Summer Censors

“Tigger” – approved

I knew I had put it somewhere in my closet or dresser.  The extremely warm spring had driven me to my favorite hiding places early this season in search of “Old Faithful.”  Finally, after having gone through layers of under clothes and unmentionables, socks, tights and winter scarves, I found it in the back corner of the bottom dresser drawer, all wadded up in a crumpled mess:  my bathing suit. 

I smiled when I saw it.  It was like being reunited with an old friend.  I took it from its winter tomb and did what I always did to new things or things I hadn’t seen in a while:  I closed my eyes and breathed it in.  Instantly, the faint smell of coconut oil, ocean water and sea breeze took me back to laughing sea gulls, a hot, white sun and the endless blue of the sea and sky.  Hugging it to my chest, I welcomed it back into my life.  “Here you are, my little friend!  Time for us to have some fun!”  I shook it out and held it up to the light.

To my dismay, the bathing suit looked faded and stretched.  I tugged at the elastic in the legs and it didn’t spring back into shape.   The black and gold animal print looked more like an old stuffed animal one of my kids had dragged around the house for too long and the seat was knotted and almost see through.  Why hadn’t I noticed this when I put it away at the end of the season last year?  I had overlooked the obvious.  It was time to get a new bathing suit.

I hated saying goodbye to an old suit and shopping for a new one.  Each suit I bought always took on a life of its own, a personality that wasn’t easily forgotten.  I remembered the yellow bikini I had in the ninth grade, one I had bought with my own money.  I loved “Old Yaller” dearly and couldn’t believe it when my mom dried it in the clothes dryer and melted the cups.  It was ruined and I was devastated.  I couldn’t wear misshapen bikini cups in public and I had to throw it away.  My grandmother knew how heartbroken I was to have spent my own money on something that got melted in the dryer (although everyone but me got a good laugh out of it) and bought me another one, exactly like it.  My sweet, little grandmother on a pension bought ME a BIKINI!  Old Yaller and I were friends for two years until it was stolen off of a clothes line at a beach cottage in North Carolina.  I took its loss like the young woman I was becoming and went out and bought another one.  I remember that one too, a green and white stripe two piece I called “Lucky Stripe.”  I always seemed to have fun and adventures in Lucky Stripe.

But now I was much older and the thrill of the hunt for a new swim suit was long gone.  I bought a new one only when the old one was literally falling apart. Shopping for a bathing suit was discouraging, disheartening, dismaying…all of the “dis” words that would make me want to shout, “’Dis is NOT fun! I’m disappointed with myself for not exercising all winter!” I, like any other woman over the age of fifty didn’t want to see myself under the glaring, too realistic glow of the florescent light in a public dressing room trying on the newest fashion and fabric of the fledgling summer bathing suit season.    It was dis…gusting.

But with the warm sun and ocean calling me out to play, I had no choice but to sneak out one “off” night of the week, making a pact with myself to go into one store only, trying on only a few suits and making my choice before I confused myself with the options.  That is, if I could find any choices at all.

I found myself at Marshalls.  I could not, in good conscience, pay department store prices for something I knew I would not be in love with.  The days of being a friend with my bathing suit were over. I grabbed a cart and headed to the swimwear section.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I noticed there were two long racks and two circular racks of bathing suits with two circular racks of swim suit cover-ups in the same vicinity.  I used to never understand why one would pay so much money for a bathing suit that they would want to cover up.  Now, however, I understood their meaning.  You had the “problem” on the first two racks and their “solution” on the others.  It was brilliant!  I decided right then that I was also in the market for a solution.

I looked around the near empty store to make sure there was nobody shopping there that I knew.  Whew!  Luck was a lady after all!  I could fill up my cart with all the colorful options and slink away into a nondescript cubby in the dressing room maze.  This was going to be a cinch!

I parked my buggy and started at the beginning of the rack.  “I can do this,” I thought.  “There’s so many to choose from.”  The third one on the rack caught my eye.  I pulled it out and held it up to get a better look at it.  It was a two piece, red and white striped little number with a gold, nautical symbol on the hip area.  The red was refreshing and cheerful to me.   Black, brown and animal prints had been my choices for too many years.

