Yes, it’s true.I slept in the house owned by William Ayers’s parents. Not once, mind you, but several times. Pease tell Sarah Palin that I’m terribly sorry.
Here’s how I found out about my shady past. When my mom was here to babysit for the boys while we went on our New Mexico trip (isn’t it sad how excited I got about four measly days of vacation?), she and I were reminiscing, before I left, about my grandparents (her parents-in-law) and their big white house on Lake Michigan. Across the street from their house was a low-lying brick house, where some of us grandchildren used to stay if grandmother’s house was too crowded, come holiday time – and with some twenty grandkids, overcrowding happened pretty quickly.
It was in that brick house that I discovered a copy of Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex – But Were Afraid To Ask (the book, not Woody Allen’s movie). My cousin Sophie and I used to take turns reading it aloud to each other, sometimes howling with laughter, sometimes gagging in horror – and fascinated by the pen-and-ink illustrations.
Mom thought that was pretty funny – and then she remembered that the house was owned by the parents of William Ayers – yes, that Bill Ayers! I was all “no way!” but she insisted, yes, Bill Ayers’ parents; his dad was a big kahuna at Commonwealth Edison or something, and yes, yes, they lived across the street.
I wish I’d paid more attention to the house so that I could offer up some clues about what in Ayers’ upbringing would lead him to the Weathermen – and then to a diabolical life as a reformer of public school education. But alas, I have only vague impressions of chairs upholstered in scratchy plaid wool, and a bedroom filled with books … including That Book (which wasn’t on the shelf, by the way, but in a drawer in the nightstand).
Politics, when I was ten, entered my life only peripherally: I used to listen as my mother would simultaneously cook dinner and make canvassing phone calls for Abner Mikva, who was running for something-or-other in our district; and I had a McGovern bumper sticker on my bedroom door. That was about it. I was way more excited about the sex book than about the political rallies my grandparents had on their back lawn – but now, of course, I am thrilled to discover that I’ve got a connection to Bill Ayers, winner of the 1992 Citizen of the Year award from the City of Chicago; it makes my suburban childhood a bit more edgy, dontcha know?
There’s just one small glitch in this story.
It’s not true.
Mom is wrong. We double-checked with my aunt, the family story fact-checker – sort of a human hard-drive of family memories.
And she says nope, never happened. The house across the street was owned by someone named Hendrickson, and they never blew up anything. I PROMISE, however, that my cousin and I really did read about sex in their upstairs bedroom, which explains why it was so easy for our parents to convince us that it was time for bed during that particular vacation: we couldn’t wait to pick up where we’d left off the night before.
Ah, the ever-fertile imagination! Reading that book was wildly exciting, probably because we knew it was forbidden. And by the same token, I guess, it must be way more exciting to claim that a potential US president could be friends with a terrorist (thus invoking all those forbidden connotations having to do with race and general Otherness). Just being a guest – even the guest of honor – at a house party is so boring, so normal.
Everything You Wanted to Know… was, of course, riddled with inaccuracies (did you know that Coke can be an effective douche? that lesbians and prostitutes are the same thing? that male homosexuality can be cured with therapy?) but at the age of ten, what the hell did I know?
I’m pretty clear on sex stuff now, in my early middle-age (okay, my late-early-forties), but you know what? I like my mom’s version of this story way more than the actual version. Who gives a shit about the Hendricksons, anyway?
If la belle Sarah can revise history, dammit, so can I, so here goes:
Not only did I sleep in Bill Ayers’s bed, I was his child lover.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.