Sex was a touchy subject.
It was almost a four-letter word.
When I was around eleven dad sat down with me and explained the bare facts. That was it. From that point on it was a DIY (do-it-yourself) deal. The mechanics of the process are actually quite straightforward, but it is amazing the degree of complex misinformation one’s well meaning fellow researchers can impart. Nanga panga with the opposite sex (“you show me yours and I will show you mine”) was an option for many of my friends and brothers but I, I never ever considered something like that (very often).
Mom had medical books stacked in the office library downstairs at Chenowyth that had pictures. They should have come with a warning — those pictures were graphic and gross. We would sneak peeks to see what, specifically, uh, “things“ in the nether regions looked like in real life. The most terrifying picture of all was a picture of a poor African man with a wheelbarrow in front of him in which his monstrous scrotum lay, a victim of testicular elephantiasis. THAT would certainly keep me from ever being a missionary in Africa! Every picture in that book was designed to revolt–tumors, lesions, and warts in places you wouldn’t want to see.
Also on those same shelves were two or three books that were Christian marriage manuals. If you are thinking salacious here, think again. They had no pictures, of course, but a couple of line drawings of the chief organs in question. These drawings were always a side view, as if a frozen corpse had been cut in half by a band saw from head down. It was like a blueprint. You had to study it to figure anything out. We didn’t want to study anything. We wanted something that would give instant enlightenment.
These books were a total turn off. We were at the peak of our teenage testosterone output by now and these books suggested that prior to, uh, sex, the husband and wife were to get on their knees and thank God for each other and for the gift of pleasure He had graced them with. Who, we wondered, in their right mind, had the presence of mind to actually get on their knees and pray at a time like that? Besides, is it possible to pray when you are naked?
For the longest time those books and the women’s underwear section of the Sears catalogue had to suffice. Then we discovered that the Kama Sutra was in print…in Hindi. It was enough to motivate a refreshed vigor in our reading skills of the Devnagri script (the script in which Hindi is written). But then we found out this was also available as an English translation. Reading this ancient little manual with no pictures or diagrams was really not too helpful. It was clear that the king who put this book together nearly two thousand years ago had way too much time on his hands and was some sort of acrobatic pervert. But it was interesting.
During my sophomore year during the winter holidays Paul Seefeldt and I were invited to visit Mr. Fleming in Kathmandu, Nepal for two weeks. This was, to say the least, an honor. We made our way down to Patna by train and then caught a vintage Royal Nepal Airlines DC3 to Kathmandu. It was a lark. We made our way to Shanta Bhawan hospital where Mr. Fleming’s folks had an apartment and where Mr. Fleming stayed when not teaching at Woodstock.
The Flemings were fixtures in Nepal from the early fifties. In fact missionary effort in Nepal could be traced to an ornithology expedition in Western Nepal led by Dr. Fleming (Mr. Fleming’s father) who taught biology at Woodstock starting in the late ‘20’s and through the ‘30’s, ‘40’s and into the early ‘50’s. That expedition led to an invitation to do medical work and the other Dr. Fleming (Mr. Fleming’s mother) opened a clinic and that developed into a hospital.
Mr. Fleming was off on a trip somewhere and we had a couple days to ourselves before heading out on our ornithological “expedition” on behalf of the Chicago Field Museum with him. Mr. Fleming collected for this museum, and we were there to assist for a couple of weeks. We had a couple of days to mosey around Kathmandu. As close as Nepal is to India it has nevertheless maintained its own identity. The people look different because they are different. They speak Nepali and about 45 other languages. And, hard to believe, it was even poorer than India.
I have lots of memories of this trip, but really two stand out. First were the rows of large glass candy jars in a number of nondescript stores. What we had here was a candy of a decidedly different sort–grades of hash and pot. This stuff was cheap and out in the open. And it was beginning to attract the attention of what we called “world travelers” but who were, in fact, the first of the hippies. In a few short years they would overrun Kathmandu.
The second thing (and more to the point of our subject) was some very explicit and erotic wooden carvings on temples. One day, while we were wandering around we were stunned to notice that on a couple of temples in Pataan there were life-sized carved figures of naked men with …uh, well you‘ll have to go see for yourself. These were way up there, several stories high, dark and dingy with age, but what we saw is what we saw. And then, with a bit more scrutiny we noticed way, way up there, there were also carved couples in a variety of acrobatic stances–Tantric tangling at its very best. You needed binoculars to see much of anything and there we were without binocs which resulted in a certain amount of eyestrain.
It was a grand conspiracy. All the movies in India were censored, no hint of much there–no wrastling in bed. Nothing. And Hindi movies could not even show kissing. Even the practice of “the sin of Onan” was something we had to discover on our own (look it up, you Biblical ignoramus).
One day Uncle Murray asked if I wanted to go with him to Delhi. A day to get there. Back the next. OK, why not. Uncle Murray came from the prairies of Manitoba, Canada, where he grew up on a wheat farm. He was already in his 30’s when he got to India, a little older and wiser than most new missionaries. There he met Aunty Florence who was teaching at Woodstock, of the same approximate age, and they got married. I liked Uncle Murray. Affable and friendly, he picked up Hindi quickly, fit right in and plowed right in. He walked differently, a side-to-side rolling gait, kind of like he was pulling his boots out of the muck of a barnyard.
This trip is etched firmly in my mind because as we headed down the hill from Kellogg’s where the Jeep was parked, we were not past Rokby (two hundred meters down the road from where we started) when he began what turned out to be a two day lecture on the three evils I would encounter in life (and which I was to avoid). The three were: women (meaning, uh, sex), power, and money. The money and power thing were really of little interest to me (although he was entirely correct that these three often seem to form a very unholy alliance). But the woman thing, ahh that, that was of great interest. And here was the youngest of my missionary uncles, recently married, who could enlighten me on the one thing that fascinated me most. Two whole days with him driving along lecturing on power and money and not a single piece of new knowledge with regard to uh…sex. Shucks. Gypped again.
We are all products, to some extent or another, of the time, place and culture in which we grow up. I fully understand that. It was felt that ignorance was bliss, I think. There was a lot of bliss. This was a mission field. These were missionaries. And this was the missionary position.