I can see it still as if it’s hanging in my closet. The cherry red taffeta petticoat, trimmed with narrow black lace at the hem and hips. The single button at the waist. The way the petticoat made my princess styled dress stand out perfectly from the waist. It accentuated what nature provided to a 13 year old, a slim tiny waist, not yet trashed by four pregnancies. One long zipper hugged my young body from the neckline to mid-hips. I thought I looked adorable. In fact, I knew I looked adorable. Was I going to a dance or party? No, just on my way to High Holiday services at our temple.
My mother upped the ante for the high holidays and their importance. Observation of them by attending religious services was a given. As was a new dress. If you were a grown woman, put a new hat in the mix. The fancier the better. Remember this was the 1950’s. Any idea that I might not want to attend services was kept to myself.
There were separate really dull services for children downstairs in the social hall. The synagogue itself was reserved for adults.
The best things about the synagogue interior were the stained glass windows which I liked to look at. It felt a lot more spiritual than the downstairs generic social hall.The services themselves were boring for me.I did like the moments when the congregation rose together to sing the shema prayer. the Shema is recited aloud as: Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is One.” The literal word meanings are roughly as follows: Sh’ma: literally means listen, heed, or hear and do.
The little bit of Hebrew I understood allowed me to put my whole self into this short prayer, feeling as if I were a real Jew. I always sang out lustily. It always moved me to the point of getting tears in my eyes. That’s one of life’s mysteries.
Half of the congregation walked out of the sanctuary to take a break after the Rabbi’s sermon. The adult women strolled out with all their holiday finery of display, a few flaunting mink stoles, nodding and waving to everyone they knew who was still seated.
Strategically, to miss the crowd, I decided to walk out a little sooner than everyone else. I guess I wanted the stage for myself. I was the only moving thing in the one main aisle. Feeling pretty good about myself, I began the fairly long trek to the back door of the sanctuary. About ⅓ of the way, I sneezed loudly. I immediately felt the single button at the waist pop off! Many eyes turned to look. The red petticoat began to slide down my legs immediately with nothing to stop it. I grasped at my dress as it slid lower and lower. No matter how hard I clutched my dress, I couldn’t stop the petticoat’s ultimate descent.
By the time the petticoat reached my ankles, I was compelled to face reality, or trip on the damn thing and fall on my face. Nearing the end of the aisle, I stopped, let the petticoat drop, bent over, stepped out of it and swept it up over my arm to carry it out the door as if that’s what I’d intended all along. I dare not look at the parishioners to see if anyone was watching. I remember being horrified, but quickly thought it was funny. For the remainder of the morning service, the petticoat was over my arm.
There were no cameras to record the incident, but I’ve never forgotten it. Maybe an early lesson on the foolishness of vanity?
Each year, when the High Holidays roll around, I remember the bright red petticoat. It was only worn once.