Today I have three embarrassing stories to share with you.
Before I dive into them, let me explain a few things about my childhood to the new readers of my blog.
I grew up in a series of small towns and rural communities in the United States. I was also homeschooled for the first several years of my education. While the Internet has technically existed since before I was born, it wasn’t until I was older that it became at all well-known. In fact, I was in high school before my family finally bought a computer that could surf the web.(Based on how much I begged them to do this, I’m going to take the credit for it, too. LOL!)
My parents were lovingly protective of their children. There were certain facts of life – and, as I like to joke, a particular English sweet as well – that they shielded us from until we were old enough to fully understand them.
Sometimes People Get Pregnant Before They Get Married
The time: Early 1990s
I should warn my sensitive readers that this section of today’s post post contains two brief references to infant deaths.
My parents were married long before they conceived their kids. This was a pattern that was also repeated with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, and the vast majority of the other adults in my community.
While I met some kids whose families didn’t fit that mold when I began attending public elementary school, my assumption about the world was still that this was a rare and very recent occurrence.
Due to all of these assumptions and previous experiences, I was endlessly confused by a line I read in a biography of Winston Churchill that gave a date for his parents’ wedding that was much less than nine months before his birth.
Shortly before I picked up this book, I’d read a Reader’s Digest article* about a premature baby who died despite many heroic efforts by her doctor and nurses to save her. My family knew at least one other family who had lost a baby this way.
Due to all of these facts, it didn’t make any sense to me that premature babies born in the 1980s and 1990s who had access to wonderful medical care would die while one who was born at a time when no one knew anything at all about keeping preemies alive would thrive in the 1870s.
I spent an embarrassing amount of time assuming that his parents had been unbelievably lucky and resourceful instead. There was even moment when I briefly wondered if Mr. and Mrs. Churchill had shared their amazing knowledge with their local doctor. Maybe he was the first doctor who ever began testing new theories on how to keep premature babies alive?
You really don’t want to know how long it took me to figure out that Winston Churchill was probably conceived months before his parents got married and not a micro-preemie at all.
*Yes, I literally read everything I could get my hands on as a kid. I even read my mother’s nursing school textbooks!
The Meaning of Words Can Change Drastically Over Time
The time: Late 1990s
One year I decided to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Winter felt like it was never going to end, so I hoped I could pass the time by finally finding out what happened during Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures.
Suddenly, I began to notice references to “faggots” in these stories. Characters wandered into the woods to pick them up without any explanation of what was really going on there.
The first time it happened, I thought Tolkien was being vulgar, homophobic, and nonsensical. When I looked up that word in a dictionary, I was completely confused by the idea that such a hateful term was originally used as a unit of measure for wood.
As much as I enjoyed the storyline itself, I shuddered every time that word appeared again. Knowing that the author in no way meant it as a slur definitely helped, but I was still horrified by the thought of an innocent word being twisted into such a vile one over the centuries.
Turkish Delight Is Real
The time: The late 2000s
I briefly referred to this story a year and a half ago, but now it’s time to tell it in full.
The first time I read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, my mouth watered at the thought of Turkish Delight.
Like talking animals and lamp posts growing in the middle of a magical forest, I assumed it was yet another piece of this fictional world that I’d always wish could become real.
It was hard to picture what Turkish Delight really was. Edmund loved it so much he betrayed his siblings for it, so I imagined it was the most delicious candy that would or could ever exist.
Occasionally, I’d try to picture it over the years for the sheer joy of challenging my imagination. Sometimes it was some sort of dairy-free gourmet chocolate that I could eat. At other times I imagined contradictory combinations of treats that couldn’t possibly exist in our world. For example, the softness of cotton candy combined with the warmth of hot fudge might have tempted me into climbing into a strange woman’s sleigh as a kid if Narnia was capable of producing such a thing.
I grew up, moved far away from home, and got married. Turkish Delight occupied less and less of my speculations about the world until one day I spotted a box of it sitting on a perfectly ordinary candy store shelf.
“Wait, Turkish Delight is REAL?” I said in a voice that was slightly too loud for the occasion.
“Yes,” my spouse said.
“Since when?” I asked. Another film version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe had come out a few years before then, so I assumed that the producers of it had taken a look at all of the wildly successful Harry Potter candies and decided to make this treat a reality as well.
When my spouse explained that this wasn’t a new type of sweet and that it had existed back when C.S. Lewis first wrote this series, my brain practically exploded. Why hadn’t Turkish Delight become commonplace in North America since this series was released? Was it a common treat in England? Why was this the first I was hearing about it?
I still don’t have the answers to those questions, but I smile every time I see it for sale at the store. Maybe one of my British readers will have answers for me someday!
What is one funny, embarrassing thing you’ve learned from a book?
3 Responses to 3 Embarrassing Things I’ve Learned From Books
Wow, you could be describing my own life–homeschooled, growing up in a small rural town, and no internet until I was sixteen.
Anyway, to the topic of your post: I read a lot of late 19th and early 20th century English fiction, and the changing meaning of words was definitely something I noticed. I remember being amazed when Victorian writers would use a word like “ass”–it wasn’t until later I realized this meant “donkey”.
I also have something similar to the Turkish Delight story. In the book “A Confederacy of Dunces”, there are repeated references to a drink called “Dr. Nut”. I assumed it was just made-up–a parody of Dr. Pepper–but no, it turns out it really existed.
We sure have a lot in common. How cool.
That comment about Victorians using the word ass made me laugh.
Have you ever tasted Dr. Nut?
Alas, I have not. It seems the original company went out of business a long time ago and attempts to revive it have all failed.
It is interesting how many different types of “local” soft drinks seem to have flourished in the early 1900s. Dr. Nut was in New Orleans, and another one I know of is Green River, which still exists and is mainly associated with Chicago.
These things are probably no healthier than Coke etc., but they have more character. 🙂