Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ma's Brassiere

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I've been trying to get a post written somewhere other than my head but can't seem to accomplish that for a variety of reasons...namely needing to reinstall windows 3 times in the past week and fearing that a 4th is imminent. (And NO, I did NOT upgrade to Vista.)

That being said, I'm going to leave you with one of my favorite short stories. What you should know about my writing: It is basically the truth with the names changed to protect the guilty. I believe the in vogue name for it is "Faction."

Hope you enjoy.

Ma’s Brassiere
By Holly Dare (copyright 2005)

“I want a brassiere,” my grandmother said matter-of- factly between bites of mashed potatoes and the dehydrated mass they call Salisbury steak at the nursing home where she lives. She said it as calmly as if she had asked us to pass the salt.

My mother and I sit there, mouths agape, not certain we heard her correctly. Mother looks at me with her best have I lost my mind look and asks her mother, “You want what?”

“A brassiere. Can ya get me one?”

Mother’s head was shaking left and right in a non verbal no as she answered slowly. “Well… yes, I can get you one …but why on earth would you want it?

“I just do,” was all she’d say.

I suspect the answer is not that simple. Ma has a boyfriend. I am certain she wants it because her main competition at the nursing home is a very svelte lady named Ethel. Ethel is always dressed to the nines.

But still – a bra? Ma always looked rather flat-chested to me. She didn’t have the “big ole’ good ‘uns” as my father called my mother’s breasts. Maybe she is hopin’ for some of that liftin and separatin’ I had seen advertised on t.v. Being a young woman of twelve, I’ve got my first brassiere. After the novelty of having it wore off and the reality of the boys in my junior high hallway unclasping it as I walked to class with an armload of books set in, I pretty much hate the contraption. I just can’t understand why anyone who had managed to make it eighty five years without wearing a bra would suddenly want one. Besides, who would deliberately add another layer of clothing in the Mississippi humidity?

Maybe she’s just decided to live a little. Ma took to her bed when Pa died back in 1960 – four years before I was born. She spent six years there waitin’ to die. “I just want to be with my Kirb,” she’d say over and over. Old age had mellowed her and Pa and they were in love like when they were newlyweds at the time he passed on. It was as if all the times she and the kids had to sleep in the cornfield when he came home drunk and lookin’ for a fight never happened. Or all the times she left him alone with the six children to raise while she explored Texas and California for months on end had been forgiven.

When she finally figured out that death wasn’t gonna come knockin’ on her schedule, she was too feeble to care for herself. She would fall a lot and all of her children worked. So Mother brought her to this dismal nursing home near our house in McComb.

At first she hated it and was determined to go back home. Mother and I would find her sittin’ on the front porch of the nursing home starin’ up the big hill on Locust St. It was as if she was sizing it up, tryin’ to figure out how to get up that hill and on back to Tylertown. She shared a room with an invalid named Louise Thompson. Ma had the bright half of the room with a window looking out onto a courtyard. But the room was tiny and she had no room for a suitcase. So she took to wearin’ her clothes – all of ‘em. Which is quite somethin’ in the Mississippi summer. We once found her sittin’ on that porch wearing her winter coat, two sweaters, fourteen dresses – the record was seventeen – and two slips.

This went on for a year or so. An arts and crafts program got her feelin’ more at home and pretty soon ever’one in our extended family had all the egg carton wastebaskets and lamps we could handle. Ma started selling her stuff and was right proud of the pocket money she earned.

But Ma was a hard-headed woman once she got an idea in her head. And she pretty much did what she damn well pleased, which is why we knew there was no talkin’ her out of the bra.

Ma was twelfth of sixteen children. She and her older sister Addy were barely ten months apart in age and grew up thick as thieves. They both dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help out on their father’s farm. Shortly after, Addy’s boyfriend proposed to her and she married. Even with a houseful of siblings, Ma was still lonely. So she went out and found a boy to marry her.

