Saturday, January 02, 2016

A Story

Apart from this blog, I haven't been up to much original writing for I don't know how long.

And the other day I made a note when listening to someone talk about a white dress. The note said "white dress wispies." And a long ago day, when I was thirteen, flooded back into my mind as vividly as yesterday. I'll let the story speak for itself, though it probably needs a bit of editing.


A White Dress and Wispies

I was mad with excitement. A distant relative had sent a dress all the way from New York, white with a tiny gold belt. Mummy broke down and let me buy the gold ballet style shoes, known as “Wispies” - they came in fifty colours. My best friend Nuala had ten pairs in every colour under the sun and beyond. I was lucky to get this one magical pair.

A garden party. A final garden party in a huge old country house that was being turned over to the government as some kind of centre. And Daddy, representing local government, was taking me. It was ten miles away and no buses went out there but we were going on our bikes as we didn't own a car yet. We were used to long cycles to the seaside on Sundays when the weather was warm like today. I loved escaping from the house, from Mummy and all the younger ones and the crying baby. It was only afterward, when I was grown and gone, that I reflected on how unfair that was, Daddy escaping, Mummy stuck endlessly with four boys under ten with no relief.

I borrowed Mummy's pale blue angora cardigan with the pearl buttons and wore a pair of white gloves that I'd worn at my confirmation a couple of years ago.
“Pull that hair off your face,” Daddy said irritably before we set off. My long hair was an endless source of annoyance to him. Maybe because he was balding, I couldn't figure it out. So I ran upstairs and took a ribbon out of Mummy's old biscuit tin that housed her treasures. I took a minute to pull my thick hair up and back in a ponytail.

“You'll have a lovely time,” said Mummy at the door, waving us off, the baby on her hip, “Remember your manners!”

After we discreetly parked the bikes outside the main gate and went in, Daddy introduced me to Important People. I had been instructed to say “pleased to meet you,” and shut up. That was easy as I was very busy looking around at all the women in hats. All kinds of hats. And everything matched beautifully. There was champagne and Tanora and four people in a little pavilion playing classical music.

Getting bored very quickly while Daddy made conversation with strangers, I wandered off. I thought I might be the youngest there, for I saw no children. Waiters wandered around with trays, I followed one until he noticed me and handed me a linen napkin and then held out the tray. It was piled with all kinds of tiny delicacies. Hors d'oeuvres they were called - I'd read about them in a book but hadn't a clue how to pronounce it. I loaded down my napkin with morsels and proceeded to pop them one at a time into my mouth. The waiter rolled his eyes at me, I thought it quite rude, and marched off.

I sat down in front of the musicians and polished off the rest of the food. Laughter rolled in waves all about me, the polite meaningless kind. I applauded the musicians when they finished a piece but I was the only one and they ignored me. There was a sudden silence followed by the ringing of a bell and I got up and followed the sound to a dais where there were many officials, all well dressed men, Daddy amongst them.

Keys were being formally handed over to Daddy's boss whom I'd met earlier and then an old book was signed by two of them and a curtain at the back of the dais was pulled aside and the name of the new entity was emblazoned on a huge granite stone, and photographers were flashing bulbs and there was thunderous applause all around. An excitement I didn't feel. Not one bit. I looked around for more trays and spotted one at the back of the crowd with multi-coloured pastries and I charged off and smoothed out my crumpled napkin and helped myself to more than a few of the fresh delicacies.

I was still munching them when I was tapped none too gently on my shoulder.
“Go on! Leave! I'll follow you! Hurry up!” Daddy was very angry.
'You're a disgrace!” he said through tight lips, fastening his bicycle clips to his trousers, “I should never bring you anywhere!”
“What did I do?” I was bewildered, frightened.
“You'd think your mother would take care of you!” he was hissing now, I could tell he was disgusted.
“What's wrong, Daddy?”
“What's right would be more like it,” he climbed on his bike, “The embarrassment, the shame of this!”
“Ride in front of me, for God's sake!” he said as we pulled out on the bikes.

I was shaking but thought to not anger him further. The ride home was the longest I'd ever experienced. His displeasure shot holes in my back.

As soon as we got home he confronted Mummy, shepherding the three of us into the Front Room and slamming the door.

“She's a disgrace, she's a let down, in front of everyone. I'm telling you woman, that's the last time I'll ever be seen with her. I don't know how I can walk back into my office tomorrow. I'll be the talk of the town. And it's all your fault!”

Mummy was white, she was down to stuttering his name, like she always did when he turned on her.

“Turn around!” he said to me, grabbing my arm as if I wouldn't do it fast enough to please him.

“Oh my God!” said Mummy from behind me.

A white dress and my first period.

30 comments:

  1. Oh dear! But not a very sympathetic man, your da.

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    1. Very irritable, SJG - and his anger frightened all of us.

