memories, music, nostalgia, YouTube

The Red Scare!

Yesterday’s post about public TV caused me to fall down a very interesting rabbit hole on YouTube. Anyone who follows this blog for any length of time is likely to come to the conclusion that I have way too much time on my hands, most days. And when I get bored, I go hunting for things to alleviate my boredom. I had wanted to add a certain video showing a Soviet children’s show on yesterday’s post. I couldn’t find it, but I did find this video, which I also shared in yesterday’s post…

Someone in 1981 was REALLY scared of the Soviets taking over our capitalistic society… That still photo is Toni Ann Gisondi, who played Molly in the 1982 movie, Annie.

I didn’t really write about what’s in this video when I posted it yesterday. That’s because I discovered it at the end of my post and had already written a lot… and the former Soviet Union wasn’t really the point of yesterday’s writings, anyway. In this video, an elderly teacher, obviously stricken and terrified, tells her class that all current teachers will be forced to give up their classes. A little boy named Johnny tells the teacher not to panic as she explains why she’s so scared.

At 9:00am, right on the dot, a tall, attractive woman with reddish brown hair, blue eyes, and a vague British accent appears at the door. She wears what looks like a Soviet inspired uniform, enters the room, and tells the children that she’s their new teacher as she firmly kicks out the old lady who had originally been teaching the kids. She knows all of the students’ names, shocking them. Then she shocks me by poorly trying to sing “Children of the World”, a positively cringeworthy song by the Bee Gees. Talk about a Red Scare!

The young teacher has a kind and friendly demeanor, but it’s clear that beneath that calm, gentle facade lurks a woman who could probably kill the children if provoked. Or, at least have them sent to a gulag or something. They are impressed by her, but also a bit scared. The teacher very carefully leads the children to her lessons, gradually and insidiously teaching them not to blindly honor American values. But little Johnny, the same one who told the old teacher not to panic, is going to be a troublemaker. The teacher takes down the American flag, then tells everyone they’re going to cut the flag, so everyone can have a piece of it. Johnny looks like he’s going to wet his pants.

A little girl named Leslie (who played Nadia Comaneci in the movie, Nadia), cuts the first piece of the flag because it’s her birthday. More pieces are cut so that everyone can have a piece, just like it was a birthday cake. The kids all disrespect the flag, all very innocently, as the sound effects get more ominous. When a child asks why their first teacher was crying, the new Soviet model says she was just “tired” and needs a long rest. And she says teachers should be young… like she is– only 23 years old. The old bat will be sent away where she will be nice and “safe”.

Then Johnny, the truth teller, demands to know where his dad is. The teacher says Johnny’s dad is “going to school”, becomes sometimes grown ups have to go to school, too. The teacher explains that Johnny’s dad had “wrong thoughts” and needs to be re-educated. And Johnny can visit him, once he has a vacation. Dads who are in school get vacation just like kids in school, do. Oh dear. The teacher tells Johnny that his dad had some thoughts that were “old fashioned” and needed to be corrected. I see where this is going. Leftists are BAD, and not to be trusted. Then the other kids start wondering if their parents should go back to school, too.

Sinister! The Red Scare was alive and well in 1981– for different reasons, as it turned out. That was also the year I learned about puberty.

Then the teacher tells the kids that they’ll all be staying together, from now on, in a nice state supported home where they will be taught the right things. They can stay up and have a good time, eat candy, and tell stories, like a slumber party that never ends as the state slowly reforms their thinking to the “right” way… which of course, is the “left” way. Then someone brings up prayer, and the teacher implies that God isn’t real because He doesn’t answer their prayers for candy. So the teacher tells the kids to pray to “our leader”. While their eyes are squeezed shut, the teacher dumps out a bag of Hershey’s Kisses.

But that pesky troublemaker, Johnny sees what the teacher did, as his duped classmates say they’re going to pray to “our leader” every time. Johnny busts the teacher for her trickery. So the teacher says that it doesn’t matter who the children pray to… only humans can give you what you want, but praying is a waste of time… By the end of the film, Johnny is starting to see things the “right” way… which again, of course, is the “left” way. Wow. I had forgotten how different things were in the early 80s. Then, at the end, a narrator explains how easy it is to fall into the trap of giving up freedom.

I was a bit fascinated by the video, so I went looking for more. And since I was somehow under the impression that April Lerman was in the above video, I searched for her on YouTube. I thought maybe I’d finally find that godawful After School Special, “Little Miss Perfect”. No such luck. But I did find this weird Disney film about a boy growing up in Leningrad. I suppose the Disney movie was intended to make us less afraid of a “red scare”.