I heard a man somewhere from behind me clear his throat as if to get my attention. 

“Don’t even think about that one.  It would be a total waste of your good money.”

I recognized the almost flat sounding voice immediately.  The owner of this voice came to visit me each year on the eve of my birthday to tuck me in.  It was the age police and his silent partner.  I slowly turned around.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.  “I thought I only had to see you once a year on my birthday.  It’s not my birthday.”  I was confused and didn’t know what to think of this unofficial visit.

“Yeah, well…Just for the record, you’ll be seeing us more often as you go through Middle Age.  You used to see us only on birthdays but occasionally we’ll show up to keep you from making age inappropriate decisions.”

I was offended.  I always thought I made good, tasteful decisions concerning the age differential.  Why didn’t they trust me? I felt like a thirteen year old wearing a bikini in front of her father for the first time and I hadn’t even tried the bathing suit on yet.

“So…you think this two-piece is too young for me?  Is that what you’re saying? It’s not even a bikini.  I mean, I would never even dream of wearing a bikini at this point in my life.  I have my pride.  I mean…why would I even want to…wear one?”  My voice sounded whiney and hurt.

He looked at his partner and shrugged, then back at me with indifferent eyes.  “And we’re here to help you keep that pride.”

I let that remark sink in as I stared at them.  They seemed so out of place standing in the women’s swimwear section.  “Why are you wearing a gun in your holster?  I asked.  “Do age police have to use guns to make us comply with the “Age Laws?  Sheesh!  This is crazy!  I wasn’t even going to buy a bikini!  This is a TANKINI.  See?  The top covers the stomach and comes down to the edge of the bottoms.  It’s perfectly respectable…”My voice trailed off again as I was at a loss of words to make my point. 

He patted his gun as if it were an old friend.  “You’d be surprised at the number of times we have to use these babies just to scare someone into making the right decision.  People hate to age and sometimes we just have to help them along with the process.”

I thought about that and wondered if there would be a show down at the old Marshall’s corral.  Did other women my age have these conversations about whether or not an article of clothing was age appropriate with the age police?  I had these conversations with my parents when I was thirteen years old.  But to have these conversations when I was fifty-five…Was I crazy?  I decided to play along.  Maybe this WAS nature’s way of helping me though a mid-life crisis with grace. 

“Alright. I give in.  Tell me why this bathing suit is not appropriate.  I happen to think it’s adorable.”

“Lady…First of all, it’s a two piece.  You haven’t worn a two piece since after the birth of your second child.  After the last four kids and …what is it, twenty more years, why would you start now?  Some women your age can get by with that, but you won’t.  You’ll second guess it until you decide to leave it in the back of your bottom drawer.  You won’t feel comfortable in it.  I swear.  You won’t even let it be your friend.”

I looked at him and then at the suit.  He was right and I hated to admit it.  I was the queen of second guessing and no matter what the bathing suit looked like on me, I would always be uncomfortable in it.  I put it back.  “OK…Maybe you’re right about this one.  Let me look some more.”

I pulled out a pretty one piece, turquoise, corral and brown.  I held it up and looked back at the age police.  They both shook their heads in unison.

“What’s wrong with this one?  It’s so cute!  I love the colors!”

“Well…I know it’s what you consider ‘cute,’ but you are going to be self conscience in it.  Look at how short it is in the torso.  It’ll ride up on you in the back, feel too snug and drive you nuts.  Believe me.  You don’t want that one. “

Once again, he was right.  It was too short- waisted.  I put it back and went to the next one.  I stopped on a navy and white one piece that had cut outs on the sides and lingered a moment.  I heard fake coughing. “OK…I know…Cut outs are too young for me…Right?  What was I thinking?” I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation.

I turned back to the rack.  I was nearing the end of it and began to worry.  What if I couldn’t find the perfect bathing suit?  I couldn’t bear the thought of having to go to more shops to look for “the one.”  I had made a pact with myself to come out of the store with a bathing suit.  I just didn’t know the age police would be there to direct me.

I passed over an animal print with a black, baby dress top.  The bottom was connected to it like a one piece but the “dress” top still hung over the bottom.  I was started to pass over it and I heard the age police cough again.

