by Nicole Crews
Scene: Driving from the lake on Mother’s Day in a bikini with a bucket of chicken, and emerging from the car to greet mother.
Mother: Yeesh, Nicole, do you even own any pants?
Me: Says the woman who greeted my high school date at the door in panties and one of Dad’s undershirts.
Mother: Well, we didn’t have air conditioning.
Let me be perfectly clear when I say that my parents were neither nudists nor swingers, nor hippies of any sort (their progressive dietary habits of slinging sprouts on everything and baking their own bread notwithstanding). They were Republicans for chrissakes. They, like Nixon, were proponents of “a good, cloth coat” and merely tolerated their liberal friends, placing them in the category of the charmingly naïve and ill-informed. So it was altogether confusing, annoying and equally disturbing when I first learned of their predilection for being naked both indoors and out. I am scarred for life after witnessing the panty hose in the pool incident of 1976, but that’s a whole ’nother column.
I guess I should have taken a clue from the fact that they allowed me to run around in the buff pretty much until kindergarten. As I recall, I don’t think I was required to wear clothing at all until age 5 with the exception of Easter Sunday. I’ve always attributed it to a Depression-era frugality, but c’mon: Give a kid a pair of pants and a shirt why don’t ya? And make it something other than a 6-foot-4 man’s old Hane’s T-shirt. Yeesh.
I think the level of my distaste with their perpetual nudity hit home about puberty when I shoplifted a training bra because my mother wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that I actually needed one. She certainly didn’t think she did. I didn’t get caught by the way. (Sorry Belk Yates, I owe you $5.99.)
Me: Mother, do you remember when I confessed that I stole a bra?
Mother: Of course, I was furious.
Me: Why didn’t you make me return it and face the consequences?
Mother: I was busy.
Granted, this was the dazed and confused era of bra burning, when streaking was in vogue, Hair on Broadway and the nudes of John and Yoko yesterday’s news. Yet counterculture in my parent’s household was restricted mainly to the rising dough of brewer’s yeast rolls. We listened to classical music, read serious magazines and dressed like Presbyterians. When we went to the beach we had matching gingham swimsuits. I even had a corresponding bonnet that I conveniently unleashed into the great Atlantic abyss. I think my father would have been happy to relinquish his baby blue-checked man shorts — and I use the term loosely — into Mother Ocean as well given the chance.The lake house, an enclosed and wooded point, on close to five acres and equipped with a huge deck and pool was another story altogether.
Me: Janna Myers still talks about getting a sunburned bum after a lake weekend when we were kids.
Mother: You girls were just skinny-dipping.
Me: I think her parents were appalled.
Mother: I think they were more upset about you cutting gum out of her long, blonde hair.
Me: You have a selective memory.
Mother: It’s the naked truth.
Somewhere along the secondary-school line I let go of my little-girl shyness and teenage petulance and signed on with the birthday-suit brigade. I think it was about the time that my childhood wardrobe of Tretorns and Lacoste dresses was being slowly replaced with something more likely seen on “Soul Train” than the suburbs. I was beginning to bud out in directions that reconfirmed my father’s perennially conservative stance on gun control. Apparently the right to bear arms translated into the right to bear everything in his mind. That is, until I hit puberty. So as my streaking streak waxed, my parent’s waned. And so ended the embarrassment — at least mine.
Scene: Flashback to the ’90s at the lake house where I’m entertaining a group of college girlfriends.
Mother, standing by the pool, arms akimbo: Why is there a bottle of Bertoli Olive Oil tethered to the sliding board?
Me: If you rub it on your bum you really fly down the slide.
Mother: The pool guy is gonna love that.
Me: He was here earlier. And he did.
When I said it, I was wearing only a smile.