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Thursday, 03 July 2008

First Boy-Girl Party

By Camille Koepnick Shaffer

It is 1956 and I am in eighth grade at St. Joseph’s School run by very strict Norte Dame nuns. The entire school was only four classrooms with double grades in each and very small class size. This translated to the nuns being able to keep very close tabs on each of us, to our dismay, and reporting every little transgression to our parents. We towed the line.

One time we planned to meet the boys at the Palomar Roller Rink on a Sunday afternoon and the nuns caught wind of it. They went into high gear and, with our parents, put the cabash on it. You would think we were planning some evil orgy!

That is why, for graduation, we finally had a victory. Karen Habiger’s mom was having a huge boy-girl graduation party and the entire class of 19 was invited. All our parents agreed to let us attend and there was nothing the nuns could do but warn our parents of the inherent dangers of this. That last month of school we beamed with anticipation. Our eyes sparkled, we sent knowing winks to each other in defiance of the good nuns. Their hands were finally tied. Jubilation reigned in every eighth graders’ heart.

Planning for this party consumed all my free time - what to wear, how to do my hair, what to buy Karen for a gift. I thought through each and every aspect of the upcoming party. I dreamed about it at night, I practiced conversations I would have while dancing with a boy, I saw myself floating in his arms and perhaps putting my head on his shoulder. I was simply flushed with excitement.

What kind of jewelry, where would I get it, could I borrow it from my Aunt who lived downstairs, should I wear gloves, what kind of perfume. On and on I went. It was in this kind of dream state of minute imagining that it suddenly hit me: I had not yet graduated to the stage of development where I wore a bra.

I vaguely remember slamming the bedroom door, throwing myself on the bed and sobbing my heart out. Eventually, mom, who needed me for some errand, came looking for me and found me in a state of despair. She couldn’t imagine what had led to this latest drama. I blurted out that we simply had to go downtown to Gimbels and that I had to have a bra and I had to have it before Karen Habiger’s party.

Mom assured me there was no rush, a little spaghetti strap tee shirt like I wore would be just fine and to calm down. Her solution made me even more hysterical, the floodgates were wide open and Niagara Falls couldn’t compete with my waterfall of grief. Not just tears now, but the snots running down my nose and wild gulps for air.

I pleaded and begged for a bra, I simply HAD to have one and if I did not, I could not go to Karen’s party. Mom did not get the connection and asked me to explain what one thing had to do with the other.

I had thought through every tiny aspect of the party and so I told mom that when the boy would dance with me, he would put his hand on my back and he could feel if I had a bra strap there. If he couldn’t feel one, I was ruined, a freak, he would know I had a tee shirt on. I would be humiliated and ridiculed forever. I needed that bra. I needed that strap on my back. It never occurred to me that my underdeveloped front side might be any sort of giveaway to anything.

So off we went that weekend to Gimbels. I was beside myself - my first bra. I can’t say it exactly had what you would really calls "cups,”but then I had nothing to put into cups and understood, then and there, why some of the girls praised the blessings of Kleenex.

No, my first bra was kind of like flat material that covered the front part, had the straps over the shoulders and the all-important requisite of fitting around my chest with the hooks and eyes at the back - where the boy would rest his hand and know I was a woman. Let the party begin.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


How many slammed doors and sobbing hearts did you revise with this story? Mine for one. It was so much more than the first bra wasn't it. Love this story!

Hello Camille,

Loved your story. It was so reminiscent of my own early pre teen years.

I went to get my first bra without my Mother knowing. I went to our local Woolworth's and walked up to the "Bra" counter.

A saleslady looked at me across the counter and said," Yes, What can I do for you?" I gulped and glanced around to make certain we were alone and whispered," I want to buy a bra."

She looked at me and said, "What size?" I said I didn't know they came in sizes, so I didn't know what size. Now SHE glanced around to make sure we were not being watched and said, "Open your coat" I did, and then she reached across the counter and felt my 12 year old non existent breasts and said, "Oh, honey , you need a beginner's bra. I have just the one for you." It was pink and lacy and had very thin straps because there was really nothing for it to hold up.

I was thrilled to hand her the $1.00 and receive the bag with my very own bra in it and I couldn't wait to get home and put it on.

Today I am a WOMAN !!!!!!

I remember one night sobbing to my mother, unable to get the words out while she guessed at several causes to my hysteria. When she finally said, "Bra" I went into heaves of relief.

didn't get a beginner bra. I got the one with cups that slid up above my miniscule knobs when I raised my hand. I had a little kleenex sticking out of my neckline for several years waiting for the real thing to appear. But happily the boys could flip the back and know I, too, was a woman.

I love a personal post that takes me back in my own memory. It makes me feel connected to myself and others at the same time. Good story.

You bring back memories of my first bra-shopping trip; I was 12 and had nothing to put in it, but I wanted one for all your same reasons. Mine had blue stitching on it and a small satin bow between the "cups". I felt like a princess then, ready for all comers! Too bad there weren't any.

Whew girl! The first bra, the first fuzz, the first period...you sure can take us back!

I remember those memories and the horrendous crying at what we were becoming. How strange our culture conspired to make us ashamed of our bodies...perhaps because we vaguely sensed everything so mysterious and 'grown up' that was to come.

Thanks for a great visit to all our pasts!

Cheers, ~Kathi

What a blast from the past! My memory of a first bra was not wanting anything to do with it. I liked hanging out with the boys in my neighborhood and wearing a bra might put an end to that. It did.

Oh, Camille, you just told my experience with a few variations. Of all the "first" of growing up, the first bra is certainly the very beginning and much more dramatic than a first kiss! Thanks for the trip back to my early teens!

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