“What?  You think this is good?  This is appropriate?  I took it out and held it up to the light.  “It’s black with animal print.  I didn’t want another one with that type of fabric.  Plus…It’s so…I mean…It has a skirt thingy and older women wear things like that.” Immediately I thought and said out loud, “You’re only as old as you feel.”

The age police shrugged again and said, “Look lady.  I’m just here to help you transition.  It’s not easy to do that… to transition.   Sometimes you have to be told what to do in a transition.  How old are you?

“Fifty-five.”  I said softly, looking to either side, not wanting anyone else to hear.  “Are you saying I’m old enough to wear this now?”

“Yes, that’s what I’m saying.  You ARE old enough.  But look at it.  It’s cute.  The bodice is cute.  You’ll be covered up enough in the right places and be showing you’re good stuff in the right places.  What’s wrong with that?  You’ll be confident in it.”

I looked back at the piece.  Who died and made him the age police?   Was he right?  I would try it on and see for myself.

I couldn’t believe it, but I was trying on only one bathing suit.  That was it!  No more.  Either I would trust them or I would shake them and come back later.  “Gentlemen.  Do you mind if I do this alone?”

They both shrugged, again.  “Go ahead.  See for yourself.”

The cubby was tiny.  The lighting was bad, very bad.  I took off my clothes and put myself into the bathing suit.  Slowly, I turned around and looked in the mirror.  It didn’t look bad.  Actually, it was cute.  I liked the baby doll dress.  It covered up all of my insecurities.  I could bend over and touch my toes and it stretched with me!  It was perfect!  I could sense that it wanted to be my friend; have its own personality.  The question was, how did the age police know this?

I took it off and put my clothes back on, hurrying out to let them know that they were right.  I loved it and I wanted to thank them for the tip and saving me from bathing suit “woes” in the future.  I scooped up the suit and ran past the dressing room sales lady.

They were gone, nowhere to be seen. Were they helping some other unsuspecting middle-ager like me?  I didn’t see them anywhere in the store or see any other woman having a conversation with “herself.”  I had wondered if these conversations were actually with the age police or if they were figments of my imagination:  my fragile ego talking with itself. I guess time would tell.

I hugged the bathing suit to my chest, walking past the “solution” racks of beach cover-ups.  Why would I ever want to cover up “Tigger?”    I walked on toward the sales counter.  Tigger and I were going to be great friends. All it needed was a little coconut oil and ocean water to baptize it.  The summer was waiting for us.

Here’s your song!  Some day I will figure out how to upload this properly…


Solar Eclipse….Oh, Jesus!

Last week began with Mother’s Day and ended with a solar eclipse.  Even though I didn’t get to see my mother on her special day or live in a place to view the rare ring of fire in the heavens, the two events brought together in my mind, a memory long forgotten.

It was Saturday, March 7, 1970.  I was thirteen years old and in the seventh grade.  For several weeks, our science teacher (someone whose name has escaped me as I sit down to write this), had been teaching us about the upcoming solar eclipse and how lucky we were to be able to see a total eclipse in our lifetime.  We were so hyped up about it that it was as if we were on science steroids. 

For the first time in my life, I became interested in all things celestial:  the sun, moon, our solar system neighbors – planets both near and far and all of their moons, the constellations in the night sky, super stars, novas, black holes, red giants, white dwarfs, the Milky Way, our universe and galaxies beyond.  I became very aware of astronomy and the “science” of astrology and learned that there was a difference between the two. 

The week of the eclipse finally arrived and all of us amateur astronomers were ready to make our solar eclipse viewers.  We had been warned for months not to look at the eclipse with our naked eyes.  Directly looking at the sun, even as the moon began to cover it could burn our retinas and we wouldn’t even feel the damage!  As we sat at our desks with our shoe boxes, tin foil, glue and scissors, I stole a look around the room to see which one of us would come back to school blinded by the light.  There had to be a least one rebellious, mean girl or boy who would defy the rule and look at the sun unabashedly, naked eyes and all, staring at the beautiful corona or ring of fire.  Who knew?  With that kind of magical allure, even I could be tempted to steal a glimpse of the forbidden beauty.  Like Eve eating from the “off limits” fruit tree in the garden would I gaze into the light of the dangerous sun?  Monday morning, the first day back at school after the eclipse, who would be wearing an eye patch?  How many kids would have disobeyed? We shook with terror of the potential consequences and got to work making our viewers.

