My grandmother was a very interesting and quirky lady indeed. Born in 1906 to parents who grew up during the latter part of the Victorian Era, she was an interesting mix of the utmost propriety and manners thrown in with a little bit of feminist ideals, although she never would have referred to herself as a feminist. She grew up in a family of ten children, of Scots-Irish decent, and her father was the Vice-President of the local college in their small town. She lived in a lovely Victorian mansion, complete with soaring foyer and large, oak stair case leading to the upper levels of the home. She married my grandfather there in her parent’s home, during the 1930’s, and I can always recall their wedding picture from the deep recesses of my mind. It is a pale black and white photo, gently faded with time. My grandmother wears tight pin-curls and a long, satin wedding dress that appears to have come straight from a Hollywood set. My grandfather smiles proudly from under his Clarke Gable mustache, with his own hair slicked against his head with pome-aid, as was the gentlemanly style of the time. The grand, old oak stair case stands study in the background, as if to say, ‘These are times when things are built to last’. My grandparents marriage did last, though it was fraught with bickering. My grandfather died before my grandmother, as he was what we refer to today as a chain smoker. In his day, he was a government employee, and all of the boys in his office smoked. The cinema of that time glorified smoking, and so did advertisements. I even saw a vintage advertisement that promoted smoking as a health benefit. These were the times he lived in. So, naturally, he passed away before grandmother.
Grandmother was a bit of a fire-cracker, though a proper one. She had tons of friends, she was Queen of her bridge club, she attended church every Sunday, and the whole town of Missoula, Montana, knew her by first name. One time during the 1990’s, Andie MacDowell, the actress, bought a house near Missoula just outside of town near the river. She and my grandmother both frequented the one health food store in town. My grandmother had been a patron of this store since the 1940’s and was well known by the owners. My grandmother, Wenona, was the most famous and long-standing of their patrons, until of course, Andie MacDowell showed up in town. After she showed up, the health food store was abuzz with talk of, “Oh, Andie MacDowell just showed up moments earlier to buy more wheat germ!!” Wheat germ? Now poor Andie was violating my grandmother’s turf. My grandmother walked into the store, all 4′ 10′ inches and 90 pounds of her, and demanded to know who this Andie MacDowell person who was taking all of the wheat germ. Wheat germ, by golly, was her food staple, and she did not appreciate this un-known Starlet waltzing into town and taking from the wheat germ store house. Hands off, Andie! Wenona had a monopoly on the wheat germ and she wasn’t about to share it with some new-fangled actress she had never heard of.
My grandmother was also very proper in the way she dressed, and she had a morning toilet ritual that took roughly two hours. I do not mean to suggest that she was ON the toilet for 2 hours. I mean to suggest her ritual was performed in the bathroom for two hours in the morning. One of the things that took her the longest to accomplish in the morning was the putting on of her undergarments. When I refer to undergarments, I am not just referring to bras and panties. My grandmother wore this enormous grandma bra with thick straps, extra-large panties, a girdle over the panties, and straps with hooks that attached the girdle to her knee-high panty hose. Though my grandmother had more than enough money, I do not believe she replaced these undergarments since the 1940s. After all, the hooks that attached the girdle to the knee-high panty hose were made of tough metal and were made to last through the next ice age. Usually, on top of all of these contraptions, she wore old-fashioned bloomers. Modesty was a top priority for my grandmother, and in case her long skirt should happen to be caught by the wind, she was making darm sure that any pervert in the proximity should require x-ray vision to catch a peek at what was underneath her stealthy undergarments. I’m pretty sure she also coated them with kryptonite in case Superman should happen to be in the vicinity.