The kid’s accent is annoying as all get out. Otherwise, it was an interesting little video about a regime that would collapse in just a few years.

And sure enough, this morning I found that video I had been looking for yesterday that made me fall down the rabbit hole in the first place. One thing I loved about living in the former Soviet Union was how many very musically and artistically talented people are there. I meant to include the below video yesterday, but never managed to find it.

The Trololo guy, Eduard Khil, is in this video. I taught school in Armenia and my pupils didn’t have uniforms like the kids in this video or the one above it. However, they did wear black and white on the first day of school, which I think was the custom during the Soviet years. They don’t seem too scary, even if they are “commies”!
The “Trololo” guy, Eduard Khil… apparently, he did this in 1976 because the lyrics to the song were about a cowboy who was riding his stallion to his farm, excited about going home. Another legend has it that Khil had an argument with the songwriter that music is more important than lyrics and decided to sing a vocalise to make his point. Khil died in 2012, so he’s not scary, either!

My search for April Lerman’s turn in “Little Miss Perfect” led to yet another weird find. As I mentioned yesterday, Toni Ann Gisondi, who was in the video about “brainwashing children”, was in the 1982 movie, Annie. April Lerman was also in that film. She played Kate. April Lerman was also in another special film… one about puberty. Annie is about an orphan who has red hair and wears a red dress… and so it’s only fitting that she should be teaching us about the true red scare of every girl’s adolescence– the dreaded first period, otherwise known as menarche!

April Lerman, who now uses the name April Haney. She led me down quite a rabbit hole.

I’ve written about this topic a few times, but because I enjoy shocking people and being gross, I’m going to write about it again. Back in 1981, I was in the fourth grade. That was the year we all learned about puberty. I went to Botetourt Elementary School in Gloucester, Virginia for third and fourth grades, so things were pretty redneck. Strangely enough, neither my mom nor my sisters ever talked to me about menstruation. I used to see my mom’s feminine hygiene supplies in her little special wooden chest kept next to the toilet. I would steal them to make blankets for my model horses or Barbie dolls. Back in those days, the pads were super thick, like miniature mattresses. I didn’t know what they were for, but they made for good Barbie doll pillows and such.

Then, that fateful day in the early 80s, all us girls were ushered into “The Pit” (which no longer exists) and we all watched a film from the 1970s about periods. And it was literally a film, as in it was shown on a projector, not a VCR or DVD player… or even a Laser Disc. I don’t remember much more about the film, other than a scene where they showed a woman in a bathing cap diving into a pool. That was about the time in the movie where they discussed whether or not a woman can go swimming when she’s ragging. After the movie, a teacher, who later became a principal, talked to us about what it was to be a woman… or maybe she didn’t do it that year (fourth grade), but I do remember her doing it another year. Maybe it was when I was in the seventh grade. I do clearly remember her talking to us about womanhood, with her deep southern accent.

After the movie, we were all given the Personal Products pitch– that was the company who made the film, the accompanying booklet, and, if you sent in for it, a box of assorted maxi pads and tampons. I didn’t need any of that stuff until New Year’s Eve 1985, when I was 13.5 years old, almost to the dot. And I didn’t have my second period until July of 1986, when I was 14. I skipped six whole months. After that, I was like clockwork until very recently. Now that I’m pushing 49, my periods are becoming weird and irregular. I suspect I’ll be done with the whole nasty business very soon, and thank God for that.

I suppose the next incarnation of “Growing Up and Liking It” came about in 1984. The musical, Annie, was still running on Broadway, probably thanks to the 1982 film. So, some bright person at Personal Products decided to get a bunch of actresses who had starred in different productions of Annie to do a video about puberty for girls of the 80s. I found that video yesterday, because April Lerman was in it. But now it occurs to me how odd it is to do a menstruation video starring kids from Annie— red hair, red dress, no mom to teach her (just like in that brainwashing video), and blood gushing from between one’s legs. Growing up is a delight!

My face was probably like the still video shot above.

The video begins with seventeen year old Shelley Bruce, who had played Annie on Broadway, introducing everyone to the motley cast of girls who had been in other Annie productions. The girls were of varying ages and statuses of development. Some were new menstruators, while others were still waiting… and they all sat around a chatted about their menses as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Interspersed within their chat sessions is the soothing voice of a matronly looking woman who looks like Anne Murray. She explains everything in calm, motherly tones, assuring us that all girls eventually turn into women and get to endure the monthly mess.

