A practical inheritance: A bowl, a strainer, a brush, some tweezers, and sex

By Sandra Hutchison

While helping my mother clean out my 96-year-old grandmother’s house before and after she died at the beginning of this year, I was of course tempted by a number of items, mostly old tools. They became my grandmother’s legacy to me. But my favorite items are not what I would have expected.

My great grandmother’s bread bowl

Thelma’s mother set her bread to rise in this bowl. It’s not in perfect condition at this point but is clearly beautifully made (and easy enough to restore, when I get around to it). I used to make bread before I did the math and realized the increase in my electricity bill more than offset any savings in the bread budget. My current stove is gas, though, so one of these days I may actually use this bowl for its original purpose again. (Of course I have a solar roof now, so electric would save me even more money.) In the meantime, it holds just about anything that isn’t wet. In the picture above, it’s the temporary home for a stalk of flowering balsam my neighbor gave me for next year’s seeds.

This really ugly food mill

I actually bought one of these in shiny stainless steel some years back to help me process tomatoes. Maybe I didn’t know to adjust it or something, but it ended up trashing 90% of my tomatoes, so I happily ditched it in a garage sale when we moved (and warned the person who bought it that it might only be good for applesauce). But I figured I’d try again when I saw this in my grandmother’s kitchen and could see that it had clearly been used a lot. This one works like a dream, so homemade tomato sauce and tomato soup are finally in my repertoire.

A clothes brush

I only recognized this because of Downton Abbey. This is a cheaper version of the brush John Bates would use to clean Lord Crawley’s beautiful wool suits. All I can say is that I’ve finally found something to clean wool and fleece of cat hair that actually works! Yes, lint tape works, too, but it takes a lot and that stuff isn’t cheap. (And in case you haven’t already figured it out, those little red velvet lint “brushes” you may see for sale are just a good way to fill up the landfill with useless plastic.) Of course, the challenge for me is finding a cat-hair-free spot on which to brush clothes down.

Tweezers and scissors

I found a whole set of different kinds for personal grooming. No one ever warned me getting older would mean growing hair in places I never had before (and losing hair in places I had it, not that I mind that when it comes to my legs). I’ve reached the age when I occasionally just take a razor out and shave my face and neck, but plucking is way more satisfying — if I can just get a grip on the little buggers. Over the years I’ve accumulated innumerable cheap tweezers that have proven useless for anything but cleaning dirt from under my fingernails. Most of these hand-me-down instruments from Grandma’s house, on the other hand, actually do what they are supposed to. (Yes, of course, I gave them a good cleaning.)

Sex

Just kidding. Except not really. In the back room we found a stash of relatively wholesome old girlie watercolors that probably belonged to my grandfather. And in the bedroom, near the bed, we found a pretty heavy-duty electric vibrator. My mother was appalled and threw that thing away faster than I could say, “Hey, let me see that!” Still, I thought it was pretty cool that my grandmother’s libido had clearly persisted well into old age.

Of course, I’d had clues earlier, like when she gave me a bunch of really kinky science fiction novels by John Norman back in my teens. And just a couple of years ago she passed along a big bag of old perspiration-stained lingerie, as if she thought it was all too precious not to find new use. Then there was the time she insisted my mother take her recently-deceased last husband’s penis pump back to the urologist so someone else could use it. (Poor Mom!)

The young Thelma Mae Quick

In truth, Grandma Thelma was always a bit more hot mama than doting grandmother. She could be self-centered and manipulative (especially of my mother), and some of her lies stretched far beyond the social lies of the traditional Southern female. Yes, she could cook up great fried catfish or lima bean soup, but she didn’t do much other grandmotherly stuff. I never got the feeling she was aching for a conversation with me. It honestly surprised me to discover she’d carefully saved every card or letter or school photo or homemade gift she’d gotten from us over the years.

So we were never all that close, but she was still my grandma. In the end, she showed me what ninety-six years of fairly cheerful persistence looks like. I think I’ll take that as the most valuable gift of all.

Thelma and Sandra

Girls, women, boobs, bras, and the march of time

A flat chest and smoking … two things that are not as stylish today as they once were.

