Over this past holiday weekend, I realized just how odd my childhood was.
We had a bit of a cookout on the 4th and there were a couple of children running amok. The girls were headed down the street to a place where there’s this mud-hole where frogs live, breed, and chirp. Everybody loves frogs here. Listening to them talk of the frogs brought back some great memories and I shared them. When I was finished, one little girl looked at me like I’d suddenly grown an extra head.
When I was very little, younger than either of my own children are now, Mom would take me out to the swamp to wade around the cattails and the reeds, searching for the gelatinous goo that are frog’s eggs. We’d scoop some out and take them home. We had a tank set up for them every year and we’d watch the eggs until they hatched, taking notes and making observations during the agonizingly slow progression from egg to tadpole to frog. Then, after identifying said frogs (we never did get a rare or unusual one), we’d pick one to dissect and let the others go.
To me, this was not unusual. My mother’s first pet frog, Henry, was still in a jar of formaldehyde after some 25 years (so were a horseshoe crab, a cow’s eye, and a few other things). To them, those little girls, this was the creepiest thing ever.
They asked where we got the formaldehyde (and what that was in the first place). I explained that my grandfather was a mortician. “What’s that?” they asked. A funeral director. “What’s that?” they asked again. He prepared bodies for burial. “Ewww.” they said. Someone’s got to do it.
I was never really bothered by the whole thing as a kid. I don’t remember having a what happens when you die or even a what death is sort of conversation. It just was and was a huge part of my life. I’ve been to funerals of all types from all sorts of cultures. I’ve seen party type celebrations of life and sad, sullen affairs.
According to one of those little girls in my neighborhood, that’s all a creep factor of ewww. Even more so when she learned that my grandparents lived above said funeral home and I spent a lot of time there. It was my normal. I thoroughly enjoyed that part of my childhood. I dissected and preserved a pregnant shark in the embalming room all by myself when I was 13. It was interesting.
As a mother myself now, I have not done the same sorts of things with my boys that my mother did with me (at least where dissection is concerned) because it honestly never occurred to me to do so. My kids have their own weird that they’ll look back on one day and realize, out of the blue, that is was nothing like normal. I just hope that, like me, they’ll be glad of it.