Girls Don't Wear Pants
The shiny green pantsuit called out to me, its voice coming from the depths of what seemed like a forest—a luscious green corduroy forest. The ribs in the fabric stood straight like trees in the sun. I ran my hand over it. It felt like velvet. And it wasn’t a dress.
Early mornings, while Mommy cooked breakfast, Bertie and I sat on short stools while ‘I Love Lucy'' played on a small black-and-white television. After breakfast and the dishes were done, she called us into the kitchen and hoisted us beside the white galvanized sink.
"Lay on the counter and keep your head over the sink, Mommy said.
Legs dangling over the edge of the counter, we tried to hold our heads still so Mommy could wash our hair without getting shampoo in our eyes. But I could never be still, and I thrashed my head back and forth as Mommy washed and rinsed. Afterward, she gave us a washcloth bath since we were too big to sit in the sink. And then we stood on the drain while she dressed us.
We had plenty of clothes to wear. Mommy sewed long lace strings on our dresses' edges and made sure we always matched. Thus, strangers often asked whether or not we were twins.
When I look at pictures of Bertie and me at that age, we were always well-kept and clean, clothed in a dress or blouse-skirt ensemble with white socks and black shoes. Our hair neat and in ringlets. At least, this was how we looked in our Sunday best pictures. On other days we wore hand-me-downs or thrift store finds. That's how a hunter-green corduroy pantsuit hand-me-down showed up on top of a pile of clothes beside the sink the day I spotted it.
If Mommy had not intended for me to wear it, I'm not sure why it laid out in plain sight. But the outfit she picked up to put on me that day was a dress.
"Mommy, I want to wear the green one," I said.
"What green one?"
"The green pants."
"I'm sorry, but you can't wear that," she said.
"Why can't I?"
He often looked under my skirt, even though I tried hard to keep the front of it lodged in the soil as my legs spread wide in a seated position.
Because did not sound like a good enough reason to deny the longing that danced in my head. I wanted to look like the little black girls that played outside our fenced yard, although sometimes their hand-me-down pants were filled with holes. The green corduroy pantsuit looked new, and I longed to wear it. I also rationalized that Johnny, the white boy living in the apartment below, couldn't look under my dress when we played in the dirt if I wore pants. He often looked under my skirt, even though I tried hard to keep the front of it lodged in the soil as my legs spread wide in a seated position. How else could a three-year-old wearing a dress play in the dirt? And Johnny always peeked.
I wanted to step into its green glory, feel each leg slide down the holes, and see my feet emerge from the hemline.
I sensed Mommy wanted to please me, but something held her back. If I kept asking, maybe she would change her mind. I wanted to step into its green glory, feel each leg slide down the holes, and see my feet emerge from the hemline. I was determined.
"Mommy, I want to wear the green one," I asked, day after day.
One day she finally responded with an honest answer. "You can't wear it because your daddy doesn't want you girls wearing pants."
"But why," I said.
If Daddy said, "Just because," then there must have been a good reason. We rarely crossed him. The fight was over, and I conceded, never again asking to wear the green pantsuit.
Having gone to a fundamental Bible college in Canada, Daddy adopted ideals of acceptable and unacceptable conduct for Christians, including what Christians should and shouldn't wear. In the 60s, many evangelical groups stood firm on these same fundamental values, and one of them was girls didn't wear pants.
~ an excerpt from WIP memoir
Here's another WIP excerpt - The Dreamer