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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Coming Of Age In An Orange Jumpsuit

There's a family story, now a bit of a family legend having to do with fashion and my coming-of-age.

Mom had bought me (I kid you not) a bright orange short-short jumpsuit with a scoop neck, short sleeves and a white zipper.  Very mod.  I believe I was probably 16 or thereabouts, maybe older.  My whole family and my either soon-to-be (or newly made) European sister-in-law were invited to a dinner at the Blank's house on the east side of Cleveland.  (Mrs. Blank had a kind of "secret" crush on my father, which even to a teenager, was somewhat obvious.)  I asked Mom what I should wear to this dinner party and she suggested the orange jumpsuit.  "Seriously, Mom, don't you think it's a little short and casual?"  No, she said, it'll be fine.  Having Miss Manners for a mother, I relied on her judgement.  All righty then.  Orange it is.  (By the way, it is one of the only items of orange clothing I have ever worn in my entire life to date.  I hate orange on me.)

Now Mr and Mrs Blank had 3 sons: a precocious, annoying one, a nice, cute one and and kind of middle-of-the-road one.  And Mr. and Mrs. Blank were NOT happy with my father because, as I recall, Dad had helped a non-WASP move into their little WASP-island community.  Quelle horreur!  Mrs. Blank obviously, patently disapproved of my attire and we set into an evening filled with snipes, innuendoes and frosty conversations.  Cocktails began and Mrs. Blank proceeded to get slightly blitzed. Mr Blank was also feeling no pain.  My brother was wondering when this evening would end and I'm sure my sister-in-law was wondering what the hell kind of gauche American heathen's nest she's inadvertently stepped in. My mother, with all her many faults, had impeccabile social manners and kept up that good old Yankee upper lip stiff and unfailingly polite.  She skillfully steered the conversation in "safer", more neutral topics but even "Weese" couldn't keep that boat on course.

I have to tell you that I grew up in a family that is smart, quick-witted and well-spoken.  I was the family oddity; I didn't feel comfortable in social situations being very shy, a mumbler and insecure.  I never made eye contact; a tract I still struggle with. I always admired my family's quick repartee and was secretly envious.

Dinner came; there was more liquid libations and the veiled niceties were quickly going by the wayside as Mrs. Blank and my father were now starting to take the verbal gloves off.  It was getting ugly.  I remember looking at my brother across the table; he looked miserable and embarrassed.  It was cold in the house, and I starting rubbing my arms.

"Are you warm enough, dear?" said Mrs. Blank in a nasty, uppity, almost sickly sweet tone.

Without missing a beat, I looked her dead in the eye (very unusual for me) and distinctly replied, "Yes, but not from the love exuding from the table!"

(Exuding? Yes, I used that word.  Not bad.)

Silence.  Dead silence.  Tension.  My eyes dart across the table and meet my brother's. He gives me a little head bow as if to say, "Bravo!"  I had made the passage from little girl to young adult in one sentence.  There was a hesitation and then conversation returned to a fairly civilized tone.  The horrible evening wound swifty to a close with me as the clear winner in the verbal game of repartee.

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