Someone in the comment section wrote the brilliant line… “The blood’ll come out… tomorrow…” which caused me to cackle uproariously. I sang it to Bill this morning, and he added, “bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be blood.” And then it occurred to me that my own period hasn’t yet shown up this month and was really light and late last month. My… how quickly 40 years goes by!

Well… I suppose these young ladies all got paid for this. And I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed watching them dance. One of the girls, Sarah Navin, apparently died in 2005. I’m not sure why, but her obituary mentions donating to Susan G. Komen, so maybe she had breast cancer at a very young age. How sad!

It’s funny listening to Shelley, who comes off as a real “pal”, except it’s obvious they aren’t friends and barely know each other. And now they’re going to sit around and talk about their monthlies– girls who starred in a musical about a girl with red hair who has no mom with whom to discuss these things– at least not until she gets adopted by Daddy Warbucks and his secretary, Grace Farrell. The girls all have New York accents, and some look a little more comfortable on camera than others. Poor Shelley, though. To go from being Annie on Broadway to teaching girls about their periods! A buck’s a buck, I guess.

Here are two Annies… Shelley Bruce played Annie after Andrea McArdle, who was probably the most famous Broadway Annie. She doesn’t look like she did in 1984!

And just because I’m still in the rabbit hole, here’s another gem about people who’ve played Annie. But most of them haven’t talked to young girls about menstruation… It now seems odd that a bunch of kids in a show about orphans, again, meaning they don’t have moms to talk to them about this stuff, would be tasked with making this video. But I guess they were at the right age. Besides, having a mom around doesn’t necessarily mean she’s going to tell you about puberty. My mom was at home all the time when I was growing up and I don’t remember her ever talking to me about periods, except to tell me when I leaked and remind me to make sure I wrapped up my pads properly so my dad wouldn’t be offended.

My goodness… I never liked Annie’s stereotypical curly hair. It was a little Mrs. Roper, wasn’t it? The last Annie, who was in the menstruation video was not in this performance. Sarah Jessica Parker is in this! And we all know where she is, now!

Well… I suppose it’s time to come out of the YouTube rabbit hole and walk the dogs. May your day be without any visits from Aunt Flow or young Red Scare teachers who kick out your kindly instructors and want to get you to think the “right” way… which of course, is the “left” way… As for me, perhaps the blood’ll come out, tomorrow.

Edited to add… you must listen to Andrea McArdle do an impression of Carol Channing! Hysterical!

I’m glad I watched it just for Andrea’s impression.
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musings, nostalgia

Growing up and liking it…

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how I learned what enemas, prostitutes, and hemorrhoids are. Now, I’m going to share the story about how I learned about periods. Why? Because it has nothing to do with current events, and it’s kind of inappropriate. That’s how I roll. This post is kind of a rerun. I wrote about this topic on my old blog, but the post was from 2012, so I doubt anyone would have been reading it now, anyway.

So here goes… the story of how I learned about what it means to be a woman.

I was in the 4th grade and did not know anything at all about periods.  I remember finding my mom’s maxi pads and tampons and playing with them.  I had no idea how they worked or what they were for; but I came up with plenty of creative uses for them when I played.  It was a big surprise when all the girls in my class were ushered into a room called “The Pit” at my elementary school.  The Pit has since been filled in and is now used as a regular classroom; but back in my day, it was like a miniature indoor amphitheater.  It was oval shaped with ugly brown carpeted steps that went all the way around that we could sit on.  A teacher could stand in the middle of the Pit and facilitate a chat.  We used it for music classes or watching films… or getting our class pictures taken. 

I remember being surprised in the late 80s when I found out our high school, which was built in the mid 1970s, also had a “Pit”, only it was more like an actual amphitheater and had ugly puke green carpeting instead of brown.  The first time I ever saw it was when I was a high school junior and had signed up for a weekly class/discussion on sex.  I’m pretty sure I only signed up for it so I could get out of chemistry class. 

This is the cover of the edition of the booklet I had…

Anyway, one day in 1981 (or ’82… can’t remember exactly when) all the girls were brought to The Pit to watch a film called “Growing Up and Liking It“.  I remember the film looked like it was made in the early 70s.  It was all about puberty and how menstruation works.  They made it sound like it was sooo special.  Checking out the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health Web site, I see that the accompanying booklet “Growing Up and Liking It” was revised many times.  My friends and I got the 1978 version.  We could also buy little goodie boxes with samples of feminine hygiene products made by Personal Products. I’m pretty sure one of my friends ordered one of those boxes. It had a lot of different maxi pads and pantyliners in it, but I don’t think they included tampons.

