When I was a kid my mom subscribed to Good Housekeeping. I didn’t realise until this evening how much the articles I read all those years ago influenced my thinking.
I was 9 years old when Jean Harris shot Dr. Herman Tarnower. Since the case involved money, drugs, sex and death it was natural fodder for a magazine. It seemed to me–very young at the time–as though that was all anyone ever thought about. Stories about the murder were in almost every issue. The issues that didn’t feature Scarsdale Murder coverage carried letters to the editor about the Tarnower coverage in the previous month.
I was a little girl in a fairly homogeneous community. We were white middle-class midwesterners who went about our business. There was nothing like the Scarsdale murder in our boring town (at least not for a few years, anyway. More on the Osbornes another time.) My love for stories compelled me to cannibalize all the details as printed in the Ladies’ Magazine.
Except that I was a little kid.
I came away with definite ideas about men, drugs, women and murder. In short, don’t date anyone cruel, arrogant, dismissive or unfaithful. Don’t take any drug unless you know what it is and what it is supposed to do. Don’t get a fancy job (such as the headmistress of a school) because it can only lead to trouble. Sometimes there are people that flat out just need killin’.
I had learned all these things from the Good Housekeeping coverage of the Scarsdale case, and over the years forgotten where I had learned them. But I kept them in storage as part of my worldview. Some of them are good ideas, some of them are not such good ideas (like the “killing people”one, for instance). Which leads to my main question about myself.
I was allowed to read anything I wanted. I read so much that I think my parents were probably powerless to keep up with me. I read my first murder mystery (Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None) when I was 7. I’ve never given it much thought one way or the other. It’s just what I do. I read.
But now I’m beginning to wonder. If I have a child of my own, will I let that child enjoy the same unfettered reading style that I had? I mean, is it really good for a ten year old girl to have such negative imprinting? It freaked me out today as I watched that HBO movie and realised that my lifelong insistance that I know everything about EVERY MEDICATION I TAKE stems from a few magazine articles I read as a child. It further freaked me out that I realised I had long ago made a negative mental correlation between having a career (as Jean Harris did) and being abused by a man (as Jean Harris was). Is this a good thing? I don’t know. I know that everyone gets their ideas from somewhere, and I know that I was an unusual child. Heck. I’m still an unusual child.
I think I’m still Pro Information. I’m just pretty gobsmacked by what my kid mind did with adult information all those years ago.