Achieving Womanhood in Alberta

Ever so Fragile

Ever so Fragile

Being the youngest in a family of five, my parents had no protection from being considered “old”.  In fact I never considered them being “young”.  As I became aware of friends’ families, I noticed they had grandparents close to the age of my parents.

This contributed significantly to my eldest sister, Donna, being the one I sought for advice and explanation regarding maturation.

Another reason for Donna being my confidante, I spent my fifth summer with her new husband and her for two exciting months of young love, exploration and fun.  I can still conjure the feeling of reins in my hands, driving the team of horses that pulled the old hay rack.  The new husband stood close by, giving instructions, while Donna scolded from a distance.  Even then, she allowed her kid sister a taste of being “grown up”.

Donna and her husband moved to Calgary.  I loved visiting them.  She’d tell me more and more about the physical changes I could expect as my body matured.  She talked about entering womanhood with a respect that enhanced my impatience for the full experience.

By age 11, I had begun development – my promise of achieving that elusive state of womanhood.  I wanted to wear the appropriate under garment to disguise my development from snoopy eyes.

Certainly mother would not be the one to discuss such matters.

Donna was in Calgary and we didn’t have a telephone.  There was only one solution.  I’d go to the General Store, buy the necessary under garment and use the charge account that was for emergency use only.

I waited until no one else was in the store.  I raced in, “Hi Mrs. Hunter. Could you please get me a brazzzeere?”

“Oh…well, okay.  But I’ll have to measure you first to get the right size.  It’s very simple so you don’t have to feel shy.”

We went to the counter where female products graduated in size.  “Hold your arms out and I’ll just put this measuring tape around you and your blouse.  Let’s see…okay…28 inches.  Hmmm.”

“28?” I said and headed to the first row.  “Is that what these tags mean?”  The smallest I could see was 32.  I looked up at Mrs. Hunter trying to mask my disappointment.

“Dear me!  Have we sold all the 28s?!  Why didn’t I notice?  I’ll put in an order right away.  But, these orders take a long time so you’ll have to be very patient!”

For a few months, I checked with Mrs. Hunter weekly trying to contain first my enthusiasm, then my disappointment.  “Are you sure you sent in the order?” I’d ask.  She’d remind me that ladies’ under garments always took a long time to arrive.

Finally, one Saturday morning, Mrs. Hunter said, “I was waiting for you.  I think I need to measure you again to make sure I got it right.”  She lead me to a private area, measuring tape in hand, smiling as she performed the operation once again.

“Look at this!  I now have one your size.  I’ll wrap it up so no one will know what you purchased.”

Relief washed over me that the order had finally come in.  I raced home and climbed the stairs to my bedroom.  I carefully took out my precious new purchase and studied the adjustments and hooks.  With untold delight, I put it on.  I turned toward the mirror.  A crinkly cup was good, I thought.  There was room for growth.  In a while, I decided, I would look just like my older sisters.

With a burst of pride, I ran to my friend’s house to show her.  When we entered her room, I undid my blouse and turned in a circle.  She looked closely and said, “I thought you said you were 28 inches.”

“Yep.  Mrs. Hunter measured me again to make sure she did it right.”

“Wonder why they put 32 on the tag.”

“I dunno! I’ll ask Donna the next time we go to Calgary.”

Donna’s face transformed into a soft knowingness when I told her the story and asked about sizing.   She then explained what had actually happened and said, “Mrs. Hunter’s a pretty special lady.”

If only I could have thanked Mrs. Hunter for recognizing the tenderness and fragility of a young girl so enthusiastic about maturing into womanhood.  I’d hug her for cleverly and kindly giving me a chance to grow into the 32 that was in stock all along.

I’d tell her she helped me begin a lifetime of growing into the right size.

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36 thoughts on “Achieving Womanhood in Alberta

  1. You have a wonderful gentleness of touch when telling a story.Here we’re led to the kindness of Mrs. Hunter as well as the yearning of a young girl to become adult in her own eyes. The difficulty of having a parent.getting on in years is treated nicely but the full impact is nonetheless achieved. Great reading. x

  2. Hi Amy .. what a lovely neighbourhood you must have lived in .. to be encouraged by Mrs Hunter – she sounds so warm .. and then your big sister and your friend … it sounds like you were surrounded by one big ‘love’ … I can’t remember my development … but it sure didn’t have the warmth I can feel here … Great story – thanks, Hilary

    • Our little prairie town had a few dozen homes – we were surrounded by farms – and we truly knew everyone. A train came through weekly and if we were lucky, we were there when produce was delivered to the station. We could see (and report) what our neighbours were purchasing. The rest of the week we kids took over the train station. We brought our squeaky little record players and danced to Bill Halley and the Comets. By the time the Beatles came along, we were FAR too sophisticated to play there!

  3. What a lovely lovely story Amy… the kindness of women is so beautiful… both your sister and that wonderful lady…That is just the sweetest story I’ve heard for a long time, and brings a smile to my face…
    When you write about your childhood it always sounds so blessed…

    • It was a blessed childhood, I believe. Being the youngest, Mom and Dad were confident parents (or worn out 🙂 ) so I experienced a great deal of freedom in how I spent time. But Mom always knew what I was doing if not where I was.

      Early on I was given the ability to be a part of major decisions affecting me. I knew other kids my age didn’t have the same privilege which told me to refrain from pushing the boundaries. For example, curfew time was discussed in my mid teens. Mother wanted me home by midnight, but the teen dance ended at 11:00 and we simply had to go for a hamburger afterwards. Sometimes the place was so busy, I may not get home until 12:15 or 12:30. Thus instead of a time, my curfew was “right after the hamburger”. And I knew not to mess with that!

