Mom and Dad, around 1952

Mom and Dad, around 1952

When the cancer had eaten its fill,
Little was left of Dad.
He was diminished
And oh, he had been handsome
Just ask Mom
She recalled wistfully his dark hair
And fine looks vaguely reminiscent of Elvis
A real catch
To me, he was ruddy and practical
Middle aged paunch and square glasses
But the disease made us both liars
He was shrunken

I was fourteen, the years in my life
Equal to the months in his death
I was fourteen, primed for my moment
In the spotlight of adolescence
But really of little use or effect
In our current circumstance
Which was dire
My brothers were older
Practically men
I couldn’t drive to hospital visits
Or take on part time work
Fourteen was a nuisance who still needed tending
Who couldn’t be trusted
Or leaned upon

When the end could not be postponed
There arose the matter of clothes
My brothers were excused
Because they could drive
Because they could work
Practically men
So this was my job
After all, what fourteen-year-old girl
Doesn’t like to shop
For clothes?
We spoke in a secret language:
Easter is coming, said Mom
And Dad needs a new suit
She knew the code
The clerk knew
I knew

I sat on a stool in the corner
Watching the arrayal
Knowing the casket was ready
A drape of ivory satin
A touch of dogwood carving
Our clerk was equal to the task
Offered up tweeds, checks, herringbones
Double breasted and single
How do I look? asked Dad
So I pictured him dressed and
Resting against that satin pillow
Forever after
In charcoal
Or navy

When the suit had been procured
Wine-colored and plaid
It was the 1970’s
Just ask anyone
We turned our attention to dresses
From the only posh shop in our rural town
A real treat
This time there was no secret code
After all, what would be the point?
We’d grown tired of pretending
And asked for something funereal
The sales girl was honored

You might wear this outfit again
She suggested helpfully
And oh, I scoffed
What woman would wear again a dress
That had seen her husband sent to the life beyond?
We would burn them
Mom’s sedate black and white-jacketed ensemble
With mine of light blue and green
Burn and bury the memories
Salt the earth afterward
But of course we didn’t
There would be no fire
No liturgy
No rite

When those days had passed into the past
Little was left to say
We were exhausted
And needed to move ahead
As survivors must
The funeral clothes occupied awkward space
Between artifact and awful reminder
My brothers, who had simply called on existing garments
Lost their leisure suits to merciful obsolescence|
Mom’s widow costume reverently wrapped in white tissue
Put away, neither seen nor forgotten
My blue and green frock donated to charity
But there is plaid
In Heaven




Ah, the 70’s.  The decade of disco.  Life before AIDS.  Internationally, we were concerned with terrorist activity by the IRA (Irish Republican Army), while here at home we were waging war against a far more frightening foe:  the VPL,  or Visible Panty Line.

Some guy got rich in the 1970's by selling magical panties to women with more money than brains.

If you didn’t grow up during the days of Star Wars, let me school you a bit.   The 1970’s were challenging times, underwear-wise.  There were no wonderbras, and there were no thongs.  The bra situation was kind of a wash though, since confident, liberated, young women felt free to jiggle away their days in bra-less glory.  But it was an unforgiveable fashion faux pas to allow the outline of your panties to be seen through your clothing.    Yes, I know it made absolutely no sense for girls to worry more about their panty lines showing than their nipples showing.  Neverthless, the VPL crisis was so critical that an entire line of undergarments, Underalls, was created just to preserve the image of a perfectly seamless behind. 

Or if you were me back in high school, you might have chosen occasionally to bypass the whole VPL threat simply by going commando. . . if you know what I mean.  And while letting nothing come between me and my favorite jeans never presented a problem, on the day I chose instead to wear my black suede pants it was a really, really stupid idea.

Rubens knew what was good.

Back in the day—before I blossomed into a Rubenesque mother-of-two—I had one of those cute, little rear ends that looked good in pants. Good enough, anyway, for me to buy a stylin’ 1970’s jumpsuit made of a beautifully soft, black, brushed suede.  I certainly wasn’t going to ruin the look of that bottom-hugging brushed suede jumpsuit by (gasp) letting the seams of my panties show through.  So. . .hello, commando.

It was still early in the school day when I noticed the chair at my desk feeling especially .  .  . chilly.  At some point in the morning, I had snagged the back of my pants just enough to rip open a two-inch section of seam, and my ass was, well—bare.  My blood ran cold. With a computer-like mind, I assessed the gravity of the situation.  As long as I sat there on my chair, no one would know anything was wrong.  But the minute I stood to walk to my next class, I would moon all of Clearfield High School.  And while I admit the idea of mooning my school was tempting, this wasn’t the way I wanted to do it.

My eyes darted around the room frantically.  Behind me sat Diana, a girl I’d known since childhood but with whom I hadn’t been close since were were in elementary school together.  Diana was wearing a long, wraparound sweater.  That would do perfectly!  Surely, she would help me for old times’ sake!  Hastily, I scribbled her a note: 

 Hi, Diana.  I really like your hair today.  By the way, I ripped out the back of my pants.  Could I borrow your sweater before class is over?  Thanx, Lisa

Diana turned out to be a real pal.  Not only did she slip me her sweater, but she blocked me from view as I wrapped the sweater around my body.  After class, Diana offered to walk with me to the home economics room, where there were lots of sewing machines and needles and thread.  It seemed like as good a plan as any, so I gratefully accepted Diana’s kindness. 

The home ec room was buzzing with students when we got there, students who were suspicious the minute Diana and I walked in sheepishly and talked to the teacher in grave, hushed tones.  Anxious to help, the teacher directed me to an area in the back of the room where there was a bit of privacy.  There, she said, I could remove my torn clothing and wait until she’d mended it.  Diana’s sweater was long enough to cover anything important, so bingo bango, problem solved.  Or so she thought.

See, I couldn’t just drop trou. . .it was a genuine 1970’s jumpsuit, after all, and to take it off I’d have to strip down completely.   And I was, as previously mentioned, going commando.  No way was I sitting there all pantiless with two dozen other high school students within arm’s reach—not even the modesty of Diana’s sweater could fix that. 

Shitshitshitshitshitshit, I thought helplessly as I walked past all those curious eyes toward the back of the room where I was expected to disrobe.  At the last minute, I spied a storage closet.  Sanctuary!  I flung open the door to the closet and climbed inside.  In the dark safety of the little closet, I shed Diana’s sweater just long enough to strip out of the pantsuit and hand it out to the teacher through the tiniest crack.  And there I sat, wearing nothing but that blessed sweater and repeating my mantra (shitshitshitshitshitshit) until the door creaked open again just enough for the newly mended garment to be handed back.

Redressed, I took a deep breath, held my head high, and stepped out of the storage closet to meet the gaze of an entire class.  To their credit, no one said a word; not the teacher, not Diana, not the other students.  If any of them suspected my reasons for hiding in the closet, they kept it to themselves.  Thank God there were no camera phones and no facebook back in the 70’s. 

So what did I learn that day?  Did my really, really stupid idea for avoiding VPL’s by abstaining from underwear result in a cathartic moment and behavior changed for my own good?

Not so much.  But are you really surprised?

This is me and my friend George outside the high school. Wasn't I cute as a button? Wasn't he? You're wondering if I was going commando, aren't you?