bra in a bush

The Underwear Thing

Janice A. Farringer

My mother never discussed the facts of life with me. As a ten-year-old, I found a pamphlet left on my bedside table one day. Turning the pages in all directions, I puzzled over the drawings of male and female parts fitting into this or that via physiologically correct side-slice views complete with veins and arteries. It didn’t make any sense to me, but I felt very grown up. Shortly thereafter, a giant blue box of Kotex napkins appeared on my closet shelf, and all my mother said was that I would need them one day soon. Huh?

Another thing that was never open to discussion with my mother was underwear. Completely not mentioned. If I needed underpants, I kind of had to hint broadly when we went on our annual back-to-school shopping expedition. One multi-pack of white cotton big pants a year seemed to be the limit. For back-to-school shopping, we always went to the same department store, down the stairs to the kids’ clothes in the basement. I would pick stuff out, and my mother would reject them. I learned that it was easier just to nod at what she picked, go sullenly to the dressing room, and see how bad it was. Alone. One changed clothes alone. The one rule: always step into a dress, don’t pull it over your head.

After I paraded a few dresses, my mother would say, “Do you want that one?” My response didn’t really matter—all the dresses would be dreadful—but, since I got to say something, I tried to choose the least awful one. The only saving grace was that most of the time I was in Catholic school uniforms.