Between Us Women

Stephanie Waxman teaches in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program.

“Tall women never become old ladies,” my mother told me as we drove to the Broadway department store in Hollywood to buy my first bra. We were discussing the pros and cons of being tall.

I, a tall, awkward girl of 14, saw no pros. So when mother made her pronouncement, I just snickered.

Undaunted, she continued, “All the old ladies you see are short. The tall ones remain elegant and regal.” I looked at her sitting erect behind the wheel, her black hair cascading in waves to her shoulders. She was indeed elegant and regal. She carried her height with pride.


One of her stories was about the time a short man had asked, “How’s the weather up there?” She spat, aiming just to the side of his startled face, and then quipped: “It’s raining!”

In buying me a bra, my mother was humoring me. The two bumps on my chest hardly needed containment. Yet there was another reason to own a bra. His name was Jeff Garrison.

Jeff possessed that elusive quality of sexual potency; you could actually feel it coming off his skin. Even my mother had remarked that Jeff had “it,” and I understood immediately what “it” was. I knew he didn’t see me as a real woman. (I wasn’t, of course, but I had the feelings of a real woman.) I thought wearing a bra would somehow change that. And though I hadn’t told her about my crush on Jeff, it seemed my mother had intuited that a bra would boost my self-confidence.

In the dressing room, mother watched while I tried on the first bra. Fumbling with the hooks in back was a thrill. The saleswoman told me to bend over so my breasts (oh, how generous she was!) could “fall” into the cups. I felt that I had truly been initiated into womanhood.

When we got home I wanted to shout with joy, to share my exuberance with my father. But some things are only between us women.

Which is why my father called last week and told me that mother needed a new brassiere, and asked if I’d take her shopping.

Shrunken and bent, she leaned on her cane as we slowly made our way through the Glendale Galleria to Macy’s. I deposited her in a dressing room and searched the rows of bras until I found size 36E, something that could accommodate the large, round hump that once had been her straight back.

Her naked, pendulous breasts hung heavily. Trying on the bra was hard; lifting her arms, agony. Finally, she chose one.

As we approached the store’s exit, a young man held the door for us. He was tall with rugged good looks. After the door closed behind us, mother looked at me and said with a twinkle, “He’s got it.” Then, relying on bones made of chalk, she inched her way to the car.