Unforbidden pleasures

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2016

To the editor:

For my brother, Ray, his morning coffee is one of life’s greatest unforbidden pleasures, a time where he gets up earlier than anyone, brews his own little Keurig cups, always puzzling over just the right one, and then sits down to read several newspapers spread across his kitchen table.

Ray first pores over the sports section, clear winners and losers there, then the front and opinion pages, and never, never the living or lifestyle sections. I share with him the belief that, if you want to find out what’s happening in a community, read the letters to the editor.

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Americans sometimes seem fixated with forbidden pleasures yet forget the plain, simple, even domesticated ones all around. In the Carolina foothills you can hike or walk some of nature’s more beautiful creations, go antiquing in any of dozens of unique, homespun, and fascinating curiosity shops, leisurely walk through some of the area’s many local farmer’s markets while trying not to buy everything, sit outside and hear some enchanting music on a summer’s afternoon, visit museums that showcase local history and patriotism, eat at a tasty array of restaurants and cafes, and rediscover the pleasure of getting lost in a book, especially falling under the influence of words and language not your own.

Moreover, folks here in the foothills seem to do something almost forbidden in a larger city. They talk to each other. Indeed, the sheer pleasure in conversation, in the joy of friendship and connection to others, in the gratification obtained from each other’s company that allows a fuller understanding of self, of what it feels to be more authentic and alive.

Did you know that, if you’re a woman here in the foothills, you likely belong to perhaps a dozen or so groups?  Men? My favorite must be the ROMEO club (Retired Old Men Eating Out). You often see them meeting at any fast food place that will allow them endless cups of coffee for under a dollar and no end to rambling conversations. No women allowed. Yet sometimes my friends tell me that their wives actually give them the money to be out of the house for a while.  Imagine that.

Growing up in Texas, my Missionary Baptist Mother had clear ideas of pleasures forbidden and taboo. She thought the Ten Commandments all I needed to know about moral philosophy and that Winnie the Pooh’s list of “Things You Shouldn’t Oughta Do” took care of the rest. When invited, she refused to go to Governor Ann Richard’s inauguration because “she drank and cursed and wasn’t a real lady.” She would have much to say about presidential candidates today.

Sadly, many pleasures forbidden a generation or so ago now seem not shamed but proclaimed, not inaccessible but just a click away, as if adulterers, liars, hypocrites, cheaters and deceivers proudly promote themselves without remorse, regret, or consequence. They’re running for president. False selves become real ones. Only the latest poll and sound bite counts for their selves, not any Biblical or Winnie-like constraints.

Freud once spoke of the super-ego, that critical and moralizing part of our psyche that constrained our forbidden desires. Yet today, perhaps that part of Freud’s theory should be revisited and the ego given primacy over all.

Let me end with a confession. I have a forbidden pleasure, one so tempting to me that, in truth, I have to restrain myself and beg my good wife for help. It’s Blue Bell ice cream. Homemade vanilla primarily but I prayerfully and failingly try to resist all 66 flavors. I grew up in the shadow of the original creamery in Brenham, Texas, and, once a month, my Mother took me for an ice cream sundae if I had been good. Especially with the Ninth Commandment against my brothers. She forgave a lot. Still, I “wrassle” with the devilish temptation to down an entire carton without guilt but only remorse. My brother Ray also sometimes clandestinely has a bowl of our family’s forbidden fruit after his morning coffee, hoping in vain that his wife will not notice since she sleeps later. She knows.

~ Milton Ready

Tryon, N.C.