Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mother attempts to transform her ugly duckling

Possibly as a response to their daughter shedding her drawers on the cafeteria steps, my parents caucused in their bedroom one night. They were apparently unaware that their daughter was awake at 1 a.m., reading a book under a .2 watt bulb in her nightlight. After bemoaning the fact that I was painfully shy, clumsy, and disinclined to "fix myself up," a plan was formulated. Daddy had recently joined the Masons and he thought their adolescent female branch, the Rainbow Girls, would be just the ticket. Mama was skeptical until he pointed out that the girls all dressed up once a month for the formal meeting. Mama practically hummed with excitement: an opportunity to teach her daughter how to look good. Before I finished my book, they enrolled me.

Most of my time at Rainbow Girls was spent sorting out who exactly these girls were. Instead of saying "Hi, I'm Susan" they would refer to themselves by their titles. In quick succession I met Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, Faith, Hope, Charity, and a variety of flag bearers. I never did learn their actual names and never, ever saw them in school. I suspect there was a secret Rainbow Girl High School somewhere. I spent a great deal of time in meetings trying to figure out why the officers, all dressed in white, kept marching around the room. We'd open the meeting with marching, then sing, then there would be more marching, then a recitation, then more marching.

I was sitting on the sidelines, daydreaming as usual, when the Worthy Advisor ( a rather severe older lady who supervised the troops) announced that I had just been elected AMERICAN FLAG BEARER. My (probably rigged) election had two important consequences: I would be marching on the floor and I would be dressed in white. My parents were ecstatic. Daddy was sure that 1) I was very popular and 2) I would quickly be elevated to the upper ranks. Mom began planning my "look" for the installation ceremony.

On the day of the big ceremony, Mom seated me at the kitchen table and began work on my hair. She pulled my limp locks up to the top of my head with a rubber band so tight that my eyebrows rose up under my bangs. The resulting topknot was teased with a rattail comb. Then the whole mess was divided into 6 segments and each segment was pinned into my scalp. The poof was a thing of beauty. The entire creation was sprayed with half a can of hair spray. When I moved my head, I could hear the lacquer crackle.

The makeup section of the project was a blur. I know it involved foundation, powder, rouge, blue eye shadow and red lipstick. Fetching on a red-headed girl with a lot of freckles and not very much skin pigmentation. Then it was on to the white dress. Mom had selected a white brocade sheath (very flattering to my big hips) with a matching coat. It was very Jackie Kennedy. The ensemble was completed with Mom's white pumps, which were a half size too small for my feet.

As I minced my way to the front door (those shoes HURT), my mom beamed with pride. She handed me a little red umbrella to protect my hair from the drizzle outside. I stepped out on the front porch. My father was waiting impatiently at the bottom of the stairs. I opened the umbrella and the spokes got tangled in my topknot.

"Oh no!" my mother shrieked. I panicked and began to yank at the spokes, pulling out lacquered hunks of hair and hairpins. Continuing to struggle with the offending spokes, I spun around in my too tight pumps and... fell down the front stairs.

The silence lasted a long time. Finally, my father muttered "Jesus" under his breath and helped me to my feet. My stockings were shredded, my dress was soggy, my shoes were scuffed and my hair was sticking up in all directions. My deflated mother, standing at the door, told me to go to the meeting and clean myself in the bathroom there. Then she firmly shut the door.

When I arrived at the meeting, I pulled off my stockings, patted the hair down into a shape resembling a used SOS pad, and prepared for the Grand Procession. Rounding the first corner of the march, I turned too quickly and I dropped the American flag. The second profound silence of the day occurred while I scrambled around on my hands and (scraped) knees to retrieve the fallen flag.

Thus ended my Rainbow Girl career and my parents' dreams of an vivacious and elegant daughter. I went back to being a shy bookworm with limp hair and no clothing sense. And my parents got used to it.


  1. Readers should know that Mama was a strawberry blonde Jackie Kennedy. Always chic and put together. Oh, and it wasn't a short flight of stairs either! Thanks for the laugh, I needed it.

  2. You know you'll be struck down by lightening for revealing what goes on in the Holy of Holies....and I don't mean your shredded pantyhose.