Remembering Bess

undergarments 1950's
My Mom center, L daughter Lara  and R daughter Brett .

We’d always celebrated my Mother’s birthday on January 3, until she informed us one day that she learned upon  getting a copy of her birth certificate, that her birthday was really January 2!  We all shook our heads in disbelief, but there it was in black and white, Jan 2.  These days, since she is no longer living, I tend to think of either or both days as her birthday.  This time of year triggers memories of Bess.

I easily remember her coming into my bedroom before she went to sleep , to kiss me goodnight. I always pretended to be sleeping, but waited patiently most nights for her sweet kiss.  What a nice game. I never did ask her if she realized, I’d been awake, all those times.

I loved to watch her get dressed to go out with my Dad.  Her bedroom, next to the bathroom, a little misty from the shower she’d just taken.  The door to her closet which held the only full length mirror in the house, would be ajar as she checked her progress.  Those were the years when a woman’s undergarments set the foundation for a well dressed woman. For a young girl watching the armor  applied to tame the mature feminine body, it was nothing less than fascinating.undergarments 1950's

 

My mother never ever got dressed without pulling on her girdle first.  When I questioned her about the procedure, she told me in no uncertain terms that she felt undressed with out it. I took her word for it and stopped inquiring.

Following her lead, when I became an adolescent, I decided I needed a girdle as well before going out on a date.  As a dancer, at this time of my life, I was very slender.  My Mom tried to tell me I didn’t need it, but I would have none of her reassurances.  The purchase of a girdle was a right of passage and I was hell bent on wearing one.

I got a stomachache midway through the date evening, excused myself, went to the bathroom and quickly pulled off the now loathsome girdle placing it in the trashcan, before returning to my date. Liberated!

Mom’s summer cologne in those years was usually Mary Chess, white lilac.  My love of the scent of lilacs equaled or surpassed hers and I too wore Mary Chess until it stopped being produced in the early ’60’s.

The choice of shoes completed her outfit and preparation.  She had about a dozen options, neatly displayed on her closet floor.  Years later, her oldest toddling granddaughter was attracted to that closet as if by a magnet.  She’d chose her (Mom’s)shoes to wear by some mysterious process and proceed to wear them around the second floor of my Mom’s house for several hours.  Mom never objected.

Today, I wonder how my Mom’s life might have been different if she’d been born a decade or two later.  She was one of the few working women I knew.  All of my friend’s moms were stay at home.

Mom put a lot of energy into making her home attractive and vibrant.  She boldly painted her kitchen ceiling red. She did not hesitate to go all white in her living room, reupholstering and recarpeting as needed.  The only caveat was it was not a room for children, only for company.  If kids tried to skirt the rule she’d quickly ask them to leave.  She cleverly converted New England antiques into working partners in achieving the look she sought.

She always needed and wanted a broader life, but my Dad insisted that if she was to work, it could only be for him, as a cashier in his grocery store.  I know she had bigger dreams, but never went after them.  She adored my father and stayed by his side, seldom complaining except when he spent most of Sunday golfing.  All through my childhood, she repeated to me, “Get out of Holyoke!”

I got the message along with the Mary Chess.

 

Things My Mother Told Me

It’s just as easy to do something right the first time. (Not true.  The trick is to try again.)

It’s just as easy to marry a rich man as a poor man.  (no comment.)

Let that be a lesson for you.  (It usually was)

Don’t come crying to me when…( I rarely did, as I remember.)

‘All right, but don’t come crying to me when you fall down.’

If you can’t say something nice about anyone, don’t say anything.(Still think of his one.)

You’re so selfish. (OUch!  hey I was a teen ager!  but, Essentially correct.)

You’re capable of being right on top. A straight A student if you really tried. (I didn’t really care, nor did I really try.)

I bend over backwards for you and all I get is a kick in the pants. (I think she must have meant forward.)

Don’t wear dirty sneakers.  ( I just ignored this mandate.)  Along with, “Go upstairs and change your shoes!)

Mothers have eyes in the backs of their head. (I believed it!) (Still do.)

I put you on a pedestal and you knock yourself off.  (so true, I didn’t like being on a damn pedestal.)

Waitressing:  It’s not a job for a nice Jewish girl. (The answer I’d get when I asked to go to the Cape to waitress for the summer with a non-Jewish friend.)

OK, what are YOURS?

The T Club Flashback

Flashback!  The year, 1960.or ’61.  The sound, jazz. The feel, beatnik wanna be.  The setting, a dingy nightclub under railroad tracks in run down industrial city.

It was the T Club.  I had one or two friends who I could easily convince to come along with me.  In order to get there, I had to get my Mother’s car.  That required some white lies, which I could easily justify to myself.   If I had told Mom the truth, she’d never would say yes. She probably would think I’d lost my mind.

It was a summer thing.  About once a week.  Head up a very long and dark flight of stairs to the closed-door at the top of the stairs.  Enter the dark and smoky T Club.  Take a seat at a small table near the stage.  Order cocktail(s). No id’s required. Smoke ciggies. Feel very devil-may-care.  Look around to see if my current crush might be there.  Rarely, but one could hope.  Zone out to the sound of jazz.  Look cool.  Feel cool. We didn’t call ourselves beatniks, but we were under the influence for sure. Continue reading “The T Club Flashback”

Key WEST Many Years Later

What is it that attracts us to a place?  Does it remain the same through life?

Last year, after a long hiatus, my husband and I decided to vacation in Key West.  We used to come here for a yearly getaway while living in college and then when newly married. In the 1950’s it seemed more remote than it does today, traffic and development have increased with few benefits that I can see.  It could be easy to fall into the “you should have seen it 50 years ago syndrome,” but my memory is not keen enough to have a clear image of what it all used to look like.  All that I really recalled clearly was the lure of the oceans surrounding the keys.  Depending on where you live and your life experiences, Key West probably means different things to you than it does to me.

If from the West Coast, probably nothing.

If from the East or Mid-West:

T shirt shoppes, bad art galleries and thousands of cruise passengers looking for Paradise on Duval Street?

If of a certain age:

Lily Pulitzer? Sloppy Joes?

yummy Lily fabric designs

Ernest Hemingway/Tennessee Williams/literary history (It’s almost an obsession here.  Stay away from his house if you’re allergic to cats.)

If still in college:

Drunken revelers?

To everyone:

Gorgeous sunsets? water, water? blue, aquamarine, turquoise.  JImmy Buffett

 

Key lime pie? Stone crabs?

Kermits key lime pie, do partake!

cigars?sponges? wreckers?

overseas railroad?

roosters?  Roosters and chickens can appear anywhere at any time.  It adds to the Bahamian feel of the place.  Sometimes they frighten me if they all of a sudden crow loudly when I don’t see them in nearby bushes. I imagine them snickering at me from their hiding spots when they see me jump in fear.

I had a few hazy memories of Key West in the early ’60’s, nothing that matches  the current reality. No matter.  Many of the things I’m drawn to are intact.  This trip, I was blown away by the numbers of historic buildings here.  Stuff rarely got torn town so that most everything that survived the fire of the late 1880’s is still remaining. Thanks to the lgbt community, the once dilapidated remains have largely been restored and probably never looked better. Key West now has the largest number of wooden historic houses of any town or city in the USA.

Continue reading “Key WEST Many Years Later”