The Watts lived a few houses up the street which was just on the edge of my mother's radar. When they moved in, it quickly became apparent that this was a family quite unlike anything we had seen before.
"A round bed?" I heard my mother ask her next door neighbor. "Where on earth would you buy sheets for it?"
I recall peering into their home into the hall and seeing silvery-black wallpaper with nude cherubs. And gold-veined mirror tiles. Amber (swag) globe-lamps hanging down on chains from the ceiling. And what kind of weird music was that? (Jazz.) From what all I was used to, the decor was otherworldly.
Eventually, it was decided amongst my parents and our neighbors that the Watts were what they called "swingers." On what evidence, I can't imagine and in fact, at that age, I had no idea what being a swinger actually meant. (I am rather impressed that my parents even knew the term.) I doubtless imagined it having something to do with gymnastics.
Although I saw him very rarely, Mr. Watts was of particular interest to me because at that time, he happened to be the only adult that wore a mustache. And for this reason, he will forever remind me of Gomez from the Addams Family.
Mrs. Watts resembled a cross between Dolly Parton and Myra Hinley. "A woman can be busty," I heard my mother say, "but good grief." I only knew that the overall effect was startling- even by 60s fashion standards. Tight sweaters, with cleavage and big hair, like a platinum rococo bubble about to pop. It was as if one of Dean Martin's gold-diggers had crawled out of my television.
There was indeed something about Mrs. Watts that caused the wives in the neighborhood anxiety. Today, a photograph of Mrs. Watts would likely produce howls of laughter but back then, she was every middle-aged married man's fantasy. And after all, she was divorced.
Mrs. Watts didn't help her cause much, it has to be said. A careless bit of joking with a husband. "And with his wife standing right there." An off-color remark using language feminine decency generally forbade. An overly friendly bit of touching. Showing up to the front door in something satin and lacy called Boudoir Glamour. Coming in at all hours of the night (meaning after midnight.) That's all it took to turn the tide against her.
By the time Mr. Watts left his wife for another woman, Mrs. Watts was already something of a pariah in the neighborhood. Her husband had left her with two small children and bills unpaid and unplayable.
To my mother, the divorced Mrs. Watt represented the prevailing moral decay of late 1960s America. Among the other women in my mother's circle, it was understood that a divorced woman could not be trusted. In a neighborhood filled with warm blooded husbands, a woman like that could easily be the cause of any number of problems.
Without much explanation, my teenage brother was discouraged from mowing her lawn. Compared to the manicured looks of all the houses on our street, the Watts front yard looked forsaken. ( Front lawns were an important outward show of the inner harmony of the family. Back yards, being hidden from view were a different matter. ) The Watts yard always seemed to be inhabited by forlorn weather-beaten toys. A gutter where careless drivers had badly parked. Or an afflicted brown patch. And worst of all, a scandalous wine bottle amongst the weeds.
Divorce, in my mother's opinion, was something my mother felt quite strongly about. "Nobody ever said marriage was going to be easy, " she'd say, with one eyebrow lifted. "Not something you should rush into, that's for sure." Taking a puff on her Salem, she would add, "I just feel sorry for the children." (This was also her general complaint on mixed marriages. Think of the children.)
The most ironic part is, of course, that my mother's own grandmother had lived in a very small town as a divorced woman with eight children. It was something that my mother's family rarely mentioned.