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How I Learned to Swear

I just got back from North Carolina where I visited my family, meaning the Romingers, Bruckers, and one Theiler. I hadn’t seen my two sisters in some time nor my one’s sisters kids and their kids. It was a great visit, full of laughter and remembering, of getting to know the kids who ranged from five to twenty years old. And for me there was the filling of some gaps in my family history. I swear, I remember just enough to maintain some sense of identity through time but not much more. However, I’m not here to write about these good times, but rather about a disturbing observation I made during the visit. Apparently, I’m the only one in the family who swears!

Assuming everyone was on their best behavior, you’d still think someone would slip from time to time. But no. I mean, I swore from time to time, for emphasis you understand, but given the purity of everyone else’s conversation I did dial it back quite a bit. Given this dearth of colorful language and my occasional, well, emphasis, I think it is important to tell my family how I came to swear in the first place. It wasn’t my fault. It was family!

When I was a kid there were three male cousins I used to hang around with. Starting with the oldest, Bruce was a Theiler and his mother was Barbara. Jeff, a bit younger than Bruce was a Hildebrand, his mother being Ginny. Greg, another Theiler, was some months younger than Jeff. Then came me, two to three years back. My mother, the third sister and a Rominger, was Betty. One summer we Romingers went to stay with the Theilers, I think, though it could have been the Hildebrands. Just not sure. What I am sure about is that Bruce, Greg, Jeff and myself sold newspapers on a New Jersey boardwalk late at night (was it Seaside Park boardwalk?).

Bruce, who couldn’t have been much older than 16, drove. We all piled into an old station wagon and he high-tailed it to the railroad station where we picked up the papers. We took the bundled papers right out of the railroad cars and threw them into the back of the station wagon. It was quite a thrill for a little guy like me, I must say. Railroad cars late at night without our mothers! As Bruce drove like a bat out of hell to the boardwalk, Jeff, Greg and I cut the wires securing the bundles and put the sports pages into the main news section of the paper. When we got to the boardwalk, my three cousins set me up in a busy well lit place with a big pile of newspapers and told me that under no circumstances was I to move from that spot. I was to sell papers at that spot and nowhere else. Jeff and Greg wondered up and down the boardwalk selling papers in restaurants, cafes, and bars, or at least that is what I assumed they were doing. I don’t know what Bruce did, but I think he kept a close eye on me, from a distance. (Was that part of the deal worked out between the three sisters that convinced my mom to let me out on a boardwalk until the wee hours?)

We were selling The Morning News & The Mirror to people in their late teens and early twenties. I think we hit the railroad station about ten and then sold papers until early morning. I stood there shouting “Morning paper, News and the Mirror.” Girls would come up to me and say it wasn’t morning yet so I would shout, “Almost morning paper, News and the Mirror.” These young women ranged from 16 to 20 years old. I was quite taken by a lot of them. It was summer and even back then summer meant less clothes. My routine worked like a charm. I got a laugh every time and sometimes they would lean forward and kiss me on the cheek.

Here’s the thing though. My three cousins swore like truckers. They were streetwise. I imagined they carried big knives, not some silly wimpy pen knife I might have had in my back pocket. I was the youngest and definitely not streetwise, so in order to hold my own, I started swearing. Admittedly, it was only a “damn” here and a “hell” there. No hard stuff. Probably not even a “shit”. The hard stuff would come when I learned, not that the world is unfair, but why the world is unfair.

One night my mother showed up at my spot. Talk about humiliation! So I tried my new found tough guy language on her. Probably concocted a sentence that used both damn and hell. She was one angry mother, and I did wonder the next day if she had a frank and honest exchange of views with her sisters Ginny and Barbara about how their sons were corrupting her little boy. Fortunately, she never knew how bad things would get, language wise, in the future (though to be honest, I still lack considerable knowledge of a lot of streets).

During the day we worked at the batting cages and the wheels people would spin in a futile attempt to win a huge stuffed animal. Greg taught me how to flip a hidden switch that gave the wheel an unnoticed jolt insuring that no one won the big prizes. It was a great summer.

Bruce, Jeff and Greg took good care of me and now there are only two of us left. Bruce and Jeff died, young, a long time ago. The photo you see is of me and Greg. It was taken last week in North Carolina. Love the guy. I mean how do you not love a cousin who taught you to swear?

Copyright © 2015 Dale Rominger

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