When my mother was turning 77 years old, I traveled to Florida to take her shopping for bras because I knew my father would do anything for her but that.
Once inside the Maidenform boutique, I set out to find something comfortable and supportive, consistent with her specifications for size and shape. A conversation in the dressing room proved incontrovertibly that my choices were inappropriate, and my mother’s dejection was reflected in the mirror.
The sales clerk, a pretty, young woman (60 is young in Florida) who wore a tape measure around her neck and spectacles on her nose, came in the little room like the cavalry. She took two sagging cups in her hands, called my mother “dear,” and peered into her eyes for the “kind of September” she meant to resurrect.
My mother had known what it meant to be beautiful and shapely at 20, 40, 60, and now, near 80, she still wanted to be the apple of my father’s eye. My mother was the girl who won the full scholarship to Nardin Academy and the summa cum laude graduate of Rosary Hill College.
My mother danced at Kleinhans Music Hall, modeled fashions at school fundraisers, and took the podium before the school board with gracious confidence. She was also the woman who had nursed eight babies. Where was the bra that we needed?
The pretty clerk returned with two selections that not only created all the lift and separation a girl could ever require; they were also modest and sexy, all at once. They would be the foundation for any fabulous blouse or sweater. My mother loved her reflection, and she was smiling. This made me happy. After all, I had been nurser No. 2.
We bought the bras and some pajamas for me, and left the little boutique without knowing the clerk’s name or anything about her, except that she had improved my mother’s world by really looking at her and knowing that she was so much more than a figure.
In the poem “Chemise,” Kay Ryan writes,“there is a flimsy cloth we can’t take off …” She means something pretty deep about human beings stripped down beyond the foundation to the place where we connect with our oneness. That moment of understanding in the dressing room between two women – maybe three – meant everything to baby No. 2.