"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


There are some places where I could absolutely, positively never live.  This has nothing to do with weather, terrain or local politics or economics.  This has to do with being seen in my underwear.
I do not come from an especially modest family.  For as long as I can remember, nobody in my clan bats an eyelash if another one of us is hanging around in bra or boxers.  We are like the original hippies that way.  There were only two kids, my brother and me, but that doesn’t mean it was easy having one bathroom growing up.  I swear my brother waited until I was in the shower to go...Number 2.  When I asked him to spray, he sprayed Lysol overtop the damn shower rod and practically into my face, thus making me cough and gag worse than if he hadn’t.   (Not to mention the fact that I was first scalded, then burnt when he flushed.)

My father preferred tub baths.  He also preferred to kneel in the tub (couldn’t be part of the reason he eventually needed a knee replacement, could it?) and took this time to relax and smoke his pipe.  When you gotta go you gotta go, and when I had to go, I knocked on the door and he pulled the shower curtain closed.  Yes, we might chat a little while I was in there, something wrong with that?  Hey, when I was a toddler I used to take showers with my father; my mother always wanted me in the bath tub but I thought showers much more adventurous, and would jump in along with him and get clean that way when I got the chance.  Big deal.

I was getting ready to have friends over one time and it was one of those awful days when nothing you put on feels right.  Do men have these days?  Anyway, I was in the bedroom trying and tossing, trying and tossing, when a gal who was a good pal came over a few minutes early.  I was pulling off my shirt as I walked to the door to let her in.  She was speechless.  “What?” I said.  “I cannot believe how you could do that!” she said.  “In my family we never saw each other undressed and you just casually open the front door with just a bra on!”  “Well, I could see it was you,” I said.  “Not the point!” she answered, shaking her head.
In our house we were known at times to stay in our pajamas all day long.  (My mother wore a yellow nightie to work at the church one day; she thought it looked like a nice summer shift.)  This did not mean we were lazy; quite the opposite: we were making efficient use of time.  “No,” we’d tell visitors who asked, “I’m not sick, I’m just not dressed yet.”  This might be at 4:00 PM.  It may be that we have just FORGOTTEN to get dressed.

I figured out that I could do my chores on the weekends and instead of getting undressed in the morning and then getting dressed and then getting grimy and getting undressed and taking a shower and getting dressed again, I could just hang around in my nightgown and work, and then take a shower, and then get dressed in whatever outfit was appropriate to my activities.  This might mean a chic-ed up lace blouse and bellbottoms, or old sweatshirt and shorts, or even another nightgown.  It all depended.   My older nephew, who spent pretty much every weekend at the house, was puzzled by it at times, though.  “Why…do you go all day and then get dressed for like two hours?” he would ask.  He is the most conservative among us.

My father considered thunderstorms a reason to go out on the front porch in his boxers.  He would strip down during the oppressive period before the storm broke, and then go stand out there in his underwear and wait.  He could move inside very quickly if he spotted anyone walking by, though when a thunderstorm was imminent, no one except my father actually seemed foolish enough to embrace the negative ions head on.  Thank goodness it was an old country house on a corner lot set way back from the road, with a relatively private back yard.

I live in a two-family house that used to belong to my beloved aunt and uncle and has now passed down to my brother and me.  We rent the larger part of the house and we have great tenants.  There’s Bill (who is a musician) and Bonnie, a husband and wife a bit younger than me, and their teenage daughter, as well as a menagerie of dogs and cats because we love animals.  When I showed the house to Bonnie and her sister-in-law and sister, I said “I do have a question.  Would you say you are a little eccentric?  It would help, living here.”  

Sister-in-law Nancy pipes up, “Bill absolutely, I don’t know about Bonnie.”  I kind of had a feeling Bonnie would fit in though.  Indeed, she has been known to ramble through the snow in her bedroom slippers or weed the garden in her Spongebob pajamas.  Bill likes to walk the dog outside with his hot-pepper boxer shorts on.  (I wonder if Google Earth can see us?)  Their daughter is probably horrified.

Bonnie is an avid gardener.   Recently my Uncle Bob bought a new riding lawn mower and gave me his old one.  Since I had never used one, my father came up to show me the ropes and give me a 3-hour-long training session that involved starting, putting it in gear, moving, and braking.  The next morning Bonnie was having top soil delivered and the truck was going to be driven through the back yard right to her raised beds.  At 7:45 AM she phoned me – “The guy is 15 minutes away, can you move that tractor?”  I wasn’t entirely sure I could, but I ran outside in my nightgown and clogs and by gosh I got that thing going.  Then I realized having just rolled out of bed I had no underwear on, so I ran back in just in case.  I am neither Brittney Speares, Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton.  You have to draw the line somewhere.

A few weeks later Bonnie’s sister Brenda phoned me to ask if I could go over and let their dogs out, since she and her husband, Tony,  weren’t going to be home until late (they were going to one of Bill’s gigs that Tony -- another great musician -- was also playing out at) and their teenage son Jake was staying overnight somewhere.  Well, it had been a long day, and I was already kicked back in my nightgown, but I said “Of course.”  I wasn't about to get dressed again -- I mean it’s five minutes away on a back country road.  Who was going to see me?   

I made it there without getting pulled over by the police, let the dogs out and let them run around like crazy for an hour while I perched on a kitchen stool looking at TV.  Finally I decided they could come in and I could go home.  I heard them barking like nuts outside but it didn’t faze me.  It maybe should have.  I got up, started for the back door and saw a piece of paper on the floor.  I bent forward to pick it up when I heard quiet knocking.  I tried to convince myself it was nothing, but I knew better. 

Sure enough, as I slowly straightened up and looked at the open back door, there was the teenage son with such a traumatized expression on his face that we were both rendered speechless.  I finally stuttered the story out, at which point he ran back outside.  To his friends.  Yes.  FRIENDS.  To warn them, no doubt.  I heard one of them say in a low voice, "Is that your grandma?  Is she naked?"  I just wanted to get out of there with a very small shred of my dignity and was pleased beyond measure that the back yard light was turned off. 

“Pay no attention kids,” I said, walking past them in the darkness.   I don’t think they knew what to say.  When I got back home I texted Brenda, Jake’s mother, and informed her of the slight fiasco.  Next day I saw Bonnie and said “I guess you heard about me getting caught at your sister’s last night in my nightgown.”  “Yeah, and you know what I said to Brenda when she told me?” she said.  “ASK HER IF SHE WENT COMMANDO!!”

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