Saturday morning, we awoke to a clear, cool day.  Having heard every weather report for the entire week, we knew that good weather was to grace our scientific outing.  My siblings and I and a few neighborhood friends all met after breakfast with our trusty eclipse viewers.  We staked out our observatory area and put lawn chairs out to wait out the event.  As I can recall, around mid-morning we began to see the moon slightly edge itself onto the sun’s disk. 

There was a party-like atmosphere as it began.  From time to time my mother would come out onto the front porch and shout at us, “Don’t look right at it! Don’t damage your eyes!  You could go blind!” Ten minutes later she would come out and sit on the front porch steps and see if we were using our viewing boxes.

The moon was taking a huge bite out of the sun.  After an hour and a half or so, the sky started to darken a bit, and an eerie feeling began to settle down upon us. We stood with the sun at our backs, holding our viewers with the foil pinhole taking in the direct sun’s view.  Magically, the sun appeared on our screens and we were watching the fascinating eclipse.

The sun starting disappearing until it became a perfect sliver.  The sky turned a deep navy blue and Venus shone like a diamond earring near the sun/moon. The birds stopped singing and a few dogs nervously began to howl.  Next, the wind began to pick up and there was a noticeable drop in the temperature.  The moon slid perfectly over the sun and we were caught in a twilight zone.  The corona shone like a halo around the sun and for a brief moment, I peaked at it with my naked eyes.  It was glorious!

We were caught up in the moment, briefly seeing something we knew we would more than likely, never see again.  It was awesome, majestic and magical and that’s when the screaming began.

“Oh, my God…Precious Jesus…Look at that!  Look at that, Jesus!  Oh Jesus!  Jesus!  Kid’s don’t look at it.  Don’t stare at it!  Look at it!  It’s beautiful!  I’ve never seen anything to beat it in my life!  Oh, my Jesus, I praise you!”  It was my mother, Virgina Painter.  She was standing out on the porch, laughing while tears rolled down her cheeks, the wind blowing up the skirt of her house dress.  Her arms where lifted up as if she was getting ready to be received by her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I honestly think that she thought that the end of the world was nigh unto us.

We all stared at my pretty, little mother, standing on the steps, in an almost holy trance, having a moment with her creator.  As children, we later teased her about screaming out to the Lord during the eerie black out of the eclipse but even we knew that we had been first hand witnesses of God and science together, putting on a show for us.

I entertained for years after the viewing of the solar eclipse, the idea that I wanted to be an astronomer when I grew up, although I learned years later, as a sophomore at East Carolina University, that a strong knowledge of mathematics was needed if you wanted to make an “A” in Astronomy 101.  I had a blast in the class lab though, meeting on Tuesday nights during the winter months on the roof of the Science Building with my classmates.  The roof top was romantic and dreamy and on it we forgot that we were bound to the earth by gravity.   Somehow, the silken ropes that held us in captivity to our earthly prison fell away and we became moon struck lunatics, jet setting around our galaxy and time traveling into the light of distant stars.  We looked up into the heavens and saw…God.  He was majestic in his heavens and He wore a black velvet cape encrusted with diamonds and pearls.  He held up both arms straight over his head and the voluminous, billowing fabric became the back drop to the heavens and the diamonds and pearls, the objects of our affection. 

We studied these luminous objects in awe and reverence, the entire class every night for weeks enfolded in the cloak of God’s heaven.  It was magical and spiritual at the same time, demanding that we speak in whispers on a roof top, gathered around a telescope, under the influence of the utter beauty of the creation.  I often thought of my mom as I looked into the telescope and saw God’s handiwork, spilled zillions and zillions of miles across the vastness of space and wished that she could have been there with me viewing something so mysterious and awe inspiring that she would lift up her arms to her precious Jesus and let him pick her up off of the roof top and spin her around and whisper to her, “Not now, Virginia, it’s not time to go now.  But how do you like what I made for you?”  I think she would have liked that.

Check this… Carole King and James Taylor – Up on the Roof

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