I’ve heard it said that if you want to talk to your kids, give them a ride somewhere. I’d like to offer a modification to this advice — if you want to talk to your daughter, take her shopping and haunt the dressing room.
Lydia needed shorts for an upcoming trip with her chorus. Having recently been at Old Navy with Grace and seen mountains of them, we headed there. Lydia filled her arms with what I think of as disposable clothes. (If anyone wants to view the dysfunctional relationship between the U.S. and the developing world, walk into your local ON, head to the clearance section, and see tables piled with t-shirts made in Bangladesh marked down to $3.)
I browsed, too, and met Lydia in the dressing room. “What do you think of this?” I asked her. She may not need my style sanctions, but I need hers.
“Why not? I love this gray color.”
“But, Lydia,” I implored her, “It’s a peace sign. I’m for peace.”
“Yeah, but you don’t have to wear it on a t-shirt. In sequins. Plus, you’re old.”
“I might buy it.”
And yet I’m still tempted. Something draws me to this t-shirt, and it takes willpower to keep Lydia’s advice in mind.
Not all women resist the call of the sequin, however. This morning Lydia and I stopped in the bagel shop on the way downtown, where I was dropping her off to meet the bus that will take her chorus on the trip that necessitated the purchase of shorts. Most of the people getting bagels at 9:30am in the morning are old-timers. As I waited in line, my eyes were drawn to a woman whose back faced me: curly yellow-blond hair askew, wedgie flip-flops, cropped stretch pants, lumpy purse, and a droopy Pepto-pink sweatshirt decorated with an oversized sequined and plastic-jeweled heart.
It was the sequined heart, in fact, that drew my attention to her and made my real heart suddenly sorry for her, I must admit. I saw everything that needed sprucing up. If she were my mother, I would start by brushing her hair, in the same way I groom Grace’s curly hair every night. I would outlaw the wedgie flip-flops. I would give her a good talking-to about the sweatshirt.
And then I scolded myself. I was looking at her as a set of mistakes, and perhaps her view of herself was more like: “Pat, the fun-loving gal.” Why Pat? I don’t know. But my imagination impulsively named her Patricia, and pictured her line-dancing.
* * *
My Aunt Mae, who was born in 1902 and died in 1998, was one of those fit and grand old dames who was always dressed as nicely as possible within her means. We rarely saw her in slacks; every day she seemed to put on a dress and stockings. She had her iron gray hair done regularly at the beauty parlor. Her eyebrows were drawn on, like Marlene Dietrich’s, and Mae too had a handsome figure, although in her old age she stooped.
Every day, too, Aunt Mae wore makeup. Later in her life the makeup, especially the cheek rouge, became more and more exaggerated and defined. Pink circles on the face are not subtle. One day after we visited Aunt Mae in her little house at the bottom of the hill near the Worcester Airport, my mother and I discussed the rouge.
“She looks clownish!” my mother worried.
“She does,” I agreed.
“I think I should tell her.” My mother said this in a tentative way, as though not sure how she would do this.
I thought about it too. Would it be a kindness to tell her? And what would we be protecting her from? One of us said something like this to the other: “Maybe Mae looks beautiful to herself. Perhaps her vision has faded enough that when she looks in the mirror the pink on her cheeks is just the right amount.”
That settled it. We let Mae be.
* * *
Ah, right here I should bring this post full circle, and conclude it by defying my daughter’s (good) advice and declaring my intention to buy the sequined peace shirt and wear it.
No, I say.
There is a line, still shimmering ahead, that I have not yet crossed.