Rosie drove a hard bargain


My mama was a Rosie the Riveter at Pratt & Whitney aircraft engine manufacturer in Hartford, Connecticut, during World War II when she met my dad.  He served as a troop carrier pilot and was attracted to Mama because of her patriotism and the way she talked "planes."  After they married and settled in Bonham, Mama, still very much a patriot, began a second career with the Veterans Administration.  That's when Veterans Day took on a whole new meaning.  It was a federal holiday, and that meant . . . shopping.

My kids and grandkids never knew the young, spunky gal who could maneuver a car in big city traffic better than a man.  That's why my mother was always the appointed driver for the V.A. girls' annual shopping trips to Dallas.  Mama could dart in and out of cars, turn down one-way streets going the wrong way, and run red lights, all with a New England "So's your old man" bargain buying determination.    

Shopping on Veterans Day sometimes put Mama in a bad mood, though.  She said that if the sales lady told her one more time that the outfit she was viewing in the three-way mirror was "certainly body-friendly," she was going to rip the velcroed shoulder pads out of the  "body-friendly" outfit and politely stuff them in her "access ready" mouth.   

I figured that on the surface the phrase seemed harmless enough.  I pointed out to Mama that the sales lady was just trying to be polite.  It was her way of saying that the black, flowing material covered the mid-life marks of a few too many chips and dips.  But after hearing the phrase ten times in three outfits, Mama had heard it nine times too many.  

"Forgiving" is another word sales people used to describe an outfit's camouflaging abilities.  Mama said there must have been workshops on how to plump up a dress while the customer stood in front of the mirror and believed she was witnessing a body-shrinking miracle.  Mama would come out of the dressing room looking drab and lumpy, wearing a sad, hopeless expression, and the sales person, in a flurry of  motion, added yet another set of shoulder pads, rolled or pushed up the sleeves, bloused the material at the waistline, stood the collar up, and voila!  Mama seemed to have shrunk.

Mama had a one-piece, straight-up-and-down dress that hung in her closet like an overcooked rigatoni noodle because that's exactly how it looked on her body once she brought it home on Veterans Days---without the sales lady.  Every year, Mama refused to fall into that trap again, and she vowed to try on outfits until she found one that sang in a key that came naturally.  Not one where she had to reach falsetto pitches to wear in comfort.

But alas, Mama would leave the stores empty-handed.  But it was Veterans Day, and she always brought a patriotic souvenir home to Daddy.  That's when the trinket safari began.  When Mama retired from the Veterans Administration, Daddy had quite a collection of airplane pins, tiny flags, red-white-and-blue coffee mugs, and proud-to-be-an-American caps.  Veterans Day evenings were always the same---Mama with her shoes off and Daddy in his cardigan sweater...


...wearing a poppy.

  Huntington Beach News

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