GRABBING THE RING!
JOLENE'S INTERESTING AUNT
I was in children's plays all through grammar school. I went to a Catholic school that placed high value on dramatics for all students. Lots of those "cute" little satin costumes and lipstick and rouge. I can remember each and every time.
When I was in 4th grade, I had the part of "Prince Nutcracker" in a play that was loosely based on "The Nutcracker." My mother made the costume it was a pair of green satin knickers and a dress-like tunic of green and white satin that had a high neck like a Nehru jacket. She covered a pair of my slippers with white satin. She had to borrow a pair of white tights (hose, actually) from a girl cousin the same age as me. (I caught no end of teasing from that cousin who knew I had worn her hose). All in all it was very "cute", and I can remember vividly being in it and getting rouge and lipstick applied to my face. We had three performances (Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, and Monday morning for the rest of the school. Sunday, my parents drove me to the school...the other two days I had to dress and be made up at home and then walk the 6 blocks to school).
The following summer, I went to stay with my grandparents on their farm-- as I did most summers when I was young. My grandmother's sister lived next door...about half a mile away, with her 32 year old bachelor son and her husband. They were farmers. I liked this aunt a lot and used to go over to her house frequently.
One day, we were out in one of the barns and she was going though a bunch of old trunks that were stored out there. A couple or three had lots of clothes in them...very old clothes. I remember that she took out one which was a very sheer gown. When she did she asked me if I would like to get dressed up in it ... like a girl. As you could imagine, as a 9 year old boy, I immediately registered my reluctance. She went on to say that it wasn't uncommon for boys she knew to be dressed up purely for the fun of it, just to see what they looked like. She indicated her son had been when he was little, and even my father. She suggested that I could wait for my grandmother to come over and "fool" her. It intrigued me, but I deferred not refused, mind you, but deferred. I think I said something like "Maybe next summer." My primary concern was the men finding out about it.
Shortly after that, I was at her house and she was showing me old photo albums. Sure enough, there was a picture of her son, in a fancy party dress, tiers of lace, Mary Janes, and white stockings. His hair was short, sort of waved, with a big hair ribbon. There was another of my father not in a dress, but rather in a Little Lord Fantleroy outfit. Another thing that surprised me was that this last picture appeared for all the world to have been professionally taken in a studio.
I remember thinking about it for a couple of weeks. I was intrigued by girlish things even at that age, but also very sensitive to giving any hint of being a sissy. My father was a tyrant (indeed, the name "jolene" derives from an adorable little girl who lived in our neighborhood. I recall he would sometimes taunt me by calling me that name.) If I could somehow ensure that it would be a private thing with my aunt, I wanted to "explore" it.
Finally, I made my mind up. I was very circumspect with her about it. I think I finally maneuvered her back out into that same barn, hoping that she would propose it again. The "hints" must have been obvious, because she asked if I had changed my mind. I was able to "reluctantly" agree. I emphasized my concern about the men finding out, and she reassured me on that point (although I would later discover that she thought my concerns were silly, I felt safe). It was mid-afternoon then, not enough time to do it before the men came in from the fields. So, instead, she sent me back to my grandparent's house and gathered up a bunch of things which she washed and ironed. She told me to come back the following morning for breakfast.
I was there as soon as I saw the tractors pull out of the yard. It was this "big adventure" we were going to have. I was scared and excited. She had me bathe and wash my hair. She put me in an old chenille robe of hers and put my hair up in curlers and pin curls. (This part was not something I had contemplated, but I willingly went along with it because "she was in charge", so to speak, and it was this grand game we were playing. Then she laid everything out and had me get dressed. I recall there were a pair of bloomers that tied at the waist, a pair of white silk stockings, and these sort of ankle- length pantaloons that had tiers of lace all down them. She sent me to sit outside in the sun while my hair dried. No one was around for miles and I could hear/see anyone coming, so it didn't bother me overly. Some time later she came out and undid the curlers and pins. Then she took me back inside. The rest of the costume consisted of three or four petticoats, lace and eyelet trimmed, and what I remember to be a gorgeous overslip that went over them. The dress was white chiffon and satin with lots of ruffles. It buttoned in back and had a pink ribbon sash. The shoes were white MJ's. [I have no idea to whom the dress belonged, but it was something from the 20's I think].
My reactions were that continued excitement and "fear". I still wasn't sure if I would go ahead with showing myself to my grandmother done up like that. I know I expressed my doubts about it and was again cajoled to the effect that my grandmother would get a big kick out of it. She capped the whole thing off with a ribbon in my hair, which caused me more consternation than all the other finery. She called my grandmother to walk over for a cup of coffee and to "see a surprise." I guess I figured the die was cast, for if I shucked it all my grandmother would have asked and likely been told what it all was about. For this reason, I think, I went along with two final items: She gave me this parasol to carry and daubed rouge on my cheeks and put a little lipstick on me.
I guess I was adorable. I went out on the porch swing which sat out in the yard. While I was waiting, she got her camera and took a couple of pictures, again assuring me that she would keep them safe. (I remember thinking back to those of my older male cousin and my father). I acted coy and played the role when my grandmother showed up. She was not condemnatory at all...indeed she played the role too, asking my name and was I a new little girl in the neighborhood. I hammed it for a while, but I was paranoid about someone else finding me like that. After lunch, I took off all the clothes, scrubbed my face nearly raw and plastered my hair down with water to kill the curls.
That was the first time. There were others. Most significantly, the pictures were found the following summer by three girl cousins who also had extended vacations with my grandparents.
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