by workingclass artist, Sat Mar 22, 2008 at 10:31:15 AM EDT
My first conscious recollection of prejudice had to do with my parents favoring my twin's choice of the fish tank as our collective birthday present. I'm part of a fraternal pair of twins, and as the female half, I felt gipped. This was in the summer of 1968. My brother always got the cool toys, trucks, tools, and always new and sensible clothes. I, the youngest of four daughters, got mostly well worn hand me downs, that were heavy on dresses and shorts sets that frankly were not designed for girls who climbed trees and preferred to play war with the boys at constuction sites. I knew my request was doomed ( I had wanted rock em sock em robots and a years supply of space food amongst other things ) when my father stated that this choice would be good for the family and educational.
We were'nt rich, far from it and birthdays for a catholic family of six children was a fairly modest affair. The best I could hope for was my grandmother's cash present in which the amount rose $1.00 a year to reflect my age. $8.00 can buy enough candy to rot your mouth and the spending of the birthday cash was sacred in our family, no-one and I mean not even the Pope could dictate how we spent our annual "Gommie Money".
The fish tank arrived and my dad put it together. My brother and I went to the pet store to pick out fish, which I remember were mostly yellow. My brother who I have to mention was clinically hyper-active and whose favorite activity was taking anything apart he could get his hands on (to see how it worked) was on Ritalin; the dosage of which depended on how tired or distracted my mother was. Taken in the uncertain liquid form of the day, sometimes he became more of a blur then ever and sometimes he took a nap for about 3 hours. I watched as my brother named all of the fish and solemnly promised each of them that he would take good care of them. I was silently praying that Jesus would not recognize my relunctant role in what I feared was the certain mass murder of innocent fish and wondered if this qualified as a mortal or venial sin. Would I still get to keep communion privelages and the weird but cool Catholic stuff I'd gotten at this recent milestone.
My twin brother, truly one of the kindest souls would never intentionally harm the fish, but they were as doomed as any other toy laying in scattered pieces throughout our shared toy legacy. The fish were doomed. My brother in the sexism of the day was granted and assumed the paternal responsibility for the welfare of the fish. I was assigned the cleaning of the tank. My twin was assigned the feeding of the fish. Typical gender assignment and it was no use to complain. Each of us made a cocerted effort to follow the instructions of our dad and for a while the tank was clean and the fish looked happy, at least as happy as fish could be to my eight year old mind.
A few months later the occasion came when the folks decided it was time to go visit the grandparents who lived in another city. Two station wagons, each loaded with coolers, food, pillows, toys, kids and the dog caravaned home to Houston from the alien strangeness of this new city we had moved to called Dallas. Houston as any native knows is much better for tree climbing and critter hunting, especially frogs and lizards. Houston was also where a tom-boy with a pixie hair cut under the age of ten could run around in her brothers jeans without a shirt on and no-one batted an eye. I did'nt have penis envy so much, I just envied the freedom boys had. I liked everything about being a girl except the dolls, dresses, and chores. Mowing the lawn seemed alot more cool then sweeping up the clippings. I mean the mower was cool, brooms are not. Boys sports were cool, hopscotch was'nt. Anyone who thinks softball is as cool as baseball, just does'nt get it. As we pulled into the driveway, tired and cranky after the long trip home, my twin ran into the house to check on the fish.