Originally posted August 30, 2009
The competition to have breasts and a new bra was fierce on Grand Street. Of course all the other girls got the bras first, regardless of how far along the secondary sex characteristic were. It was only when I ripped all my simple girl tees shirts down the middle and insisted that that destruction had been caused by my early bosom did Florence loosen purse strings and send me off to Grand and Orchard and one of the many local underwear stores run almost exclusively by Hasid and Orthodox Jews.
Then, as now, the assessment of size was done in two ways. If it was a man who waited on you, a deceptively vague glance across your chest could pinpoint the right cup size within millionths of an inch. If it was a woman, usually the wife, the mother, the mother-in-law, sizing was much more hands on.
And so this first time, as all the times after, I stepped forward, stated my need, and within seconds a pair of elderly, firm and intelligent hands grasped what I had, up to this point, been able to grow in 13 years. Then as quickly as they came, the hands left. A thin, white box was pulled from hundreds of identical boxes stacked on wall shelves and what was referred to as a training bra appeared. I don't think I even tried it on in the store. It was packaged and paid for and I headed home, a bit bewildered by touch I had only experienced before by camp counselors and friends' uncles, but at least carrying proof that now I was a woman.
A couple of years ago, in need of a bra that not only really fit, but also fulfilled certain vanity criteria, I returned to Orchard Street and to one of the few remaining dusty underwear shops. Stepping into the familiar walls of shelves of hundreds of identical boxes I was immediately met with that brilliant cursory glance by the young bearded Hasid. And after barely telling the mother-in-law what I needed, a pair of elderly, firm and intelligent hands grasped what I had, up to this point, been able to grow over 50 years.
*BYE BYE BIRDIE
How Lovely To Be A Woman
...How lovely to be a woman,
The wait was well worth while;
How lovely to wear mascara
And smile a woman's smile.
How lovely to have a figure,
That's round instead of flat...
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