This post was inspired by a new event at the local arts center that seeks to collect new bras for women living at the local YWCA. I know some of those women, and I think it’s a great cause. Although I clothe myself largely out of thrift stores, I know that the chance of ever finding a bra I’d want to wear in a thrift store is pretty slim.

It got me thinking about my own fraught relationship with support garments.

Today I have what doctors call “medium-sized breasts” on their mammography reports. But I’m not really a fan of what they call medium. They seem annoyingly big and floppy to me, especially now, as middle age and gravity set in.

I wish I were smaller. Like I was in junior high. Except not really. Because I hated being as small as I was then — smaller than EVERYONE ELSE. Once in seventh grade a girl sitting behind me in music class tried to flick my bra and realized I didn’t have one on. Or maybe she’d already known. “Why aren’t you wearing a bra?” she asked — loudly.

Everybody’s head swiveled our way. This was meant to shame me, of course. Who can resist a good public body shaming in seventh grade?

“Because I don’t need one,” I said, my tone pitched to suggest that she was an idiot.

“Oh,” she said, and dropped that line of attack completely. I had successfully faked her out. Because, of course, I was only pretending that I wasn’t horrified at being called out to the whole class for my bra-less state.

Seventh grade was when we first started changing for gym class and realized that we were in a grim race to develop just enough at just the right time to avoid the shame of being too big, too small, too flat, too busty, too tall, too short, too fat, too hairy, or not hairy enough.

And I was way, way behind. A boy who had a tube draining fluid from his brain was the only reason I wasn’t the shortest kid in the whole junior high school. And he was of no help at all when it came to me being the flattest.

So I didn’t need a bra yet, not at all, but I went home that day and told my mom I wanted one. It would, of course, be a training bra, which is a really weird term, as if breasts need to be trained to grow into the right shape, or putting on bras requires balance and skill. I suppose it’s really about training us into the idea that we’re probably going to be wearing one of these contraptions every day for the rest of our natural lives.

I stayed in training bras for a while. My height shot up in eighth grade, but my breasts took longer to develop. I actually grew almost inch in height my freshman year of college and I think I grew one or two cup sizes then, too. It was more than I was willing to admit, so my bras were too small for a good part of my life.

From what I’ve read, cup size denial is a major force in the universe. It’s why women are often urged to get expert bra fittings. I once tried to seek help at a Victoria’s Secret when I needed a foundation undergarment for a fancy dress that just wouldn’t work with any bra straps. It was awful. The clerks were young and had tiny perky breasts and had no idea what to do with a woman who didn’t know that she should have gone to Macy’s and thrown herself on the mercy of some older clerk who really knew her way around mommy boobs.

Through trial and error in that Victoria’s Secret dressing room with those terrible strapless foundation garments, I did finally discover that I was a whole cup larger than I thought. Apparently straps can let you get away with a really bad bra fit, or at least allow you to think you’re getting away with it.

In the back of my mind I also thought that when I got older, all bra-related angst would disappear. Why would I even need a bra? Who’d care whether I wore something under my frumpy old lady clothes? There would be no more gym classes, and no more mean girls.

But I wasn’t counting on gravity. Now, when I sit around the house without a bra on, I get boob sweat under them. And I once saw a boyfriend’s frail elderly grandmother’s breasts when I was helping her get dressed. They were long and skinny and so pendulous she probably could have thrown them over her shoulder. She was in her nineties and she still needed her bra.

That’s why I applaud the organizers for putting this event together, and why I contributed some money towards bras myself (they’re getting a good wholesale rate on them). I’m not going this year, maybe because I subconsciously associate formal dinners with things like that closet at Victoria’s Secret. If you’d like to hear other women’s tales about their bras, though, it should be quite entertaining!

In other news….

MissionaryDatingfinal“Missionary Dating and Other Stories” has been free for the last month, but I’m about to either price it up or take it down. It’s not doing much but serving as a distraction. I’d say the market has spoken on that one. So if you ever wanted it, now’s a good time to grab it.

You may wonder why I don’t pull down “The Short, Spectacular Indie-Publishing Career of Matilda Walter” while I’m at it, since it only has two Kindle reviews, but I’ve noticed that after someone downloads that one, a paid purchase is like as not to follow. So Wally and Jonathan and their little romantic comedy are at least earning their keep.