Events that exist in memory wander through my mind. In my advanced years, the stories stack up like discarded newspapers reaching to the ceiling. One episode protrudes from the pile and brings belly-shaking laughter as my thoughts travel back to the 1950s and my teens.
“Stop squirming and turn around,” my sister, Susan, scolded as she dressed our cousin, Babe, for an illegal date.
“I don’t know if this is such a good idea,” Babe’s worried voice said.
“Oh, it’ll be fine. No one will know,” Susan assured her in a stage whisper.
We were in the bedroom, my sister and I shared. Our beds and dressers shoved against the walls left the middle open for their antics. With interest, I watched as Susan took control of the situation as though she knew what she was doing. At fifteen, neither girl was allowed to go on dates with boys in cars. That privilege was reserved until they were sixteen and not a day before. Nor were they allowed to attend house parties without our parents knowing where, when, with whom, plus they wanted to speak to the adults that would chaperone. Still, the tingle of rebellion quivered through the girls as they prematurely testing that freedom. Nothing short of our parents finding out was going to stop them.
The words “let’s party” in the middle of the nineteen fifties were cosmic galaxies apart from what they mean today. Then a teen party meant dancing to our favorite music, drinking soft drinks with nothing added, and playing silly games.
In fact, my first kiss was the result of my brother’s party at our home. At fourteen, I was his little sister and he would rather have eaten maggots than allow me to attend. Still, I was given the privilege of lingering around the living room doorway to watch. They were playing truth or dare, a game that challenged the person on the hot seat to correctly answer a ridiculous question. If they got it right, they got to ask the next question from someone. If their answer was wrong, they were dared to do something, usually embarrassing, in the hopes of providing entertainment. The boy standing in the middle of the room had gotten the question wrong and was dared to kiss me. I’m sure my brother thought that would sufficiently mortify any guy. The fellow didn’t seem to mind and willingly came over to fulfill his obligation. I thought it was great, he was good looking, plus it got me partway into the party.
Kissing back then was not much more than the peck on the cheek we would give our mothers, except on the lips. French kissing was mystery teasing our imagination of possible sexual pleasures. When we learned it was putting one’s tongue into another’s mouth, the reaction was usually total disgust. If too much kissing went on at teen parties, there was always the chaperones standing by to settle down the hormonal juices.
My sister’s date, Alan, was one of her friends, but Babe’s blind date, Fred, was unknown to everyone except Alan. Babe nervously looked at the sweater and full skirt Susan had set out on the bed for her. It was appropriate attire for the times, but that wasn’t what worried her. Poor Babe, her chest was flatter than still water on a plate. Susan and I had dug through our drawers and found a black, satin French bra. This, we believed, would fill Babe out. Her small body wasn’t much bigger than that of a child, and our regular bras were far too big around her tiny form.
French bras are unheard of today, so allow me to explain. They laced at the back instead of the hook and eye used today. The laces on this particular bra were long enough to wrap around Babe twice and still tie at the back. The problem was, this bra was made for a well-endowed woman. Hey, at least it fit her, what more could she want?
“There,” Susan exclaimed in approval as she finished lacing Babe in, “that should do it!” At the same time, she reached for the bundle of white ankle socks stacked on her dresser. With concentration and efficiency, Susan stuffed the bra to its fullest and then stood back to survey the effects. Babe’s small body barely supported the enormous breasts that had been created for her. In those days, bras were shaped to force the breasts into hard pointed pyramids. Babe’s new breasts were big enough to compete with the Great Pyramid of Giza. By the time she was dressed, Babe had presented a good picture, a little top-heavy, but not too bad.
Nervously they sneaked out the back door to their adventure, Susan, confident all was well, Babe wondering what she was getting herself into. Susan had arranged to meet the boys down the block at her friend’s house. It was an easy bet that things would go wrong. That night’s humiliation began for Babe after her first dance with six-foot-something, Fred. She barely measured five feet and had to stretch her left arm up to lay her hand on his shoulder—and her sock-stuffed breast followed along. When she put her arm back down, the chest did not comply. She was left with lopsided boobs.
The next crisis came from the box marked ‘predictable.’ The French bra had been tied in a bow at the back and came undone. Soon long strings of black shoelaces hung below the sweater. Poor Babe now had mismatched boobs and laces hanging out of her clothing. Susan’s hard work was coming apart like a sandcastle.
Susan grabbed Babe’s arm and whipped her into the bathroom. Diligently they straightened everything out and tied the bra in the front, in a knot, and hoped that Fred had not noticed. Poor Babe was so embarrassed she could have crawled under a snake and stayed there. She crammed herself into the farthest corner of the room and refused to move for the rest of that night. Summersaults of gratitude danced through her when it was time to go home.
They burst through our back door like Pooh’s Tigger, filled with excitement and out of breath from laughing. Although half of me had been watching television, the other half was listening for them to return, anxious to hear how the night had gone. The moment I heard them, I leaped from the couch and dashed into the bedroom.
“That was awful,” Babe groaned as I entered the room. She plopped down on Susan’s bed.
“That was hilarious!” Susan squeaked to me through her laughter.
“Glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Babe grumbled as she reached into the bra and threw handfuls of socks on the bed.
Susan tried to explain through her laughter. “On the way home, I sat in the front with Al, and Babe and Fred were in the back.” She stopped speaking long enough to catch her breath and continued a little calmer. “All the way home, I could hear Babe saying, ‘Stop…stop that! Don’t do that! Stop touching me!”
Laughter burst from Babe like a sneeze as she realized how funny it was. It doesn’t sound like Fred noticed the mess up with the boobs.
The experience may have been traumatic at the time, but Babe has since had many years of enjoyment in retelling the story. “Can you imagine the horror on that boy’s face if he’d pulled out a sock?” she laughed many years later. “Those were killer bras. I vividly remember dying a very slow death that night.”