As Brownies, we used to sit for hours at long tables in front of the grocery stores. We all had badges we had won and which we displayed with pride and a little bit of arrogance. For my one badge, I had gone to the 4H club and grown a giant sunflower plant. For the other badge, I had done a life building skill that had me cutting coupons from the Sunday paper for the blind. Mary Jane had like ten badges for reading to senior citizens and knitting scarves for them. But Jayleen, whose mother was the Brownie troop leader, she had like twenty.
Jayleen's mother Norma was the most fun of all the moms. While my mother wore navy blue polka dotted shifts and Dr. Scholl sandals because of her bad bunions, Norma was always dressed in high heeled pumps and ribbed turtleneck sweaters that showed off her good figure. Whether Norma wore padded bras or if she was just pointy on top was up to debate, but I sure saw lots of men staring at her pointy chest when we went to the grocery store for eggs. I swore that when I grew up, I would dress the same exact way as Norma. I would wear halter tops and short skirts. I would buy dark sunglasses and tie silk handkerchiefs under my chin, and when the wind blew I would throw my head back, part my red stained lips and laugh like I had not a care in the world.
Me and Jayleen went to the store every season to get underwear that had the days of the week labeled on it. Sometimes we would switch it up and get Princess or Barbie panties to go with our training bras. But Norma, oh my God, she had the most stylish lacy bra and underwear sets we had ever seen in our lives. They came all the way from London, England from her great aunt pronounced "ont." My mother wore a girdle to keep her stomach in, but Norma had undergarments that stopped our breath. We knew she had those fancy sets because whenever she went out on dates, which was often, she changed right there in the kitchen while her dates waited in the driveway honking the horn's in their car. Jayleen laughed about the dates and the extra clothes that were stored near the Tupperware bins in the kitchen cabinets, wedged between jars of creamy peanut butter, Fluffernutter, and bottles of Seltzer and Tab soda cans, a drink all our mother's drank to avoid gaining weight. Jayleen also found it amusing that Norma always returned home after a night out with mascara stains under her eyes and smeared lipstick.. Norma started keeping Mary Kay facial cleanser in the kitchen just to avoid the smirks and sneers of Jayleen who made fun of her mom's messy make up. Me, well I ignored the whole thing and told Norma she was always perfect in my book, mascara stains or not. Norma smiled and always told Jayleen that I was her favorite friend, despite the fact that I was, as a rule, quiet by nature. When I spoke, I always had something good to say and we all knew it.
For an unconventional kind of mom, Norma had tons of Tupperware containers in their kitchen, but some of the containers were used to store clothes and accessories, like hair pins and sheer stockings, instead of the usual items my own mother had in the containers like Cornflakes and Pringle potato chips. Norma went to the Tupperware parties that my mother hosted because she wanted to fit in, and also to prove to me and Jayleen that she was just a regular mom. (Although we all knew she was not). Norma also went because she wanted to buddy up to my own mom because me and Jayleen were better than sisters and best friends. But, Norma was not like the other moms, not even close. All of the other moms went on school trips with the kids, attended PTA meetings after dinner, and went on bus trips to New York City. And all of the other moms tried to buddy up to the principal they pretended was their "pal" to improve our classes, the playground, and our school lunches. But honestly, I don't knew where all the moms thought we were going, straight to the White House or Harvard?
My own mother was a whole different story. She hated the PTA meetings not because she was too sophisticated or anything, but because she was convinced that all of the other moms who wore blazers and pearl earrings didn't like her. Whereas Norma could not be bothered, my own mother spent hours telling me why these women bothered her. Ray was a snob and head of the committee to update the cafeteria. June was on the committee dedicated to planting flowers near the school flag. The list went on and on and each day my mother had another reason to add to the growing list of women who most definitely had a vendetta against her. I used to stick my pointer fingers in my ears and hum whenever my mother started up a new tirade about them and their cruel ways. Jayleen and I used to tell Norma that my mother was like paranoid, and Norma would take a long inhale of her cigarette and sigh, shaking her head with compassion and tell us that my mother ought not be bothered. My mother ought to just play her Bridge, make her Weight Watchers dinners and paint on the big canvases she got stretched at the art store in town. She would be so much happier if she stopped worrying about what the likes of Junes, Marys and Rays thought about her. Over tea and milkshakes, me, Jayleen, and Norma would sigh and take sophisticated bites of cake and talk about life.
Norma and her cat sunglasses and cigarettes, and the makeup that left rims around her eyes was way cool to us back then. My own mother who talked to her orchids and painted bowls of fruit on stretched canvases became the paragon of eccentricity and social anxiety, while Norma became the paragon of cool. Did we know that 40 or 50 years later we would be writing about both of them in the past tense? If so, perhaps we would have indulged them a little more. Maybe we would have invested in Tupperware for Norma's stockings and makeup, and bought dozens of orchids for my mother and named them one by one.