Warning! This is kind of a long story, so don’t bother with it if you don’t have the time…
As I was preparing for the Marine Corps Ball yesterday, a sense of foreboding swept over me. I didn’t know what it was or why every year when we go to the Marine Corps Ball, I get a twinge of dread. Of course, I now think it’s just my ego and that nasty little voice in my head asking me who I think I am and telling me that I am not good enough or classy enough for this kind of event. Bob, my Marine husband, however, is in his element when he attends these ceremonies each year and whenever he is around his Marine Corps brothers and sisters; his Marine Corps family. I don’t often get to see him shine like he does when he is in uniform and celebrating with other Marines. He is strikingly handsome, in my humble opinion, and so deserves to shine as bright and big as his medals.
When I was a child, I was a tomboy and more comfortable sitting up in a tree alone, watching the world go by. My dad was a steel worker and had Parkinson’s disease for a very, very long time, so his career was limited along with his physical capacity. This also meant we did not have a lot of money growing up. My parents and the 5 of us kids lived in a small one bedroom, one bathroom house on a busy street – we were the ethnic minority in our neighborhood. Us kids slept in the attic, far removed from the only furnace register that was in the living room. Summers were insufferable when we slept in the attic, as we had no air conditioning.
I was the youngest of the 5 kids, so that meant lots of hand-me-downs and wearing shoes with toilet paper stuffed into the toes until my feet got big enough to remove the worn out paper. Oh, how I wished I had feet bigger than my older sister so I wouldn’t have to wear her old shoes while she got new shoes when I grew out of my old ones. It just didn’t seem fair. But, life’s not fair, and you have to be careful of what you wish for. You will likely get it, but it will not be at all what you expected. I now have feet bigger than my sister. In fact, I have big feet and big hands compared to most adults I know. Not such a great thing after all, I’ve found.
In 1972 I was invited by one of my long time off-and-on boyfriends, Tom, to be his date at the JROTC Ball at his school. I wanted to go, but I knew it meant too much trouble to try to get to the Ball. My dad was as tight as Scrooge. He had to be with 5 kids. And, he was a hard man to live with. Kudos to my mom for being able to put up with him for so long. I don’t know if the Parkinson’s and all the medication he took for it made him difficult or if it was the result of his own childhood. An aunt of mine said he was a very sweet little boy until he got thrown off a horse and was in the hospital for a long recovery. Anyhow, I knew that if I asked my dad, he would probably say “no” or he would make it impossible for me to go. First off, I’m sure he wouldn’t have helped me buy or even “get” the stuff necessary for a girl to look good at a Ball. You need a dress and shoes, and it would be nice to have a bit of makeup (at least nail polish – have you seen the price of make-up lately?) and do up your hair. Where on earth would I be able to get a dress for little to nothing? And, then there are the shoes. I knew I’d wear the dress maybe once in my lifetime, so I couldn’t fathom making this work. As weird as it sounds, I asked my mom to tell me “no” when I asked her if I could go. I think she would have said “yes” but I didn’t want to lie to the boy asking me for a date.
When I told Tom I couldn’t go, I could hear him gulp on the other end of the phone line. I will never forget that gulp and the feeling of letdown I had. I knew he was disappointed, and I had hurt him. But, why should anyone be disappointed over me? I was sure it was because it was hard for him to ask someone and he probably thought I was an easy “yes.” Looking back now, I think he probably really did want me to go. I can only hope that when girls or ladies turn boys and men down for dates that they know it may not have anything at all to do with them and more to do with the lady’s circumstances in life at the time. That’s where I was… Cinderella without a fairy Godmother.
So, here I am each year in November reliving the fairy tale princess story and feeling unworthy of it each time. As I tried to figure out what my uneasy feelings were yesterday, I was reminded of Tom and my life before my marriage to Bob and his Marine Corps. I think that’s where it started. And, being the youngest of 5 children in a poor family, you learn that social occasions are generally at home around the dinner table, not in public and with friends. Our outings meant going to see other family members. Dad was the oldest of 15, so I have almost 5o cousins. The lack of social events beyond family probably explains my shyness when it comes to parties and strangers. But, for whatever reason, strangers will come up and talk to me. In fact, they will tell me things that they would not tell others. Is it because they sense my lack of socialization?