In the summer of 1984, my parents decided that we would take a driving tour of the British Isles. My father, a university professor, had been invited to present a paper at a conference in Ireland. I was over-joyed when I found out we’d be spending roughly a month touring England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I was 12 at the time and had been a real Anglophile. This was at the time when Duran Duran was still in the top ten, and I loved Simon LeBon. Sorry, girls, Simon was the guy for me! I also loved Wham! and became obsessed with all things English. I wore various British flag t-shirts around during the two years leading up to this trip, so you can imagine my excitement when my dad announced we’d be spending a month there. Wow!! The land of Wham! and Duran Duran!!! Maybe I’d actually even see Simon or George M. waking around London! Then my dad told me we’d also be bringing grandmother, and that I’d have the pleasure of sharing a room with her during the entire trip. Uhh… okay. Grandmother was now 78, and she had her two-hour toilet ritual, and her make-up suitcases, and then there were her undergarments.
My dad was teaching at UNLV at the time, and we were living is Las Vegas. Grandma was still in Missoula living in the same house my father had grown up in. Grandma’s friends were heading for Vegas and they all drove down together and grandma stayed at our house for a few days in preparation to leave on our overseas trip. Everything went well, until we got to the airport. What to do with grandma’s 15 pieces of old-fashioned luggage? Why that would have required each of us to have five arms, just to carry her belongings. But, no matter, a lovely gentleman performed curb-side check-in, and all we had to do was clear security.
My 4 foot 10 inch, 90-pound grandma followed along behind us, and she WOULDN’T allow us to carry her purse, which also happened to be half the size and weight of her entire body. But, not to worry, we were almost at security, and she’d have to give up her beloved to the security guards at some point. Maybe then one of us could politely reach in and snatch it.
Getting cleared for security went well for my father, my mother, myself…but not for my grandma. You’re probably thinking Granny may have been packing heat in her purse, which is probably why she wouldn’t allow anyone else to carry it. Alas, no, grandma was a lady, and had never actually touched a gun. Of course, she sometimes caught a glimpse of grandfather’s hunting rifles, but she would not demean herself to actually touch these dirty things.
Three security guards gently lifted grandma off the ground and yelled, ‘Security check!!” We stepped in and said, “But she has given you her rings, and her necklaces, and her belt, and the bobby-pins from her hair, and everything else of value, for heaven’s sake”. No matter, they didn’t listen to us, and they proceeded to use one of those ‘sweeping’ hand-held devices to check grandma. Every time the device came close to grandma’s unmentionable area, the sweeper device would screech “Beeeppp! Beeep!! Beeep!! Beeepppppp!” The guard yelled, “The little old lady is hiding something in her pants!!! We’re going to have to perform a strip search”.
Now, I don’t know who to feel more sorry for, grandma or the security guards. Surely these buff guys didn’t want to see my 4 foot 10 inch grandma in all of her glory, even if the glory was very faded, extremely tarnished, and well, perhaps frightening to behold at this point? No matter, they continued to persist. Grandma yelled, “I say, un-hand me! Oh my word! I demand you to un-hand me now!!” Oh dear, this was not going well. Finally, right before I was sure grandma was going to start yelling “rape, rape!” an older female security guard stepped in and calmly interviewed my grandmother. Obviously this older woman was ‘in the know’ and rather an experienced expert about antiquated female under garments. She quizzed my grandmother about the hook closures on her bras, if there may be particularly stiff under wires that could be upsetting the machine, etc. Under wires upsetting a machine? I think I’d be upset if *I* had to wear such stiff under-wires. Well, neither was the case– so what could it be? Finally, it dawned on the older female security guard that there might be a slim chance that grandma was using the metal hook system to hold up her stockings. Alas, that was it!!! Grandma’s girdle and stocking hooks that held everything together were the offenders. Grandma was granted a hardly apology, but the experience did leave her deeply embarrassed.
So, dear readers, the next time you go to the airport, please make sure that you aren’t wearing under garments containing offensive metal. I issue you a warning, grandma experienced this in 1984, long before domestic terrorism was a concern. Now that we have terrorists among us, well, you have to be careful. That wonderful push-up bra you’re wearing? Well, it may just get you arrested under the Homeland Security Act the next time you are flying. Ladies of the world, I urge you to shed your metal under garments the next time you fly.