The Conditioning of Cookie
When I was three years old a housekeeper locked me in the bathroom so she could go into the neighborhood to sell tickets to a church bazaar. This story is not about my mental decline from this incident. It is about Maw Maw Bartlett and classical conditioning.
As a young child I had the privilege of living within close proximity to both of my grandmothers. There were lots of cousins, aunts, uncles and friends always around. My grandmother also had a dear lady, Lois Mae, who was phonetically called Loey Mae- kind of like Louis and Louie- who helped raise my mother , her siblings and all of the grandchildren.
My grandmother wasn’t at the country club having tea while Loey did this; she was either pickin’ peas or working. My nana was a working mother before Gloria Steinem told us it was ok to do so.
My mother, like my Nana, was also an independent soul who did not expect her sisters or her family to provide childcare. So mother very carefully or so she thought selected a lady to stay with me and keep our home in order while she and daddy were at work. Family lore has it that my mother received a call at work from a neighbor who said he could here me crying from the bathroom window. Of course my mother rushed home swooped me out of the locked room and then proceeded to find the housekeeper on the other side of the neighborhood cheerfully doing her volunteer work.
This is how my family met Maw Maw Bartlett. She looked out her window only to see a young mother of twenty-one chasing a lady down the street with a broom. As the neighbors gathered outside it was apparent my young mother and daddy needed a sitter for me and Maw Maw was just the person. She kept children in her home from time to time and she was known as a loving, but firm sitter. After Mother and Daddy got to know Maw Maw, her husband Papa Dave and their children, I had a new family to care for me and spoil me.
What I remember the most about Maw Maw’s house are fond memories like kool-aid and buttered toast (a childhood favorite) and the fact that she had coffee every morning in her home with her neighbor. My only unpleasant memory is seeing the image on the TV screen with the ocean crashing the rocks, the title in scary letters and the man announcing-“The Secret Storm!”
Mother and Daddy remember the loving and safe environment Maw Maw provided and- the word shit.
I never remember Maw Maw being mean to anyone or saying anything negative, but I do remember when the phone would ring she would say shit. Now she didn’t just say-shit. She would take the word on the first ring and begin to draw it out during each ring with-sheeeeeeeiiit! Then, she would answer in a nice voice -not like she was bothered-it was just the interruption of having to stop and go to the hall to answer the phone. There was no malice in “sheeeeeeeiiiit,” it was just what she said when the phone rang. As an impressionable three year old I thought that’s what one did when the phone rang. So it began. The “classical conditioning” of Cookie. At home the phone would ring, the stimuli in place, and out of the mouth of this three year old babe came-“sheeeiiiit.”
As a parent I can understand my parents’ dismay at this situation. Somehow they broke me of this bad little habit and I continued to stay with Maw Maw until I went to Kindergarten. I don’t think my parents ever even confronted Maw Maw with my Pavlovian conditioning. There was no need. I never had to see the inside of a locked bathroom again.