“I seen smallah”

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‘Alice’s Adventures in Underwear’

You just gotta love the Seventies. Well, at least I did. One reason was because in the Seventies, even in the Midwest where I was living at the time, underwear — at least of the brassiere type — was optional.

Me. In the Seventies. When I didn’t wear, um, glasses

See, I hate wearing a bra. Which is kind of funny because when I was 12 or 13 or thereabouts I could hardly wait to wear one. I remember feeling all embarrassed in PE (what you may have called “Phys Ed”) when we girls were changing into our bloomers (honest injun, we wore bloomers in PE) and I was the only one sporting an undershirt.

Do little girls still wear undershirts? Well, I’m sure as heck wearing one in the school photo at the top of this post. You can see its telltale outlines under that big “A”. (My Mom made that dress, and no, that letter “A” was not scarlet.)

Modeling (hah) my first bra. This was Confirmation Day, and that’s my Gramma and Grampa P

I begged my Mom to get me a bra — they called them “training bras” back then; what we were “training” for, I’ll never know — though I honestly didn’t need one. I’d stuff Kleenex into its Triple A cups so it wouldn’t moosh flat under my blouse, but when I  raised my hand in class the whole contraption would ride up practically to my shoulder.

That’s High-School Me — the one with the long hair — back when wearing a bra — and a pair of “nylons” too — was de rigueur

Speaking of contraptions, we’d also wear “nylons” and “garter belts”. (Look ’em up, O Lucky Ladies Who Don’t Know What Those Are.) And slips. Remember slips? They used to rustle and/or ride up, those being the days of Static Cling Before Static Guard. Instead we sprayed our slips with hair spray, like Aqua Net, which you probably don’t know about either. And no purse was complete without a little bottle of clear nail polish, a dab of which was used to halt the runs in our stockings. (That’s “ladders” to you UK readers; a much more descriptive term, in my opinion.)

This slip, along with that watch and those shades, was a gift. Yes, I still have all three, though do I wear any of them?

But back to Bra Trouble. I didn’t grow up near an ocean, but the public swimming pool was the center of summer social life. And owning a “cute” bathing suit was Very Important. Back then all bathing suits (which we called “swimming suits”) came with a bra built right in. This was a firm foam structure with a life of its own. If you were “frontally-challenged” like me, you learned to sort of squeeze your shoulders together to let some air in when exiting the water. Otherwise the cups would collapse and you’d look like you had little volcanoes strapped to your chest.

That’s foam-rubber-enhanced Me at Jantzen’s Resort. I’m thinking that’s my uber-glam Mom in black

Anyway. I was super-glad when the Seventies rolled around and bra-wearing, at least among My Set, was optional. Except for formal occasions, like my (first) wedding. (Yes, I was Married Once Before. You can read about it in “My Polio-Shot Marriage”.)

Time goes by, as is its wont. The Starter Marriage stopped, I moved to New York, met The Dude, had The Child. Huge “Etc.” goes here. But suffice it to say my topside stayed pretty much its same small self. Once I was with a friend (Hi Sande!) in the old Loehmann’s, the one with the communal dressing room. We were trying stuff on when she said “My goodness, you really are flat-chested!” Another time, while getting a mammogram, I was apologizing to the technician for making her job harder (there not being much to grab onto for positioning and all) when she — holding her clipboard and cracking her strawberry gum — looked me up and down and said, “Eh. I seen smallah.”

The dress I got at Loehmann’s that day. Which, yes, I still have. And still wear

And now, even though it’s no longer fashionable to go braless, I’m nevertheless able to get away with doing so pretty much most of the time. Though, you’ll no doubt be relieved to hear, I do draw the line, these days at least, at “topless”.

That’s me, the not topless person, next to my totally non-inhibited Dad

New York City. January 2019

Lucky Thirteen

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‘A match made in high school heaven’

I once read that some people are so freaked out by the number thirteen that many buildings just skip that floor. Kinda makes you think about that dentist on “14”, eh?

