'Puttin' on the Ritz'
One of my mother's favourite stories
told to four young daughters
while driving to Grandma's house
passing the miles away with riveting entertainment
she, sitting in the front, angled round to the back seat
where we, all feet and elbows, are absolutely agog.
'It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in midsummer.
My girlfriends and I dressed up
to stroll the promenade by the river.
What you might call 'cruising' today, crudely.
I wore a new lipstick so red it made my hair even blacker.
I had drenched my pumps in white polish.
But, most of all, I wore my first pair of white kid gloves -
a huge expense for a nurse-in-training!
I thought I looked nice.'
(a raised eyebrow ...)
'I did look nice!
I was nineteen.
Well, we met some fellows we knew
with a new guy!
All of them really turned out too …
pressed suits, white collars and bow ties.
Ha!Ha! Even their shoes shone.
So they had been busy that morning.
Well, they stopped to chat
and, of course, to introduce the new chap.
Oh my! He was gorgeous!
I was smitten.
I made my eyes shiny and my voice real sultry
like in the movies.
I extended my little white-gloved hand …'
(She always acted this part out.)
'saying graciously, 'So pleased to meet you Mr. -------------
And a huge glob of gull poo plopped right into my palm!
We all gasped right on cue.
'What happened then? Did everybody laugh?
'Was the guy Daddy?
'Oh – yeee-uck!'
We were practically crawling into her mouth
even though we'd heard this story dozens of times.
She always had a fresh word, or a new shape to her mobile lips -
a gasping little breath.
'Well, I don't clearly remember much after the shit hit.
Except the guy gave a whoop of laughter
and pulled out a huge hankie to wipe off my glove.
I wanted to die.
I couldn't look at him.
And his face just vanished from my memory.
I don't remember his name.
Whoever he was, he was a really decent chap.
No, it wasn't your father.
Although I still think he was one of 'the boys'.
He doesn't remember the incident, so he says.
At this point she always threw a sideways glance at Daddy
his attention split between the road and the narrative
enjoying the story as much as we kids were.
And then the finale, the summing up.
It never varied either.
'I learned a lot that day.
It doesn't pay to pretend.'
Here, she would swing right around to face us full front
no matter where the story was told.
'Girls, always be your own honest selves.
Clothes are just cloth hanging on bones.
No kind of make-up is prettier than a real smile.
Stand tall. Think positive.
Brush your teeth and NEVER CHEW GUM!
You look like a cow chewing its cud!'
(This 'cud bit' kept me off gum for life)
Then, the secondary BIG ENDING
hitting the ball out of the park -
'Work your worth from the inside out!'
And we would rock back like a single unit
Square our shoulders - throw up our heads -
breathe like champions - long and deep
At this point Dad's ears were always wiggling
and the car wheels a bit unsteady.
Our little dog drooled from lap to lap
digging dagger nails into our thighs
thrilled to be with the family going to the farm.
But we didn't mind.
We had a big towel on our knees
fields and cows and horses to watch
trees and flowers and fences.
A great story to think about -
to imagine when Mummy and Daddy were young!
Grandma was probably baking already.
Apple Pie! Just for us!
And maybe some ice cream from the village shop.
Life was good.
Life was really good.
I closed my eyes and whispered,
'Thank you, God.'