Give me this moment and write, asks Natalie Goldberg, in “Writing Down the Bones” – ok I can try that. Just write about what’s on my mind.
“But what have I been thinking about?” I ask myself as I search for a writing topic.
To be honest I was thinking about panty hose. Yes, panty hose –I remember when panty hose first came out on the market and I remember my first pair of panty hose. I begged and pleaded, stormed and fumed, cajoled and demanded. Finally, at the age of 12 my mother wore down and said I could have a pair. I think she finally relented because it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to. I’m not sure now what the big deal was, for her or me. Perhaps it was because panty hose were a pretty new thing at that time or perhaps it was because I wanted to grow up all at once and she didn’t want me to or perhaps it was because we were both just stubborn. I don’t know. But I remember that first pair of panty hose, I got to wear them to Mass.
But to be honest it was not my first pair of panty hose that I was thinking about but a much more recent pair of panty hose was on my mind, my most notorious pair of panty hose. How can a pair of panty hose be notorious you ask yourself, well I’ll tell you.
Roll the clock ahead from that first pair of panty hose about 35 years. I’m all grown up and working as a Consultant in the Pacific Northwest. Adult and Family Services, a state agency that houses welfare, child protective services, food stamps, and other such programs, has hired me. My friend Judy had organized their annual conference and asked me to be the keynote speaker. She wanted me to talk to the conference attendees about “resiliency”. I work in “prevention” and deal a lot with high-risk youth programs and with families in difficult circumstances for a variety of reasons. When we speak in my field about resiliency we are referring to an individual’s ability to bounce back or rebound in the face to negative life stressors. We look at those qualities in a person that allow them to be successful in their lives despite adversity. What does it take to be resilient?
So this is my topic for the day. Judy has estimated that there would be about 100 people attending from around the state. I am to be the opening keynote speaker. Judy asked me to help them ‘set the tone’ for the conference and kick off the day with a positive note. The people I will be addressing work with some of the most difficult families and children in the state and the work can be incredibly discouraging. I was to present information that would help the audience feel more hopeful and upbeat despite the odds. A tough task but the resiliency information is pretty up beat so I said I would give it my best. I prepared a ninety-minute presentation complete with colored overheads (this was in the world before PowerPoint and Smart Boards) and handouts.
On the morning of my presentation I was in my hotel room getting dressed and my husband called to check in, as he always does when I’m on the road.
“Good Morning,” he said sounding chipper.
My husband and I chatted about family business and things that had come up since I had left home. I meanwhile was trying to get ready so that I could get out the door on time. As I put on the finishing touches I realized that I couldn’t find my earring that I had brought to wear. After a quick check without success I frantically began to look around my room. Did I mention that these were the diamond earrings that he had given me for Christmas?
“Are you alright?” he finally asked in the middle of a recounting of his concerns over the state of our back yard.
“Yeah I’m fine. Why?”
“You sound a little distracted is all”
“I’m just trying to get ready to go and I’m running late,” which by that time I was, as I was still looking for my earrings and not getting dressed.
“Well I guess I’ll let you go then,” he said sounding a little dejected.
“No, no, finish your story…” I sighed with little conviction but wanting to be nice and so of course he did, in detail.
When I finally hung up the phone I began to tear the room apart in earnest. The earrings were finally found hiding in the bottom of some bag and while I was relieved to find them, by that time I was truly late. As I always do when running late, I began to rush. I was trying to get ready, gather my things, and figure out where I was going all at once. So of course the first thing I did was go to put on my panty hose and put my finger right through them. I couldn’t believe it. To make matters worse I was faced with the absolute conviction, having just completely searched my room, that there were no more panty hose anywhere on the premises. I was in a state of near panic when I left my room in search of new panty hose. Well of course, there was no store close by, so I decided to find the conference center and hope that there was a store somewhere in between. Fortunately for me there was. I ran in to a tiny convenience store alongside the road and grabbed a pair of panty hose and was finally on my way. Despite the fact that I was running late, I figured I would have just enough time to dash into a bathroom and change my nylons before I had to begin. By the time I found my way to the conference site, which turned out to be at a community college campus that was on the far fringes of the outskirts of a small town north of the one that I had stayed in, now I was really late. I went in and found Judy, who was about ready to panic, thinking that she didn’t have a keynote speaker. After hearing my tale of panty hose woe she directed my to the nearest ladies room with a smirk. I went in to change and take a second to catch my breath and refocus for my presentation.
I went into a stall and stripped off what was now a very sorry looking pair of panty hose and pulled out my new ones. I was beginning to feel much better as I took nice deep soothing breaths. I began putting on my new panty hose, and as I pulled them up over my hips and they stopped. Well, what I mean to say is, they stopped. They wouldn’t come up to my waist or even very close to it for that matter. So I stopped. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was, but having learned from my previous pair I didn’t try to force them. I looked down to try and find out what was wrong and it became immediately apparent. They stopped because they were two sizes too small for me and currently the crotch of those panty hose reached to about my knees. I glanced at the package and sure enough extra small on what realistically was a size large body.