Well, apparently my parents weren’t freaked out — or maybe they just liked to tempt fate — because they were married on the thirteen. I don’t know how many times their anniversary fell on a Friday, but I do know that their umpteenth-gazillionth would have been this past Sunday. I say “would have been” because my Dad, unfortunately, is no longer with us to celebrate. Interestingly enough, The Dude’s parents also got married on the thirteenth. Of, maybe, November. (Why not ask The Dude, you’re probably thinking. Well, I did, and he said “Heck if I know.” Men.)

I called my Mom anyway, because hey, any excuse to call my Mom. She is remarkably fun to talk to. And it gave me a chance to quiz her on some family marital lore.

For example. I had always known that my Mom and Dad didn’t have a fancy wedding, but I wasn’t totally sure of the circumstances. Were they poor? Were their parents mad at them? Turns out that it was a Religious Thing. My Mom’s family was Lutheran (but you knew that), and my Dad’s was Catholic. Not Seriously Catholic, but enough to nix a Church Ceremony.

That’s my Dad, looking on as Someone Else gets to kiss a bride in a church wedding that’s not his

Also, I knew that my parents were high school sweethearts. I also knew that my Dad took my Mom to the prom in a milk truck. (The Henrys didn’t own a car, so yes, they were poor; not desperately poor, but perhaps enough to give a girl’s family pause.) I even knew that, out of a total of twelve kids in my parents’ graduating class, four couples married each other — and stayed married. That must have been some high school. What I didn’t know was that two of my Mom’s aunts didn’t, well, approve of my Dad.

That’s one of the Disapproving Aunts there on the left, posing with her sister, my Mom’s mom

One was my Gramma’s sister Annette. She’s the Aunt, you may recall from my story “Great Aunts and Glorified Rice”, who wore a hair net. Which is why we kids thought she was called “Aunt Net”. She was a Lutheran Deaconess, which is sort of like being a Nun but without the cool Sally Field outfit. So, natch, she wouldn’t have liked a Catholic Boy.

That’s Aunt Nellie in back next to my Mom’s Dad. She didn’t like my Mom’s BF either

The other one, Aunt Nellie, was, according to my Mom, “one of those people” who like to “boss other people around”. She’s not quite sure why Nellie wasn’t fond of her Boyfriend-before-he-was-my-Dad (maybe it was the Poor Family Thing?) but there you have it.

Could it really have been because my Dad was so devilishly, dangerously handsome?

Of course, my Mom wasn’t exactly hard on the eyes either.

My Mom during her Homecoming Queen days

I also knew that both my Mom and my Dad dated other people after high school. I discovered this scandalous fact when looking through a big box of old photos on a rainy day when I was a kid. “Who’s this guy?” I asked my Mom, discovering a snap of a guy with his arm around my Mom. “Oh, that’s Jim.”

Turns out Jim was totally smitten by my Mom when she was in nurse’s training. He had red hair, which you couldn’t tell from the photo, it being black-and-white. I remember being fascinated by this, since I didn’t know anyone with red hair. “Gee, if you had married Jim, would we have red hair?” I remember asking. I can’t remember how she answered us, but at least she had the good grace not to tell us that, red hair or not, we wouldn’t have existed if she’d married Jim.

My Mom, looking marvelously fetching during her nurse’s training and Jim-dating period

There really wasn’t much danger of Mom marrying Jim. For one thing, Mom’s Older Brother Ronald used to refer to him as “that pasty-faced redhead”. So there’s that. For another thing, according to Mom, Jim liked her more than she liked him.

So bye-bye Jim, and hello again Dale. They got married, disapproving Aunts be darned, on not-a-Friday Thirteenth. My Dad got his engineering degree — and me — at about the same time. After which they moved to, as I called it, “Vine Grove Tucky”, where they lived over a garage, and Dad (who was an ROTC Guy) was stationed at some air base.

Dad clutching his diploma — and me

Their marriage went on to be full of many adventures — way too many to relate in one measly Tuesday-after-their-anniversary post. (Check out “Kissing Daddy Good-Night” for a real doozy.)

And so what if they didn’t have a fancy wedding? They sure got to go to plenty. Here they are enjoying my Middle Younger Brother Roger’s. Looks like my Dad has the same smile on his face as he did at his own wedding lo these many years ago.

