It was a different sort of rain. The tiny drops fell straight down and tinkled with a sound like tissue paper as they touched the window, so fragile I could hardly see them. They looked like translucent soap flakes of Rinso. Very “fifties”, Rinso. Thoughts, vague and fragmented by my despondency at being in bed with ‘flu, float back to the fifties.
Here it comes again, the rain. Drops of pure cold. The fifties were cold. We had jack frost, patterns of the thinnest ice, on the inside of the windows. We used to leave our vests and knickers under our eiderdowns overnight so that when we put them on we’d avoid the shock of icy “chilpruf” against sleep-warmed skin. We dressed in front of a one bar electric fire and then raced downstairs to make toast on the Aga, leaning against it, warming up as the toast cooked.
There were many small blondes like me in the fifties; Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, girls next door who got their man. That’s what you did, then. That’s what you were educated for. But you couldn’t go out and lasso your man. You had to wait to be asked; to a dance, on a date, to be walked home.
You wore your paper nylon petticoats, your stiletto heels, your shirtwaister with the collar turned up and hoped you shone, stood out, were noticed. You squeezed into three quarter length jeans, flat little pumps, shocking pink sloppy joe, the sweater tantalizingly concealing your excitingly emerging shape.
You were feminine, fragile, waiting to be offered a strong hand by a handsome man who would lift you out of your world into his own; into his protection, to support his dreams, have his children, make his home.
Brigitte Bardot pouted at the camera and slipped off her little-girl boderie anglaise. Marilyn Munroe shimmered and shimmied and breathlessly whispered, exquisite femininity tantalisingly veiling her sexuality. So, there you are, my darling. There are your icons. You are Venus in blue jeans, Mona Lisa with a pony tail, poised at the edge of life. You have emerged from your chrysalis. Say goodbye to divided skirts and aertex shirts, school hats and gym slips, liberty bodices and lab overalls.
And what are you going to do now? Well, this is what you must do. Find yourself a nice occupation which will lead you to finding the right man for you; an occupation which, just in case the right man isn’t the right man after all, you can pick up again if you need to.
Rain turning to snow. Snow is quieter, large flakes batting silently against the window. In Vienna, when I was forty, the snow was silent. It muffled sound. In Vienna, this side of the iron curtain, much was muffled. Until one day an American psychiatrist, speaking to a roomful of expatriate women whose husbands, like mine, often worked on other side of the iron curtain said “and you gals, who looks out for you? Your men move around in their own culture bubbles, their umbilical chords firmly linked to base. You gals are out there on the streets, taking the kids to school, the tram to the supermarket, trying to make appointments, trying to communicate, struggling with language and culture. You’re on Mars! Right?” Right!
How was Venus now? Coping, of course. But the seed was sown and the share of someone else’s dream in return for the input of years was a lesser reward than it had been. For me there began a railing against fate, a yearning for opportunity to do my own thing, loss of tranquillity, fermentation of discontent. Until, on United Nations Women’s Day, at the UN in Vienna, more words were spoken. This time it was a woman, the first ordained American woman. She spoke powerfully, elegantly, pertinently. And her message was, “Don’t try to out-guy the guys. There is no need. Be you.” How true.
Snow has stopped. Weak winter sunshine cheers. Snuggle down and keep warm. Have to get over this flu. Next week I’m going to retire. I must hand over to my successor; hand over my role, my occupation, my own thing, which I did pick up again and have loved for 15 years. I still have the man, or should I say he still has me? Now there are grandchildren and the blue jeans beckon. I am Granny in blue jeans.
In Greek forgiveness means let it go. I treasure the fifties but I let the resentment go. And I have a computer waiting for me to do what I choose to do next… to write.
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