My latest book, HALLEY, has just been released by NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley
We didn’t exchange Christmas gifts in our family. If mill work was
good, Mama managed to buy us each one gift–a piece of needed clothing
for the three older kids and toys for the younger two–and baked
chicken for Christmas day. That was it. But the year I was sixteen
was different–my sister bought me a present. How Jean managed it, I
have no idea. Maybe she was paid extra one time for babysitting the
four juvenile delinquents up the road, and then hid the surplus from
Mama. Mama always knew exactly where every penny her kids earned
needed to go. “That’ll help pay for them shoes you need,” she’d say,
tucking the money into her pocketbook. Or to me, “That’ll go on
getting you that new bra you claim you need.”
Boy, did I ever need a bra. My bosom had exploded out of the B cups
she’d bought me two years before. At this point, packing my D cup
breasts into the small cups had become a major task. Some breast had
to hang out at the bottom. Some had to bulge up in the middle. That
still left a lot to bulge out at the sides and under my arms. To hide
all this bulging, I wore a corduroy jacket until hot weather forced me
out of it. Then our dog Brownie chewed the jacket up.
Back to the gift. I’m not even sure how Jean managed the actual
purchase. We lived miles from the nearest store. Maybe it was on one
of those weekends when Mama allowed her to spend a weekend with Aunt
Hilde. All I know for sure is that Jean had a present for me and she
was glowing with pride and self-satisfaction. The box was wrapped and
had a bow. “You’ll never guess what it is,” she said. Tantalized, I
immediately guessed, “A bra.”
“Something better,” she said. “You’ll never, ever guess.”
My feelings were all over the map. At first, I was grateful that Jean
spent money on me. Then I felt bad because I had no gift to give her.
Then as the guessing game went on and on and on I became resentful.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, Jean taunted me one too many times and I
“I already figured out what it is, and I don’t like it,” I said. “It’s
a junky gift.”
Jean broke down and cried.
I was instantly repentant. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t know what
it is. I was just mad.”
“No,” Jean sobbed. “You really don’t like it.”
“I do,” I insisted. “I will. I know I’ll like it.”
At last Jean quit crying, and I made up my mind that no matter what it
was, I WOULD like it.
The next morning I opened the box and swallowed hard. It was a nylon,
see-through blouse. A nylon, see-through blouse! The kind that
allowed everyone to see your skin and underwear. And bulges. It was
the kind of blouse I had been sure I would never, ever want to wear in
a million years.
But Jean’s eyes were large and expectant as I looked at the blouse and
its rhinestone buttons. I slowly shook it out and held it up to my
bulging bosom.. I could see her clenched hands through the blouse.
“I love it,” I said.