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I thought another story was lost from the last move and a P.C. crash, but luckily found a personal treasure on gmail – a lot of poems and a few stories that are being shaped for publication today. The following short, short story may never see print but I have a strong attachment to it. Maybe because it’s a (slightly) fictionalized account about a transitional time in my childhood, and how one adult seemed to understand what I was going through without giving me a hug and telling me it was going to be OK when maybe it wasn’t. Her love was tough, but I always felt loved, and it taught me that being tough doesn’t make me any less a woman. I miss her everyday, and this month marks five years without her in my day to day life, encouraging me to read and learn more, to write more, and to give more to the great-grandchildren who sometimes remind me of her in little ways.
Why am I suddenly teary eyed? The next introduction won’t be so sentimental and mushy. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
What The Training Bra Taught Me by Renée Valmont
Like all adolescent girls at the threshold of womanhood, I have to buy a training bra.
I don’t understand why it’s called a training bra. Riding down the Eastex Freeway to Parkdale Mall in my grandmother’s blue ’68 Chevy Impala I ask the question that is burning a hole in my brain all Saturday morning: “Why do they call it a training bra, Grandma?”
“It’s called a training bra so your breasts won’t grow wild,” my sister Marley jokes.
Grandma actually agrees with her.
I’m 11-years-old going to the 6th grade soon, and Marley is five years older and her boobs are gianormous. (Is that even a word?) Anyway, she’s popular and trendy, and because she goes to Beaumont Senior High School and gets to wear lipstick. I’m a little jealous, so Mama buys me Bonne Belle Lipsmackers for my birthday. They come in all kinds of flavors, like strawberry, grape, watermelon… And as we ride in the air condition-less, vinyl upholstered back seat, I’m piling delicious artificially flavored grape lipgloss on my lips. Yummy…
We’re finally at Parkdale Mall, and I’m still not convinced I need a training bra. I’d rather go to the Goldmine Arcade at the mall than shop for undergarments, but Marley has to get some back-to-school clothes, and Grandma insists that I’m getting too big not to wear a bra.
And you don’t argue with Grandma. She’s one tough old broad. When my friends call for me and she answers the door or the phone, they’re either scared witless of the doll-like Indian woman holding a Winston cigarette in one hand and screen door handle with the other; or her hoarse, mannish voice that my friends always assume belongs to my grandpa, Papa. But Papa has a sweet tenor’s voice. My sister and I always laugh when Grandma sings “Happy Birthday” to one of us – the one time of the year she will dare sing out loud.
But we don’t laugh when Grandma tells us we’re going to J.C. Penney to buy clothes – and my first bra.
For any 11-year-old girl on the threshold of womanhood, J.C. Penney’s Lingerie department is a frightening alien experience. But I survive it somehow, with Grandma holding my hand. OK – she isn’t literally holding my hand. We aren’t the touchy-feely kinda folks. But she asks me, nicely, to follow her to the land of bras. While my sister is free to browse the Junior/Miss department, Grandma embarrasses me by asking a saleslady for help in Lingerie. I am already freaked out by the pale mannequins whose lower limbs are missing. Their upper torsos are wrapped with natural and synthetic fibers designed to bind their fake plaster breasts. Freaky.
My mother and grandmother are petite women. But Grandma has a big bosom, unlike Mama who balloons to a B-cup after the birth of two kids. Grandma is always in search for the perfect support bra, and Playtex 18-hour is her brand of choice these days. So while picking out something for herself, she makes me try on different training bras. One of them has those cute, pink flower accents. Then you have your regular polyfill, criss-cross action, which is perfect for a practical girl like me. What am I going to do with little flower accents, anyway?
It seems like we have spent forever in that department, and I ask her if we can buy the plain bra that doesn’t seem so… unnecessary.
Grandma insists we buy both bras. It’s her J.C. Penney card, so I don’t argue.
I forget to mention that when I look in the dressing room’s three-way mirror trying on both bras again to make sure they fit, I almost feel like a woman. I also dread going to the gym locker room to change on my first day at Beaumont Junior High.
So going to the mall and buying bras for the first time with your grandmother can be almost as cool as playing Frogger at the arcade. OK – not really. But to reward me for almost reaching womanhood, Grandma takes me to Waldenbooks and buys me a Judy Blume book I hadn’t read yet – It’s Not The End of The World.
~For M.V.W. (February 13, 1913 – September 27, 2003) with eternal gratitude.
© 2006 Renée Valmont/Danna Williams