I recall being so excited after watching that film.  All my friends were excited, too.  I used to go to my best friend’s house and we’d talk about how we’d feel when we were all grown up and passed that rite of passage that every healthy woman deals with. It didn’t even occur to me how horrifying it is to bleed from the crotch every month. 

I was sure that my first period was just around the corner and, once I got it, I’d be magically all grown up.  My mom got her first period when she was only ten years old. By the time I was nine years old, I already had boobs growing, so I was sure I’d be one of the first to go on the rag.  As it turned out, I didn’t have my first period until I was almost exactly thirteen and a half years old.  It was New Year’s Eve 1985.  And I didn’t have another period until July 1986.  Unfortunately, I have only missed two periods since, and that’s only been in the past few years, as I finally approach menopause.

But I do remember how giddy we all were after learning about menstruation, even if now I think we were nuts and actually miss those innocent days.  I wasn’t even grossed out about the prospect of bleeding from my privates every month.  I was blissfully unaware of how periods can make women feel, how they mess up clothes, and what they smell like.  I’m actually very lucky, though, because my periods are pretty low maintenance.  They rarely last more than four days and aren’t painful.  I don’t even really get PMS.  The worst I get is cramps, mood swings, and that icky, unclean feeling.  I have friends that have had to get hysterectomies because of their periods.

Seems like we had a couple more school talks over the years.  I guess they did them just to be sure that there weren’t any Carrie moments at the school and we didn’t have 17 year old girls freaking out because they’d never heard of menstruation.

Awww… poor Carrie. My mom never told me about periods, either. I learned in school.
I didn’t know Disney was in the business of teaching young women about their periods. The narrator is so maternal sounding.

My mom never had a heart to heart talk with me about periods. I remember telling her when mine finally started. Her exact words were, “Don’t go out and get pregnant.” And I never have, not even after I married Bill. I have three older sisters, and none of them talked to me about periods either, although one has had a frank talk with me about menopause. I haven’t reached that stage of life yet, but I suspect it’s just around the corner. Frankly, I look forward to it, because I don’t enjoy periods at all. And as my hormones start fluctuating again, like they did when I was in puberty, my skin has become a mess. Wrinkles and zits… not the most appealing combination! And I’m sure my hands will soon get talon like and develop age spots and arthritis. I’m also starting to get looser skin on my neck and hairs growing in weird places. That’s what happened to my mom.

One time, when my niece was a little girl, my mom was pushing her on a swing. My niece introduced my mom, her “Grammy”, to her friends. One of the kids said my mom didn’t look old enough to be her grandmother, but then her big brother said, “Sure she does. Look at her hands!” I guess the hands are the one part of the body that defy anti-aging efforts. Not long ago, I saw a video starring Christie Brinkley, whose face looked as beautiful as ever. But she wore a high necked dress with sleeves that conveniently covered her hands.

Check out the dress Christie wears! Christie’s younger daughter, Sailor, looks just like her.

I am grateful that I grew up at a time when personal products were convenient and relatively comfortable. I have never been able to wear tampons. They’re too uncomfortable for me. But I do remember that when I first started having periods, pads were very thick and uncomfortable, and they didn’t have “wings”, so they’d shift and bunch and sometimes I’d experience bloody “blowouts” because they didn’t stay in the right place. Today’s pads are much thinner, more comfortable, and offer more coverage where it’s needed. And the wings are revolutionary, because they help stabilize the pads and prevent messes. There are also other methods of dealing with that monthly business, too… like menstrual cups, which I’ve never tried. Some women take birth control and skip having periods altogether. I have never had a need for birth control, so I haven’t used that myself.

I think my older sisters had to deal with less sophisticated products that required belts and pins. And when they learned about puberty, they probably watched a film like this one…

It reminds me of Leave it to Beaver… only the beaver is between the legs.

Today’s kids probably might enjoy a film more like this one…

“The Red Badge of Courage” indeed…
You look forward to periods until you actually get one… and then you wish you could regress to childhood.
This was not the film we saw, but this one probably would have been more informative. They even show a woman on the toilet, changing her pad.

Well, anyway, it’s amazing how fast 35 years can pass. I, for one, am glad my days of having periods are going to be over before too long. No more “not so fresh” feeling ever month or bloody underwear and sheets. And some of you who are cringing as you read this post are probably glad it’s now come to an end!

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