Gripping the handrail, she steps carefully up a short flight to a podium and is greeted with whoops and shouts and a couple of throaty wolf whistles. She looks naked except for three giant fig leafs decorously, mercifully placed and snake skin sandals. She is ready for drama and speaks to the rafters:
“A time to be bold! Go big or go home!”
My 84 year old mother, dressed as Eve, has kicked off what will hopefully be a comedy fashion show for the women at her church. She tells me that there was another show a year or two back and it was hilarious. The participants made their own costumes, highlights were a pair of capri pants made of Capri Sun pouches flattened and glued side by side, a pencil skirt covered in pencils on cords and a maxi dress layered in tiers with, of course, nothing but maxi pads. Of this last entry she says,
“It was actually quite chic, not bulky at all.”
I can only imagine.
I ask her if she narrated the last show and she says no but the women that did were fabulous. They were nowhere to be found when my mother urged the church leaders to do a sequel and though she says she has no idea how, she was roped in before she knew what was happening. I know how it happened. How many people in the world, or in Petaluma, California, or on Evergreen Lane are willing and even enthusiastic to make fools of themselves? She lives for this stuff and she has a pedigree in fashion commentary so, who better?
I have a set of her handwritten commentary cards from the sixties when Burney worked at Riches department store and hosted seasonal fashion shows when she wasn’t teaching charm school. I can hear her precise voice traveling down the decades:
“A lush profusion of colours luxuriating on a gauzy cobweb of a dress designed to float its languorous way through many a glamorous evening.”
I type the word ‘colour’ as written: c o l o u r. My computer corrects me to standard American English: c o l o r. I tell my Mac, “You don’t know my mother” and change it back. She does not miss an opportunity to side with the British or, even better, the French where her vocabulary is concerned. Why describe a moody shade of purple as eggplant when you could say aubergine? I read another card:
“Enter Peter Pan”
I put it down and go to the next:
“A brilliant splash of strong stinging colour. A streak of jungle exotica for your more primitive moods. This bit of sensible, circumspect voodoo by Townley.”
Whatever my mother’s primitive moods, I assumed they had quietly subsided over the years along with the sensible voodoo, whatever that is. But no, here they are on full display in the iphone video that my sisters sent me from the fashion show.
I knew this was coming. She told me a few days ago about the evolution of her costume plan.
“First, she says, I was going to drape myself in shrubbery and go as Barbara Bush, because I knew I had the pearls.”
But in the midst of her musing, her eyes fixed on her fiddle leaf ficus tree. Its giant violin shaped leaves whispered to her and Burney had a stroke of genius. Or maybe she just had a small stroke. She drove off in a heat in search of a flesh colored unitard and eventually settled on a skin tone Spanx top and tights though the Spanx, an especially cruel modern version of a full corset, crushed her meager bosom.
She is giddy now with the telling of her plans:
“I just need three leaves: one for the crotch, one for the crack in the back and one for my flat little chest.”
“The crack in the back? Mom.”
My mother is getting hysterical over all of this, she says:
“I don’t know how I’m going to keep my composure.”
“Oh just think of someone you don’t like.” I say.
She snorts: “Well that’ll be easy.”
I look back at the video. Everyone is having a ball. The models curtsy and shake their booties while my mother describes their creations tossing bon mots to the happy crowd.
I forward the pics of Granny in her fig leaves to my children. I can hear them howling in protest across several states. The family texts are fast and furious. We all pretend to be shocked, horrified, but we aren’t, not a one of us. And as I look at the photo of my mother’s leaf clad backside exiting the hall, slightly bent over but triumphant just the same, I think, that is my mother and I would not have it any other way.