"You come from a long line of oversexed women," said my mother. "I'm telling you this because if you need some kind of birth control, I can take you to see a doctor."
This is how my mother gave me "the talk."
She smiled maternally and patted my hand. My stomach turned. I regretted eating pizza.
"So, are you having sex with anyone right now?"
There it was, my very first ulcer.
It had only been two years since my friend, Sharie, had taken me aside and used one of her father's girlie magazines to illustrate, so to speak, just how humans went about reproducing. Up until then, I thought babies came from God. While other girls were being felt up behind the bleachers, I was certain in my knowledge that babies were a gift from heaven when two people got married. Like Mary and Joseph, without farm animals.
How was my mother not aware of what a late bloomer I was? That all my ideas of love and romance came from Archie comic books? Black-haired girls were not to be trusted, and boys with crown hats were not marriage material.
"Because your Grandma Margaret," my mother continued, completely unaware of the blunt-force trauma she was inflicting on me, "was quite the party girl. That's why she left Friesland and moved to Amsterdam. She loved the nightlife, the men. She was a flapper, you know."
Not Grandma Margaret! I thought. She had a cookie jar shaped like a windmill!
"She never even married my father. She couldn't, she was still married to my brother's father.
"Then, after another couple of bad love affairs, she took a job on the Holland America line, hid me in a berth and we jumped ship in New York. We were illegals; we learned to stay under the radar."
"OK," I said. "I do remember when immigration came to our house, and you had to go away for a while."
"Yes, a nice Japanese man helped me out," she said. "He really liked me — really liked me."
The pizza was burning. A lot.
"Then there is your Grandma Mae," Mom continued, clearly on a roll. "She dated a lot after your grandfather died."
Don't listen, I told myself. Grandma Mae was a saint; she took me to church.
"There really wasn't any reliable birth control, of course, so we all had to have our abortions in Cuba," Mom said. "That's why I want to make sure you use the pill."
Nothing in my life was ever going to be good again, because I realized that sweet old grandmas were not real. I was never going to trust any of them. They were bad women doing bad things, just pretending to be nice and good. They were illegal-alien, abortion-getting wolves in sheep's nightdresses.
"Mom, I'm really not having sex with anyone," I protested. "I don't need to be on the pill."
She looked so disappointed. I was breaking the long line of oversexed women in our family by being a virgin at 16.
"Wait! Mom! I'm sorry," I pleaded. "I lied to you. I am having sexual intercourse, and I would like some pills for that, please."
"I had a feeling," she said, grinning. I never saw her so proud of me.
We got the pills, and I pretended to take them, pretended I had a boyfriend, pretended to have sex. (Pretend sex, I would learn later on, is a fairly normal part of married life.)
My grandmothers had passed away years before "the talk," and I was glad. Glad because I wouldn't have to relate to them on that level. But now, now I would give anything to have woman-to-woman talks with them.
Today I think of Grandma Mae and Grandma Margaret as smart, loving women who, admittedly, made mistakes. But they were navigating life and love and citizenship during a time when everything was stacked against them. They were tough and strong and demanded better for themselves. They wanted to be happy and feel love and find relevance. They were daring, exciting women way ahead of their time, and I am so proud to have their blood in my veins.
By the way, I am a grandma now, with my own cookie jar. Am I dating, going to parties, sometimes doing things I ought not?
Of course, because I come from a long line of perfectly normal women. But please don't tell the grandkids.