Living it up at Roger and Jenn’s wedding

New York City. January 2019

“He’s breathing my air”

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‘An ode to siblings and their rivalry’

When I was a kid there was this show on TV called ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’. It was a pretty groundbreaking show at the time. But not so groundbreaking that my parents didn’t absolutely adore it. Their favorite part was when Tommy would say to his brother Dick “Mom always loved you best.”

I’m thinking they dug this because they both had plenty of siblings, and thus could relate. Of course, having plenty of siblings was the rule rather than the exception in those days. At least where my family was from, parents needed lots of little ones to help out on the farm with chores. And (gasp) there was always the risk that some of them wouldn’t (ahem) “make it”. So you had to have a few “spares”. You know, “just in case”. I can remember my Gramma P talking about her little un-siblings Pearl and Edward. Bless ’em, they “failed to thrive”.

Gramma (right) with one of her two sisters, Aunt Net. She also had a brother, Uncle Warren, who “made it”. Well, except for the arm he lost in a farming accident

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A look back: The Guy before The Dude

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‘My short first marriage, in short. Sort of.’

I’ve written about my first marriage before. Specifically, about how I (finally) revealed to The Child the fact that I’d had a Husband Before Daddy. It’s a pretty funny story. Now. Though it was pretty traumatic for the poor Child at the time.

It’s weird to think that your mom had a life before you existed–that she locked her brother in the pantry and tricked her father into letting her go to the drive-in and smoked in the car (just one time, but still) to provoke her mother–much less that she was actually legally wed to Another Person Not Your Parent.

Me, after having been wed to a Person Other Than The Child’s Parent. In my extremely hot, extremely (in retrospect) inappropriate-for-August-in-Southern-Illinois gown

And even though my first marriage lasted only a very short time–I’ve had cars longer than I had that husband–it was still a Real Marriage. There was a Real Wedding, complete with rehearsal (see the top of this post for a photo of us practicing our vows with Pastor Kahre), in my hometown church. With six friends and relations as bridesmaids in homemade-but-pretty dresses, and a reception with a tiered cake and boozeless-but-punchy punch. So I think this marriage deserves, at the very least, its own blog piece. Continue reading

Some like it hot

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‘A lifetime of summers spent sweetly sweltering’

The Dude and I were sharing an outdoor dinner with some Fabulous Friends (thank you again, A and T!) when our hostess pointed out a passel of birds doing a parabolic dance in the sky.

“Oh, those are swallows,” Dude Man informed us. “They do that swarming thing to get ready to migrate. It’s a Sign of Fall.”

“Oh noooooo!” A and I immediately groaned. “Not Fall. We’re so not ready for Fall!

Hot Family Reunion. My Favorite Sister and I keeping cool out on a porch

See, I have friends who pine for autumn leaves and who count the days until Christmas. Friends who Hate Being Hot. But A and I fall (pun intended) into that group of People Who Believe Summer Can Never Be Long Enough.

Hot Recreation. That’s Teenage Me (and is that my Mom??) enjoying the heated pleasures of Jantzen’s Resort

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No bottles, no binkies. Just Beach Boys

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‘Why being an Aunt is so Great’

I was going to write yet another post about our Ugandan Trip, to be titled (wait for it) ‘Gorilla My Dreams‘. But then some other little monkeys intervened.

The little Ugandan monkeys who wanted to visit me in the worst way. And ‘worst way’ it would have been, had I acquiesced

The monkeys in question would be my (gulp) great-nieces. They are the absolutely adorbs spawn of my Nephew-By-Marriage and his Thank-God-He-Married-Her equally adorbs wife. I, of course, leave out Actual Names in this blog. But these are The Ones Who Own the Chocolate Factory. (When you’re done reading this story, check out their chocolate. Literally.)

The Monkeys in Question. Right after Numero Tres was added to the mix

Those of you who read my stories regularly (your reward awaits in Heaven) know that I have a large and much-beloved family. My Henry side gave me four-count-em-four aunts (and that’s only counting my Dad’s sisters; there were four other aunts-in-law). Continue reading

How many people can you pack into a gazebo?

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‘No one knows — because no one has ever tried.’