Alas, I am happiest when I am working alone in my studio, on the quilts that comfort me and others. In fact, I have been so busy doing that lately that I completely forgot about getting any nail polish. Bob was out running errands yesterday, so I asked him to pick up either some burgundy or some pearly pink nail polish and told him whatever he did not to come back with any of that cotton candy-looking or Pepto Bismol colored nail polish. Also, I did not need him spending money on a corsage for me. If I’d learned anything from my parents, it was how to pinch a penny and not waste too much money on needless things.
My hero, the Marine, does not know what it takes for a girl to get ready for the Ball, so he thought I needed lipstick too. When he said something about getting lipstick also, I made a face at him that would make a dog cower. I don’t wear lipstick. It’s not that I have a problem with others wearing lipstick – it’s just that I don’t know how. I wasn’t taught the finer things in life and don’t know how to deal with keeping myself looking girly. Truth be told, I’m a mess. I always have been and suspect I always will be. I’ve never been a girly girl. My hair has never cooperated with me, regardless of what I’ve done. My purse flops around, dumps over on a regular basis, and gets in my way when I’m trying to organize at the cash register and elsewhere. Pumps (for those of you who do not know, they are ladies’ dress shoes with no straps) do not like me. Since Bob is only 2 inches taller than me, I have always tried to wear low heels, which usually come in Pumps if you want something dressy. My duck feet will not keep Pumps on since my narrow heels do not hug the back of the shoes.
But, getting back to the lipstick, finger nail polish and corsage… Bob came back from his errands with… guess what? Not only did he bring me a corsage (because that’s what this hero Marine of mine does), but he brought me 2 tubes of lipstick to match the 2 shades of finger nail polish; burgundy and the pink that leaves streaks when you try to put in on… yes, that cotton-candy pink. If you know anything at all about me, by now you know I’ve had 6 eye surgeries in the last 18 months so I do not see well out of my left eye. That adds to the “mess” charisma that I so boldly wear.
So, which color? I tried the pink lipstick on and it messes all around my lips. Okay, let’s cover that up with the burgundy. No, now I look like a clown. When Bob saw me later, he realized why I do not wear lipstick. Really! You should have seen it. The look on his face said it all as he was trying to disguise his smile and not laugh. I really did try to clean it up, but it just looked like I smeared it on my face like a little kid would do.
Feeling a bit uneasy from the lipstick fiasco, I decided to go for the cotton-candy nail polish. Yes, it smeared too and looked streaked, but I cleaned it up as best I could and was thankful I hadn’t tried the burgundy nail polish. It would be dark at the Ball, so hopefully nobody would notice my finger nails.
When I work on my hair for the Ball, it doesn’t want to curl or stay pinned up or anything. I’ve even had it done up by a professional, but it never turns out the way I’d like or expect. My hair is so uncooperative that I’ve learned to just have my hair cut straight across and not to bother with fancy hairstyles. They just don’t work for this Cinderella. As I curled my hair yesterday, it was looking pretty good until I tried to put a couple of bobby pins in it to hold it up. No, not only did the bobby pins not stay in, but I swear they flew out of my hair! I swear! Even Bob tried to help me, but they still flew out of my hair. So, I just resigned myself to go as I was. I looked “fine… just fine.”
Weird as it was, when we got to the Ball, guys were turning their heads to look at me and to stare at cleavage. Now, I’m an older lady, so I know that is just what guys do. They see how much they can “see” past the clothing. But, who on earth would want to look at an older lady, this older lady? I’ve even got a tit zit down between my breasts; you know… a zit on my tit by my cleavage. So, I was trying to figure out if they were looking at my zit or trying to see cleavage, because there were plenty of beautiful young ladies there. There was even a gentleman around 80 years old doing the cleavage stare thing. Does their “urge” never go away? Or, was it the zit?
Anyhow, as it turns out, I saw a lot of beautiful women there and most of them had their hair down, a lot of them didn’t even bother to fuss with their hair or to curl it; they just wore it hanging straight down. And, you could tell they didn’t have a lot of money to spend on a dress, make-up and accessories. And, still, they looked gorgeous. The moral of the story? Don’t worry about what other people think. We are all in this life as we are and to give of ourselves the best we can. Even though my subconscious (that nasty, evil, little voice in my head – no friend of mine!) tells me that Bob deserves better than to have a mess of a wife like me to hang on his arm at the Marine Corps Ball, I was his date and I am thankful that I got the chance to be a date at a military ball. Not everybody gets that chance, but I finally did.
Handsome Bob and “Ol Pirate Eye”