I love all my siblings but M and I have a special bond, one forged by the same traumatic, childhood experience – we both survived our mother’s attempt to dress us in haute couture at holidays. (Or about as haute couture as one can get in suburbia in the late fifties/early sixties off the Sears sales rack.)
M and I dreaded major holidays because we knew that somewhere lurking among the gaily-wrapped Christmas presents or among the cellophane-covered Easter baskets were our dreaded holiday outfits.
Mom would pull them out with a flourish and force us to wear them to church – stiff, itchy, girly dresses with big poufy sleeves and huge sashes she would tie into enormous bows that bounced off our backsides like old-fashioned bustles.
We weren’t allowed to complain that we hated the dresses or that the material gave us rashes or that we hated the colors. They came in pink and yellow – colors that never complimented our skin tones –, or worse yet, one Christmas M and I had to wear outfits in fat, horizontal neon stripes; I was orange and M was lime green. This may be why we now have extensive wardrobes in basic black.
Sometimes she made us wear so many petticoats that we took up most of the back seat of the Ford and more than our share of the church pew. We looked like fat Q-tips. Sometimes they had so many ruffles and so much lace that we looked like court jesters.
Oh but our misery didn’t end there – oh no, there were also HATS.
M and I inherited the thin, baby fine, Martinez hair. It has a mind of its own and refuses to be styled, regardless how much goo or spray is loaded onto it. Mom would perch these flat, little hats decorated in lace and ribbons and floppy flowers on our heads. She would either pin them into our scalp with mean, old hat pins or secure them with frilly ribbons under our chins. I felt like Ma Kettle a ‘going to market, and from the terror in my sister’s face, she wasn’t too happy either.
The piece de resistance of all the hats we wore over the years was the furry, white headband Mom bought each of us one Christmas. The fake fur gave off so much static, it hissed and crackled like a mean, old, alley cat. It even wrapped itself around our stringy hair just like a cat does when it loves its master.
The headbands dug into our scalps, giving us headaches. They were so small that they would slowly work their way up our heads, threatening to launch off at any moment, so Mom would bobby pin them into our scalps, making the headache even worse. Our complaints were ignored; we were told to hush.
Something had to be done.
I decided to hide one of the hats (maybe throw it away) but knew that I would be the unlucky one to have to wear the survivor, so I hid both of them in a back bedroom under some blankets we never used and never moved. Mom searched for them and searched for them, accusing us of hiding them. I was able to lie my innocence until she left me alone. In our hurry to get to church, Mom pulled out some less offensive chapeaus, hats that Laura Ingalls probably wore in Little House in the Prairie.
Our torture stopped when our baby sister came along. We were teenagers by then and more able to resist, so Mom turned her attention to her. The torture may have stopped but not the memory.
When my sister and I get together it does not take long before one of us will mention the hats and the outfits, and that’s all it takes to start the laughter and to remind us of our special bond.