      XO
      WWW

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  2. Good lord, what a perfectly horrible experience! Man, so sorry you had to experience that kind of childhood, my sympathies.

    Ok, in terms of composition and the like, the segue between the last part where mom has her turn around should be something different, this is a bit too abrupt, maybe. Or maybe it's just me. Anyway, nice writin'
    Mike

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    1. Thanks Mike. it didn't take me long to write once the memory came back and your suggestion noted.

      I think in those days men were ill-equipped to deal with daughterly female issues even though my dad had 5 older sisters.

      There was shame associated with menstruation "Our Lady wept if you discuss it with a MAN." unbelievable but true.

      XO
      WWW

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  3. How ghastly for you...how did you cope?

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    1. That affected me profoundly E though I had buried it. In hindsight the cardigan could have been tied around my waist and a bathroom visit with a sympathetic female guest. Concepts unheard of then in a patriarchal rigid Catholicism where women's business was disgusting.
      XO
      WWW

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  4. change that to a concert and a white skirt and I suffered the same experience, except that I was with my mother so got kindness instead of meanness. but you never forget it!

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    1. So true Sharon - I so wish it had been my mother, though she had a fair degree of shame around menstruation as well. A fear (probably around pregnancy). It should be such a joyful transitional experience for women.

      XO
      WWW

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  5. Poor child !
    How could we all have been so mortified by menstruation then ? Including your father , obviously ...

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    1. SAS: Sexuality and evidence thereof was so fraught with evil by the RC church. It layered itself over everything, even joy and celebration. And women were so much the underclass and responsible for the sins of men including rape. Don't get me started :(

      XO
      WWW

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  6. Wispies,They were flat without a heel. Right? I could never wear flat shoes, though I liked the look of them. Even today, I like a little heel to lift my foot/feet.

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  7. This is a super crass version of what I went through, too. My mother did not have a passel of kids and she was somewhat assertive, but my father turned on me and assaulted me occasionally after I started developing and having periods.

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    1. Yes Hattie, my relationship with my dad deteriorated badly when I hit puberty, he never seemed relaxed around me and very, very critical and yes he assaulted me, verbally and physically. :(

      XO
      WWW

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  8. So many women must have been mortified by the enforced secrecy and condemnation surrounding menstruation at that time. So much secrecy that I have no knowledge at all of my sister's first period. It was obviously kept very secret and brothers were not to know about it.

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    1. And the evidence hidden as well Nick my mother burned ours in the old kitchen stove.

      XO
      WWW

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  9. Oh....... poor you and what a terrible way to treat a child. Life could be cruel when we were young. No wonder we sometimes have hang ups about things (like I do, anyway.)
    I enjoyed your story till I got to your father's bit at the end....... then anger set in.
    Happy New Year. Thanks for the good advice on mine!
    Maggie x

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  10. My father changed completely when I hit puberty Maggie. Moody.Angry.Unpredictable. And of course it gave me hangups and unhealthy behaviours I've had to work on.
    What was it that Philip Larkin wrote in his famous poem??!!

    XO
    WWW

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  11. after responding to this before I wondered why no woman at this event had the kindness to take you aside and help you.

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    1. I honestly believe Sharyn that I was (a) a child and (b) invisible, the woman were wearing garden party hats with huge brims and didn't move around with their champagne held in gloved hands. No one of that calibre would want to get involved with an embarrassing child.

      XO
      WWW

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  12. Oh god that is SO sad Wise! and so well written. Thanks.

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    1. I know for many of us our introductions to womanhood was far less than ideal and there are many more horrific stories out there, Betty.

      XO
      WWW

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  13. I just went there. I was there at the edge of the party. I was a young maid and when no one noticed I grabbed you and whispered for you to come with me. You did. I brought you to the room up in the attic I shared with two other of the help. There I set you up with a napkin and found a way to wash off the blood. It was so hot, it dried fast. I was scared to spend too long with you but told you no problem that you were good to go and not to mind - 'you are a woman now and can do what no man can' I said while I snuck you back to the party.

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    1. Oh so lovely Jan I will always think of that now ☺

      XO
      WWW

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  14. Wise womanI am a woman in my sixties and grew up to in an age where these were kept under wraps but unlike you had a mother and father who were both kind and understanding in all aspects of my life I feel very blessed by this but many of my friends couldn't talk or ask questions of their parents and I think this is so sad

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    1. Welcome Margaret!
      How very fortunate for you. If I think of one word that typifies the Ireland I grew up on it would be 'repression'. Anything that smacked of sexuality or joy or female.
      So many of my friends were unprepared and we found them in washrooms at school bawling as they thought they were bleeding to death.
      XO
      WWW

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  15. What a totally unexpected ending! Great.

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  16. I wish I could give you kudos and suggestions both on the story, but I was too caught up in the story to read it with editing in mind.

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