I remember once sidling up to my mother while she was comfortably sitting on the couch puffing on a cig and reading a book.
I sorta played like I was cozying up to her.
I snuggled in, looked around the room to see who was within earshot and then whispered up toward her good ear, “Ma … when am I gonna get to wear a bra?”
I watched her expression freeze with the cig just dangling from her lip as I saw the flurry of thoughts racing through her head: ‘OhmyGod … she’s just a child” “Is she gonna ask me where babies come from?” “I need a beer but I don’t drink…” “Why couldn’t she ask her father this question…or a neighbor?”
She gulped awkwardly and put the cig down in the ashtray that was perched on the arm of the sofa.
“Well,” she said softly, “probably when you start wearing deodorant.”
Huh? Deodorant? What the heck has that got to do with these little beestings of mine? Might as well have said “when pigs fly, darling….”
A commercial popped on the TV so little brothers’ attention was instantly drawn to the conversation going on behind them. They had both been laying on the floor with their chins propped in their hands, but had instantly turned around and assumed the sitting crosslegged position, with their radar detector ears honed in to the conversation.
I’m sure they heard the word “bra” and were alerted to something that was never discussed in a house with five boys and two girls.
My folks would blush if they heard the word “fart” or “poop,” so anything out of their realm of safe conversation would cause their hearts to start beating quickly and cigarettes being smoked at breakneck speed.
This was one of those times, but I’d been gearing up for this for about two years. I had stood in front of the mirror dozens of times asking my reflection that question in various tones. I’d get just so close to asking when my mother would bark something at someone, deflating my bravado. She carried a wooden spoon in her apron pocket, so I didn’t want to be within firing range of that thing at any time.
However, I knew that the question had to come out at some point, and I knew it had to be before I started high school. I couldn’t see myself walking through the halls of a high school with my Carter’s T-shirt showing under a frilly blouse. Nah uh.
So, upon hearing the sentence of “deodorant first,”,I slid off the couch and walked haggardly back to my bedroom.
Sister saw the look on my face and said, “You’re so stupid. You should have known better. Just buy one with your babysitting money.”
As if I would know what to buy. Most of my friends were wearing them, but stuffing them to the hilt.
Two weeks later, a box arrived from JCPenney. One set for me, one set for Sis. A half slip and some kind of bralette. Just enough of a bra to make myself look like I was heading in the right direction. No cups, mind you, just two triangles of white polyester with little pink rosebuds on them. Get it? Buds? Yeah.
I wore that thing 24/7. Wore it all day at school, wore it under my pajamas, wore it to bed .… I didn’t want to take it off when I got in the shower, but I did.
After a few weeks, my mother hollered at me down the hallway, “Ellie … where’s your bra? I need to wash it.”
I froze like a deer in the headlights. Now they all knew. Everyone in the house knew, and the neighbors on either side of us knew. Folks down at the commissary knew.
The secret was out.
I took off my shirt and unhooked the crazy implement that was a means toward womanhood.
I wrapped myself up in my bathrobe and carried in both hands to her as she tapped her foot by the washing machine.
She blushed just looking at it, shaking her head that I was making such a big deal about it.
It was a big deal. Then. Not now. Now it’s the first thing I take off when I come into the house. Not the shoes, the bra. Whew. Oh what a relief it is.
But I know how my mother felt when asked about “intimate” things.
When Sunnybuns recently asked when he was gonna be able to take a girl on a date, he being the ripe old age of 9, I swallowed awkwardly, looked him squarely in the eye and said, “When pigs fly, darling. When pigs fly.”