I must have been quite a sight, my mouth hanging open, professional black skirt hiked up around my waist, and panty hose stuck around my knees. I realized in that moment that there were two things I could do, laugh or cry. As my eyes began to blink rapidly trying to hold back the tears I looked down and myself and began to giggle. Then I began to laugh and then I had to sit down. I sat there and looked at these ridiculous panty hose and couldn’t stop laughing. The mere thought of addressing what had turned out to be over 200 hundred people in those panty hose was more than my frazzled composure could bear. I lost it; I started to laugh so hard that I would have wet my pants had I not already been sitting on a toilet. This is exactly where Judy found me a few minutes later.
“Are you alright?” she asked in a voice clearly tinged with terror now.
“Yep I’m fine. I’ll be right out,” I told her as I tried unsuccessfully to stop laughing.
I gingerly began to try and get the panty hose to stretch enough to allow me to get them on. Wouldn’t you know it, just as I gave that one last adjusting twist, I put my finger right through the leg of those panty hose. Right in plain sight, right in the front, an inch round hole, that began immediately to race in big ugly runners right up my thigh and under my very professional black suit. There was no hiding that hole –no disguise was going to work. I briefly considered not wearing any but I don’t have great legs and these were the days when it wasn’t considered proper to go barelegged. Old fashion I know but never the less I was more uncomfortable with nothing on than I was of the hole
I walked out of the stall brushing tears out of my eyes, and trying to look dignified. I saw the look of deep concern on Judy’s face and with out saying a word lifted my skirt high enough for her to see both the run and the crotch of my panty hose which was at that moment working its way down to about the middle of my thigh. At that point we both lost it. I gave those panty hose one last good yank to get them up. I mean after all what more could possibly happen to them now? And with that last yank the hole expanded and gave those panty hose the couple extra inches of stretch that I needed to get them up. After a flurry of wiggling, giggling, and profanity, I finally straightened my skirt followed my smirking friend out of the bathroom and headed for the stage.
Judy strode purposefully across the stage and picked up the microphone to introduce me to the200 people waiting for me to impress them, while I followed behind her taking much smaller steps. I looked out across a sea of faces, looking tired and sleepy and not too excited to be there at 8:30 in the morning. I took the microphone and began to introduce my topic, like a good public speaker, letting people know what they would be hearing, what I wanted them to learn about, and why I should be given the credibility to teach it to them, all very professionally delivered. It was a real struggle. I was still snickering, I hadn’t even looked at my notes and every time I moved the two inch wide run in my panty hose worked its way a little farther down my leg . I finished the introduction and looking out at all of those people, whom I was supposed to infuse with hope and resilience, I realized I just couldn’t go on “as if” I wasn’t wearing those panty hose. I turned off the overhead projector and instead of launching into my well-rehearsed presentation with slides and statistics, I asked someone to bring me a stool and I sat down. As I sat on that stool and looked out across that sea of faces two things were going through my mind, one was that the waist of those panty hose was quickly becoming a hip hugger and that there was an air of “worn out hope” permeating the room. “Worn out hope”, hope that has been over used and not replenished, hope that was looking to just get through this day without too many already low expectations being disappointed.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to start over. Good Morning!” I said trying to grab at least a little of their attention.
“Good Morning,” was the halfhearted reply from some of the more alert people.
“Let’s try that again shall we? Good Morning”
A few more people sat up in their chairs and responded, enough for me to know that they were starting to pay attention.
I began to tell them about losing my earring, “you know how it goes, you don’t want to lie to your partner but I mean come on, I like it when he gives me jewelry, there’s no way I telling him at 7:00am that I lost the diamonds that he just gave me two months ago, but it wasn’t just losing my earrings the morning just kept getting worse and worse.”
I went on to describe some characteristics of resilient people and how sometimes resiliency is about finding humor in the tough moments that frustrate, hurt or wear you down. I talked about being able to laugh at yourself and how it helps you overcome the hard times. And then I began to tell them about those panty hose.
I looked around and saw that I had a few more paying attention, so on I went. The women who dominated the room began to roll their eyes and smile when I got to the part about putting my hand through the first pair of panty hose, in total understanding and empathy. The audience chuckled as I described trying to find a store at 7:30am in the middle of nowhere. By the time I got to the part where I hiked my skirt up for Judy they were laughing out loud and as I finished up by showing them the run those panty hose and there was a round of applause amongst the whoops of laughter. I had them. They were having a good time. I launched into my real presentation, careful to stay sitting, as I was sure at that point that walking would be a disaster, and they listened. I gave them the information and began to show them the characteristics they needed to build in themselves and their clients and they heard me. When I got to the part where I told them that a sense of humor was one of those all important characteristics, the lights went on in their eyes and the hope got a little more polish and they sat up a little straighter in their chairs. When I finished up it was to tremendous applause, a sea of smiling faces and a couple of offers for new panty hose.