRITE! what suspense you've created for this small slice of small town small kid life. i totally love it.

there is nothing better than finding, enjoying and delighting in a good writer in blogland.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful piece of writing, Lydia! Ah the fine line of innocence and how many shades there can be, until that line is crossed. :D

Lydia said...

@Clandestine Samurai- Since reading your comments when I first cleared them in the a.m. I thought about your observations and questions many times throughout the day....Actually, your question as to whether the event outlined in this post might be a good post for me to try to work up. But in case the words wouldn't come, yes and no. Sexuality wasn't a distant thing, as my mother was honest nearly to a fault about the beauty of sex. It had also affected our family in the form of abuse inflicted upon my little sis by our stepbrother that I luckily disturbed one day before it had gone really far. But the ensuing force upon me and threats when I declined, and the family blow-up that followed my alerting our parents went a long way in dashing my innocence while also giving me a sense of empowerment. Perhaps it was that sense of empowerment that I carried with me that helped me to "adjust" to the changes that absolutely did occur as a result of the first of my class to be known to have sex. It's that consideration that your question has me grappling with.....perhaps I will write about it!

Incidentally, I was my sister's maid-of-honor when she broke our pact and married at age 20. I understood! I hung in there until I was 24 and was really disappointed in myself for caving when I knew I was making a mistake.
Do your grandparents still live in Vegas? The mountains are beautiful there and the desert so fragile...

@the watercats- Oh yes! The Watercats surely must do a song about cathouses! I wait with high anticipation, while thanking you for your comment.

@Indigo- I really love your phrase rambunctious innocence. It describes the time perfectly. :)

@Riyadh- You seem to be in an especially great mood which makes me happy! Thanks for the fun comments. My sis lives in a state in the middle of the U.S. It's terrible but I have yet to visit her and her family "out there." I really want to. I miss her.

@kj- Oh kj! I found your comments quite the honor and such a thrill to receive. I agree with you about the joys of appreciating good writing in the blogosphere, and if this post came close to that mark I am really pleased. (Check out my Voltaire's quote box - in my sidebar - for selections of excellent posts!)

@svasti- What a rich many shades there can be, until that line is crossed. That's a brilliant interpretation of something we all share, but that is unique to each of us.

Phivos Nicolaides said...

I like so much the black and white pictures. Have a wonderful weekend my dear friend Lydia!

francessa said...

Lydia: Great story and very educational, too (never heard the word 'cathouse* before).

And a wonderful picture! You haven't changed much.

Lydia said...

@Phivos- I'm partial to B&W shots myself. A very happy weekend to you also!

@francessa- I usually learn so much from posts at your blog, so it's interesting having you say this was educational. I guess cathouse isn't a universal word!
I noticed that in this childhood photo I was not smiling, and my sister was - where it's the reverse in most of them. And this latest profile shot is awfully serious. I hope to change it soon:) :) :)

Friko said...

Adorable picture and a brilliant little story. I love it. Those memories come back with blogging; isn't blogging wonderful!
What I'd like to know, did you girls actually all know what the 'initiation' was all about? I bet not all of you knew nor did all the boys. You just have to be part of the crowd at that age.
Thanks for the story, it is bringing back memories for me too.

Lydia said...

@Friko- Thank you and you are so right about blogging bubbling memories up. Well, maybe they would come and go anyway but having a blog means you have something to do with them!
I knew what the initiation was all about. My mom explained prostitution to us very early on because people "whispered" about it. At that time 9th graders were in junior/middle school and not high school as so often is the case today, and I'm certain there were plenty of girls who were clueless about what was going on.
Now, Friko, what memories does this bring back for you?.....

Margo said...

beautiful, fun and real writing, Lydia. I love this!

Lydia said...

@Margo- Why thank you. I'm so glad that you do!



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