Some time ago (in a piece called ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’) I wrote about stuff that families find funny. (Usually, but not always, it’s only the people actually in that family who find these things funny.) Sometimes, like in the Henry Clan, it’s bad puns. My Grampa Henry had a whole collection of particularly-awful puns. Plus dirty limericks. He wrote one once about his gall-bladder operation. He survived; fortunately, the limerick did not.

Me. Doing stand-up in a bed of you-know-what. Check out ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’ for more punishment (er, examples)

Besides awful puns (and sometimes limericks) there’s usually a set of inside jokes — groaners that never fail to amuse, at least when told (and retold) within the confines of the family itself. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “How many dead people are in that graveyard?” (Answer: “All of them.”) I know, I know. If you can stand it, a good selection of both Henry and Whitmore specialties can be found in ‘Kangaroo Walks Into A Bar’. Just don’t take a sip of coffee before you read it; there’s a Whitmore urology joke that’s killer.

Sometimes this funny family stuff can’t be categorized as a pun or a joke or even a limerick. Sometimes what’s funny just is.

Take gazebos. For some reason, if you’re a Henry, the mere sight of a gazebo is sure to crack you up. (If you’re not sure what a gazebo is, you can click here or just look at the photo at the top of this post.) If a Henry sees a gazebo, and points it out to a fellow Henry, both burst out laughing. If there’s a non-Henry along, he/she can look a bit baffled. Continue reading

Paradise by the kitchen light

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‘Meatloaf again. Or maybe chili this time.’

It’s my darned fault it’s been so chilly here in the Northeast. Not only did I stow my chili (speaking of ‘chilly’) pot away, but I put my meatloaf pans in mothballs. Figuratively, that is. It’s sort of like what happened last week when I took our big fat comforter to the cleaners. It snowed.

But back to the kitchen. When the weather’s cold, there’s nothing we Henrys like better than a big ole batch of Anything Made With Ground Meat. Of course, my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, being a Californian, scorns chili made with ground meat. But the rest of us slurp it up like gangbusters. (I’m featuring a photo of a large pot of a late great batch right there at the top of this post.)

When I was growing up, my Mom made chili a lot. Her recipe for chili was the same as her recipe for spaghetti sauce — except that the chili had beans. Continue reading

The Red Shoes (on)

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‘When saying it wrong is too cute to correct’

I was feeling kind of empty, the Australian Open being over and all (oh where will I get my Federer Fix?), so I called my Mom.

(Let me say right off the bat that I am ever so grateful to have a Mom, and that having one as smart and funny and almost-always-available by iPhone as mine is, well that’s just cosmic icing on the cake.)

So, anyway. After discussing various relatives and their illnesses and books and movies and baseball (she doesn’t follow tennis, but I love her anyway), and the Fate of the Nation in General, we got around to my blog. And the fact that my Mom had, yet again, tried to post a comment that didn’t ‘take’. (We won’t go into technical details, except to note that my Mom is extremely tech-savvy, more than I am, in fact. She has personally designed her own emoji. So I am stymied about why/how she can’t post comments. Sigh.)

My Mom and Dad and my Peterson Grandparents, when I was adorably small and in no need of shoes, red or not red

Her comment? It was in reference to last week’s post which, if you recall, was about me feeling like it was about time already to be giving away certain stuff in my closet and was titled ‘At least it’s not a dead-squirrel stole’. Continue reading

Yes, there are plenty of fish in the sea.

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‘I know because I had my share of stinkers.’

I don’t want to embarrass The Child. Well, not any more than I have to. But I must say that she has excellent taste in boyfriends. So far, fingers-and-all-toes fervently crossed, she has managed to choose ‘dates’ who have not inspired The Dude or me to put on that Fake Nice-to-Meet-You Face. Or not very often, anyway.

(I put ‘dates’ in quotes because I don’t think that’s what Young People call ‘guys you go out with’. But, for my purposes today, it’ll have to do.)

Now, before I dig myself in deep here, let me say that this is not going to be a story about The Child and her ‘dates’. (I can hear her ‘whew’ all the way from Cambridge.) Nope. It’s going to be about me and mine. Continue reading