Her husband was in his early twenties and had done well for himself, managing to save enough money to buy a farm of his own. Ma set about bein’ a good farmer’s wife. She would rise before dawn to fire up the old wood stove to make biscuits and fry up bacon and eggs. Her husband – no one in my family ever knew his name- would head off to the fields and Ma would tidy up their two room shack. She’d slop the hogs and then feed and water the chickens and turkeys and be off the fields to help out. As the sun would start to set, most farm wives would head to the house to start supper. But Ma was not allowed to do this. Her husband was the jealous type and did not want her anywhere he could not see her. If she had mending or clothes to sew, she had to bring them to the field to work on. This did not set well with Ma. But she was determined to be a good wife and went along with his bizarre wishes - for a while.

The end came when her older brother, Edo, got married. Edo had met Susie Whitaker in Tylertown. Susie had come south from Missouri as a nurse in the army. When she ended her tour of duty on the Gulf Coast, she had bought a bus ticket to take as far north as she could get. That was Tylertown. The bus station was just a two block walk from the hospital. She took a room at the Brumfield boarding house and then she met Edo. Being a good farmer, Edo married Susie in the dead of winter so that he could take her away for a proper honeymoon. The family surprised them both with enough money to make it to Missouri and back so Susie could see her family for the first time in years. Their four week trip turned into six as Edo got on well with his new in-laws and was pleased to see his bride so happy. Ma and all her siblings missed Edo somethin’ fierce. Everyone had gathered at the family home for Edo and Susie’s arrival from Missouri. When Edo stepped out of his truck, Ma was the first one to kiss him. That’s when the trouble started. Ma’s husband was astonished to see all of his in-laws kissing Edo and Susie right smack on the mouth. He accused them all of incest! Ma did not go home with him. Now she knew at this point she was considered a “had” woman and that no man in his right mind would ever marry her, but, she just did not care. Even though her sisters begged her to try and work it out, she refused. “I ain’t gonna live with no man that cain’t trust me! ‘sides, Ma and Pa are getting’ older. I’ll be the one to see after ‘em.”

And with that, she decided her future. At least the next ten years of it. If she ever spoke of her first husband, all she’d say was, “It’s amazin’ I never got p.g. by him.” She always had a smile on her face and twinkle in her eye when she said it. I would look awkwardly at the floor, shocked that she was talkin’ about sex to me.

She was an old lady of twenty six when my grandfather rode into her life on a fine specimen of a horse. He fell for her at first sight. Ma’d been sittin’ on the front porch, shelling butter beans when she decided to take her hair down in the cool afternoon breeze and give it the daily one hundred strokes. She was gorgeous in her colorful, handmade dress with her dark black hair flowing below her waist and framing her pale face so that her green eyes sparkled like emeralds.

Kirby Smith was equally as handsome with dark, tanned skin and eyes as black as his dark hair. His Scotch Irish side, although not apparent in his looks, gave him a taste for whiskey. His ruggedly handsome appearance favored more the four Indian tribes that ran through is bloodline. That made the whiskey a bad idea. Considered an oddity in the community, he was still single at twenty-six. Yet he ran his daddy’s farm and had 160 acres of his own. Kirby was considered quite the catch. He pulled the reins and stopped his steed abruptly in front of the house.

“Pardon me miss, but have you seen any cattle roaming loose? I’m missin’ ‘bout ten head from my daddy’s herd.

“No I can’t say as I have and I’ve been sittin’ here all afternoon.”

“Well, thank you anyway.” Kirby got all shy and rode off.

That night, there was a knock at the door. Ma opened it there stood Kirby, clutching some wildflowers he had picked for her and a basket of vegetables he had brought for Ma’s ma. “Howdy miss. May I speak to yer Pa?”

Most of their courtin’ was done in her father’s parlor. Her past or her head-strong ways did not matter to him. They married a few months later. The early years were good. They were followed by years of Pa drinkin’ too much and Ma gettin’ fed up and leavin’ but she would always come back. The bad times were buried with him and she saw their fifty plus years through rose colored glasses. So I find it somewhat astounding that she has taken interest in another man – especially one she would be willing to don a bra for.

