Monday, July 05, 2010


My feet ached for the first five years of my life and I blame it on the fact that they crammed my feet into Helma's shoes. She had tiny feet and only wore a size 4 even when she had attained adulthood. To this day, my toes are curled inward, even though they no longer ache. Like the Chinese woman whose feet are bound, one eventually adjusts to the pain.

We always wore hand-me-down clothing or wore the dresses Mom made out of flour sacks. Back then, flour sacks were large fifty-pounders, stored in decorative material that Mom rescued after the flour was used in making biscuits and her sugar cookies and sewed into shirts and dresses Deed went to school in colorful floral shirts, and Helma and I were decked out in these homemade dresses that may have been patchwork but we proudly wore them.

I remember one dress that is immortalized in several pictures. Instead of discarding it when I outgrew the garment, Mom simply let out the hem and seams and then the dress could be used for another year. I have seen pictures of myself at different ages, wearing that same dress in its various sizes. Mom saved it for special occasions, for Sunday school meetings or trips to a relative's home.

Years later, I fell in love with a dress that was owned by Donna, my neice. It was black and beautiful, stitched to perfection, an Alexander McQueen, a far cry from the dress I remember from my childhood. Donna, always generous, allowed me to wear The Dress on several occasions and so I went forth in style, wearing this dress that probably cost more than most men earned in a year.

Then Donna decided that I was wearing The Dress more than she wore it and calmly asked me to leave it hanging in her closet. I complied, but my heart was broken. I loved The Dress more than any of my various boyfriends. So I was demoted back to my usual garb, left with memories of The Dress.

As for boyfriends, I had just a few, an assortment of characters I remember to this day. I met a fellow with an impressive car. It had a skylight on its top, which made it possible to stand up at football games, while remaining protected from the cold weather from the shoulders down. Even though this boy was about the homeliest fellow I had ever encountered, I went with him throughout the football season. Sometimes a girl has to think of comfort instead of lively company.

My first kiss was from a boy named Al. It is not a memory I cherish, for Al had teeth so yellow they looked like daffodils and his breath was rancid. He walked me home from the movies one day, a two mile trek. We were chatting comfortably when suddenly he grabbed me and landed a kiss on my mouth. I almost retched! It wasn't Al himself, because he was a nice enough fellow. It was those yellow teeth and that terrible breath that turned my first kiss into a traumatic experience I still remember with a shudder.

Then, too, there was Hubert and Bud. I roamed the city, getting one lousy job after another, and everywhere I looked, it seemed that they were there. It was difficult being the belle of the ball with two brothers who lurked like mysterious shadows. If I stood on a street corner chatting with a guy, convinced I was both charming and irresistible, I would glance over my shoulder and there would be Bud, staring at me with those dark, deep set eyes. Then, too, one day I took a pack of cigarettes into a cafe, lit one up in my most sophisticated fashion, then looked over the side of the booth where I sat and encountered two green eyes watching me. Hubert never said a word about my cigarette habit to Mom, but he ruined my moment as a high-classed gal, on a par with Veronica Lake and those beautiful women on the silver screen. With Hubert or Bud watching me, I once again became that plain, dumpy country girl.

Of course, I wanted to be a movie star, the likes of Judy Garland who sang so beautifully. So, I would walk down to the lake and stand on the old, gray, gnarled picnic table, slanting as it was, with boards rotting through. I would stand up there like Judy on a stage and warble my song as professionally as I could, holding out my arms and dancing around, careful to keep my balance on the old table. One time I finished my song, and heard the sound of applause. There was a moment of shock, then I looked in the direction of the sound of clapping and there was Joe Bernardi, my brother in law, smiling and applauding my effort.

This embarrassing moment remains in my mind, because slowly, painfully, one gives up his dreams. I did not reach movie stardom, I did not rival Judy Garland, I did not accomplish my goal of living in Hollywood. I did not escape Bud and Hubert, who joined together to make my life miserable. I finally had to admit I was a 17 year old failure, not an actress, not a singer, not a high fashion model, just an ordinary girl with more dreams than talent, the tail end of a huge family, afflicted by brothers who found me amusing.

So even today, seventeen year old girls dream, fueled by Mylee Cyrus and Jennifer Aniston and all the stars and models that fill their imaginary world. It's a rite of passage, a phase of living...and about twenty years later, you finally learn that you may not be rich or famous, but you are yourself, unique as we all are, capable of love and laughter and surmounting life's problems all of the things that count in this world!