  4. A beautiful, tender tale of awakening womanhood ~ it could be a story~line from ‘The Waltons’! Such a contrast to the ridiculous pressures young girls are bombarded by these days, with miniature ‘sexy’ underwear available for pre~pre~pubescent children.
    I’ve adopted Mrs Hunter as my role model, inspiring me to cultivate her gentle touch for dealing with my grandchildren’s awkward questions, as they grow (at the right pace) towards adulthood. Thank you for a great ‘feel~good’ post, Amy! 🙂

    • As painful as it was to have to wait for adult things, it was like the process of the butterfly at the cocoon stage. You know, Jacqueline – where the butterfly has to struggle to break out from the cocoon which means its wings are strong enough to fly.

      When I encounter a little girl downtown all dressed up in fairy garb, I take time to make a fuss over them. I love encountering a child being so engaged in that irreplaceable state of childhood. Your grandchildren are fortunate indeed to have a wise ol’ gram such as yourself!

      BTW – Maggie Thatcher. We really have lost a significant example, mentor and icon.

    • Wasn’t she perceptive? Since Mom never questioned me about the bill from the General Store, I’m sure Mrs. Hunter had confided with her. So the two of them wisely left me to get on with my development! 🙂

  5. This is touching on so many levels. It reminds me of that same period in my life, (and I had a mom who also looked more like a grandma). I was a late bloomer, thought I’d never develop. All the other girls were wearing bras already when finally one side began to develop. I was mortified. I thought if it was only on one side it must be cancer, not a new breast! I never confided to my mother because she was just too old to talk to. I just lived in fear till the other side appeared. And THEN, I begged her for a bra. She, being large-chested, sniffed and said, “You don’t have anything to put INTO a bra.” But she went out and bought me one of those training bras with the expandable cups. That was worse than having NO bra! I was a very ungrateful little brat.

    • Yes, Linda, I’ve made amends to mother a fair number of times in the past five years. I was so impatient with mom – having NO understanding of what an older person experiences. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t be ready when I arrived to pick her up – thinking she had all morning to prepare. I had no idea the struggle she had putting on panty hose. She didn’t tell me for ages…and she couldn’t bear stockings with elastic tops. She couldn’t imagine leaving her house without stockings – not simply for vanity reasons, but for the chill she may experience.

      Just like you, I have also felt I was such an ungrateful little brat! Perhaps I’ll write the story of my most embarrassing bratty act.

      I’m so grateful Mom and I found and hired good care-givers who were trained and understanding. Those women helped mom fulfill her determination to live in her own home as long as possible.

  6. Oh my word I think that is the sweetest bra story I’ve ever read. I’d say you have thanked Mrs Hunter.
    You’ve inspired me to share my growing up stories. I’m also the youngest in my family – when I bought my first bra my older brothers teased me about it!

    • Yes, I was teased as well. My brother’s friends, however, would have been given a pop in the nose if they’d mentioned anything about my development. Brothers are funny that way – they don’t see their own insensitivity!

  7. Such a tender story so perfectly told. What a wait you had to endure. I never understood why my gorgeous mother didn’t get it…she was not older…and yes, she’s smart and wasn’t self-absorbed. She tended to all our needs except… I was literally the last girl in my PE class to get one. And then I had to point blank ask for my first one when I couldn’t stand it any longer. Oh, how I wished, my mother would just know those things. That was one thing I discussed with my daughters from the get go…”When you’re ready, let’s go.” Perfect writing, Amy.

    • Funny, isn’t it Georgette.

      Donna said Mom never helped her along these lines either. Probably why Donna was so good about helping me. With Mom being a teacher, one would think she’d be on top of it – as you were with your daughters. Maybe she thought the “health” film about our development would catch us in time and we’d ask if we needed help. Ha! I was already experiencing all the stages shown in that little filmstrip by the time we girls were ushered into our private viewing!

  8. Would that the world were peopled by Mrs. Hunters Amy. The lesson of tenderness and gentle entrance is on the verge of extinction in these Vsecret/www days. *sigh*
    *anna

  9. I love Mrs Hunter, what a wonderful lady. This brought back many memories of my teenage years. So much growing to do then and still now, never too old for learning

    • Yes, Dee, wasn’t she something?! General Stores in little towns on the Prairie were critical to life and living. With all the charging people had to do, I’ve wondered often if owners, like the Hunters, ever made any money. Perhaps their security was a roof over their head and all the food they needed. In all likelihood, the folks who could afford to pay their bills invisibly floated the ones who couldn’t.

      A Prairie school mate of mine took over his father’s General Store 35 years ago. When he retired a few years ago, he owned a little mall – a store for every department in the old store!

    • Hi Kath – have you adjusted back to good ol’ Canada? Talked to some folk from your Big Smoke and they said they’re staying here for a while to let Spring arrive there.

    • Yes, Mel…and I thanked Donna for being such a guiding light. One day, in a card, I listed the main reasons for my thanks – including for all the times she made Christmas such a great event. (She had 5 children so it was easier for her to have us join her.) She told me no one else in the family thanked her – for her help or for opening her home as a second home for us. Man, we family members can sure take a lot for granted!

      Speaking of sisters, Mel…I still think of yours and conduit positive beams of good health.

    • Hi Paula – what a treat to make your acquaintance. I thoroughly enjoyed your post about airplane travel. I just may want to keep an “I” on you. In fact, I wonder if we share the same province.

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