Sample: Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in S’mores
• Margaret Mead’s 1928 observations.
• A modern American boy.
• Honey Maid graham crackers, Jet-Puffed marshmallows, and Hershey Bars.
1. In unspoiled Samoa, the life of a day begins at dawn, with villagers drowsily washing themselves in the sea.
2. In America, day or night, all you need is a campfire. While you’re telling your boy to find a roasting stick and stand away from the fire, and while you’re reminding him to say “please” and “thank you,” you’ll hear, MOM? I NEED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT WHAT WE’RE GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS SITUATION. OKAY? BECAUSE YOU’RE PISSING ME OFF.
3. After breakfast, girls as young as seven take charge of all the village’s babies and toddlers. Older girls spend their days weaving palm husks, or take digging sticks in hand to walk together to the plantation.
4. Tell your son to place a marshmallow on the end of the stick and roast it until it is goopy. He’ll say, HONESTLY, MOM, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE ACCOMPLISHING BY TREATING ME LIKE A LITTLE KID? DO YOU THINK THIS IS FOR MY OWN GOOD? WELL, THERE ARE TWO OPTIONS IN THAT CASE. ARE YOU LISTENING? ARE YOU READY TO LEARN SOMETHING?
5. Centuries, maybe even millenia ago, the Samoans learned that lime repels the sun’s rays from a fisherman’s head, and has the cosmetic advantage of turning hair red. Alongside their fathers, uncles, cousins, and brothers, young boys proudly slake their heads, and dream of becoming chiefs.
6. Remind your son not to get the melted marshmallow in his hair. He’ll say, OPTION ONE, YOU COULD ACCEPT THAT I’M ALREADY GROWN UP. OKAY? ALL BOYS’ LIVES ARE DANGEROUS, AND YOU CAN’T STOP THAT DANGER BY NAGGING.
7. “Stay out of the sun! Stay out of the sun!” is the universal greeting and reminder for those who spend their day in the village.
8. OH, PLEASE, MOM. LISTEN TO SENSE. FOLLOWING OPTION ONE, WHICH I’M TRYING TO EXPLAIN TO YOU, TONIGHT COULD BE A NORMAL NIGHT FOR ME. OPTION TWO IS I COULD GO INSANE.
9. After a late supper, old people and babies go to bed. A crier wanders through the village, announcing that the communal breadfruit pit will be open in the morning. Young boys and girls play with palm leaf balls or hunt crabs by torchlight. Boys and girls who are coming of age escape into the woods or onto the gleaming, curving reef for sexual escapades. The mellow thunder of the reef drowns out any shouts of triumph or murmurs of disappointment.
10. OH, RIGHT! LIKE YOU EVEN KNOW HOW IT IS THAT NORMAL BOYS BEHAVE! NO, THAT’S NOT THE WAY THEY BEHAVE.
11. When a boy is two or three years past puberty, a friend acts as his ambassador to girls, singing his praises and running messages with fervor and discretion.
12. ANYWAY, I DON’T REALLY CARE. OKAY? BECAUSE I’VE GOT A FRIEND WAITING FOR ME. I’M LEAVING. BUT DO WE HAVE ANYTHING TO EAT?
13. Girls who are approached by several ambassadors can happily accept more than one lover in a night, continuing in that fashion until, literally and figuratively, the cocks crow.
14. ANYTHING REAL TO EAT?
15. In Samoa, the word “musu” means adolescent antagonism felt against a member of the family. It is treated as a mysterious, almost unexplainable phenomenon.
16. OH, RIGHT. LIKE I WANT S’MORES. BY THE WAY, I AM NEVER TALKING TO YOU AGAIN.
17. Musu hurts everyone, because adolescents with musu keep even positive feelings secret.
18. OFFICIALLY, AND I MEAN THIS, THIS IS THE LAST CONVERSATION WE WILL EVER HAVE.
19. Like western children, Samoan adolescents with musu are especially secretive about matters of love. But there is a critical difference. For example, an antagonistic Western youth, in the spirit of these ultra-modern times, might taunt his mother with, “Of course I love her. But you’ll never know how far we went.” That might frustrate a worried matron. But a Samoan boy with musu might say, “Of course we made love, but you’ll never know how she made me feel.” Not being privy to her son’s burgeoning joy would devastate a Samoan.
20. I AM GOING NOW AND I WILL NOT COME BACK AND YOU WILL NEVER FIND ME. I WILL FIGHT TO THE DEATH BEFORE I FUCKING LET YOU FIND ME, your son will say. Now he is launched, floating away from you like a proud, red-haired fisherman in his grandfather’s open boat. After he leaves, douse the campfire and go into the house. Find his old Boy Scout manual next to the moth-eaten teddy bear and dirty canteen at the back of his bedroom closet. Lovingly fingering the manual, read about how to save a life, throw a rope to a drowning person, drag an unconscious child from a burning building, and stop runaway horses.
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