We walk her back to her room and she’s still talkin’ about the bra when my mother confesses, “Ma, I have no idea what size to buy you. I’ll just have to bring a tape measure next time we come.” This is a ploy on my mother’s part. She will forget that tape measure next time and the time after that, hoping that her mother will forget. But Ma is on to her.

“Honey,” Ma says to me, “go out to the front desk and ask for Nurse Wilson. She likes to sew and she’s got a measure in her pocketbook.”

I find Nurse Wilson and am soon back in my grandmother’s room.

Mother looks at me, exasperated, and turns to undress my grandmother. I look away as my mother stoops to wrap the measure around Ma’s chest.

“Here, hold this one for me. Now, lift this one up…Now hold ‘em up high. I have to get the measure around your chest.” My mother gets the number and writes it down in the back of her checkbook. “Now we have to measure from the top to the nipple.”

I walk out in the hall and shut the door but I can still hear them. “Now we have to measure around each one.” I decide to stand by the door across the hall.

My mother emerges shortly, checkbook notes in hand. We get in the car and head to the Kelwood Factory Store. Kelwood makes all kinds of ladies lingerie and the factory store sells them for a fair price. You can buy it much cheaper than if you drove into town to the J.C. Penney or the Sears Roebuck. We go inside and mother explains the situation to the gentleman behind the counter. I make myself busy in the panty section, wanting no part of this.

“Holly, come on. I’m ready.” Mother is by the door, package in hand.

We get in the car. “I think we oughta go back over t’ the home and take this to ‘er. She seems to want it so bad.”

“Did you find her size?” I ask.

Mother laughs, “Yeah! She’s a 44 double E!!

I look at mother in astonishment. How could this be? “That’s bigger than you are!!”

“I know!!”

As we drive, I stare at the road and ponder the impossibility of the size of Ma’s breasts. I finally conclude that Mother must have measured wrong.

We arrive and Mother takes Ma in the bathroom. I hear a series of grunts and then Ma says, “How does this thing work?”

“It snaps in the back but it’s best to put it on upside down and backwards. You can snap it and then turn it around. You lift the straps up on your arms and then adjust your boobs.”

I was praying no one in the adjoining room could hear them. I decide to take a walk. I come back into Ma’s room a few minutes later and there she is… sitting up straight and proper with boobies big enough to set her lunch tray on!!! And a skinny waist!!! This is NOT my grandmother.

“Where did those come from??” I ask to no one in particular.

My mother answers, “Well she had ‘em all along… there’s no paddin’ in there!”

Mother and I stand side by side, admiring my grandmother’s new body, awed by the transformation.

“But Mother, where were they before?”

“Well honey, that was her waist.” I look up at her, more confused than ever. “That’s what happens when you don’t wear a bra and breast feed six children.”

I make a silent vow to always wear my bra and never to breast feed.

But while we were talkin’ Ma started squirming. “Cather’ne, take this blasted thang off me.”

Mother rushes to Ma’s side, “What’s wrong Ma?”

“This thing hurts! Take it off me, NOW!”

And with that, Ma’s brassiere wearing days were over. After all, Ma was the type of woman who would choose her family’s trust and affection over an unloving husband; she chose divorce in an era when it was socially unacceptable; she chose flights of her own fancy, husband and children be damned. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that she would choose comfort over a chance to win her beau’s affections. And if her potential beau liked her any less, that was just his loss. After all, Ma had hidden assets.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story! And a terrific glimpse into farm life and social restrictions. Thanks so much for sharing it. Carmon

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Carmon, Thanks for reading and commenting... didn't realize quite how long that "short" story was.


Linda@VS said...

Holly, this was such a fun story! You told it so vividly that I could just picture Ma standing there in the nursing home with her newly tiny waist and big bazooms. Thanks for the smiles!

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Velvet, Glad you liked it. It really was something to see...

Anonymous said...

Holly, this is hilarious! lol
I'd love to meet your 'Ma' - what a woman! You are one good story teller, girl!