Wednesday, September 08, 2010


“What would you like to do when you come here?” It was Ruth on the line, preparing in advance for our trip halfway across the country, the inaugural mother-in-law visit to a town I’d never before set foot in.
”I’d like to go bra shopping if we have time,” I replied. The first half was meant to be decisive, the second considerate.
The other end of the line went strangely silent. Having expected to hear a vote for a visit to Niagara Falls, or possibly the Elora Gorge, she took some time to regroup her thoughts before saying, “Sure. In this way, a plan was born. For her it was a surprise. For me, a golden opportunity for an experience I had not had in—let me think—an experience I had not had in at least 35 years. This was my invitation to go bra shopping with a woman.
David was equally surprised when he heard about the plan. Without having been fully aware of it, he had been expecting to be shopping for bras with me for as long as we both should live. Our marriage vows were straight out of the book—love and cherish sickness and health, all that stuff. That said, he found himself adding a lot between the lines when he married a blind woman—extra duties as assigned, you might say. One of his extra duties had always been bra shopping. It came as a shock that I should be suggesting a change—after all these years.
Now it may be that I am wrong—or it may be that I am right—in thinking that women tend to do their bra shopping either alone or with other women. I imagine this to be true even of women who, like me, have a husband who is generous, gracious and good-humoured in giving assistance wherever it is needed. I imagine my husband to be one of a select few who know how it feels to tread boldly through the lingerie department, opening little boxes, offering up a variety of cups and straps to be inspected by touch. It may not be everyone’s experience, but this is a scenario we have acted out on many occasions.
Though years will elapse between one shopping excursion and the next, the pattern repeats itself with remarkable similarity. No matter how efficient you try to be—and there’s something about the feeling you get when two of you stand squeezing bras in public that makes you want to hurry--the process can take a while. Given the time it takes, an adventure is sure to develop.
”What size does she need?” a saleswoman will invariably ask. For any other purpose you might walk miles, wait for hours to find a sales clerk. But let a man start opening bra boxes and clerks will come swarming like flies to an open meat tray. It’s the indisputable lure of curiosity.
David will stand in silence, waiting for me to state the size. I’ll state my size. He’ll take a step back to give me and the clerk some room to get to know each other better. And this really ought to be the beginning of shopping for a bra with a woman, but it rarely is. Having discovered a man who will willingly go bra shopping with his wife, there are few clerks who can let him go so easily.
“What colour will she need?” the clerk will ask, beckoning him to rejoin the conversation. Colour is a thing that seems to require participation of the sighted.
This alone might be drama enough. But it rarely stops there. It is just the suspenseful warm-up for the next act, when we awkwardly approach the maze of change-rooms marked Women Only. That’s where the really hard questions present themselves. How will I find an empty change room? Will I be able to manage on my own? If I go into a room alone, what will we do with him?
It’s a quick trip, bra shopping with a man. You get in there, you get it on, you get out and you wait as long as is humanly possible before starting again. It was pure coincidence that had prompted Ruth to call with her question at the exact moment when I was observing that another round of bra shopping was becoming an immediate need. It was pure genius that prompted me to see how things could be different this time.
Without really being aware of it, I had imagined Ruth and me leaving the house together, leaving the men behind to do man stuff. But the morning of the shopping trip saw all four of us climbing into the car. Having recently taken marriage vows of his own—newer wording for the same old stuff, love and cherish, sickness and health, etc.—Derek was apparently preparing to find his own niche in the family culture. It wasn’t until we got inside the store that we parted ways. We ladies stopped in Intimate Apparel. The men went off in search of a weed whacker.
Before long, Ruth and I were chatting happily, popping open little boxes, comparing straps and cups by touch. In only a moment a salesclerk was upon us.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
I couldn’t think of a thing to say. Ruth said we would ask her if we needed anything. A few moments later we were passing without incident into the change rooms.
Now commenced the happiest chapter of all—the sweet sojourn when I shopped the way I imagine the queen would shop if she ever made it to the change rooms at Sears. The trying-on began, some of it more satisfying, some less. Presented with choice, and Ruth’s freedom to pass back and forth unaccosted between cubicle and sales racks, I traded the pressure of getting it over with for the pleasure of getting it right. We dreamed of other styles, imagined other sizes. In what seemed like no time at all we were just about finished.
You learn things when you go shopping. On that day, I learned that buying a suitable weed-whacker takes less time than shopping for a comfortable bra. Emerging from the maze, we encountered the men who had made their way back to Intimate Apparel. Each had taken up a utilitarian post. David was the sentry, watching for us to come out. He had realized that I, having forgotten to bring my purse, would need money in order to complete the transaction. Derek had assumed a position in the lengthy cashier line—all the quicker to expedite the finishing touches.
And thus concluded one of the highlights of the inaugural mother-in-law visit. Today I was back at work, telling stories about our visit to St. Jacobs Farmers Market to those who ask me what kinds of things we did. Having shopped for bras the way other women do, there’s really no news in that. But it does occur to me to wonder, if Derek’s colleagues are also inquiring, will he say, ”Oh, we didn’t do all that much. We just went to St. Jacobs Market and did a little bra shopping with my mother-in-law.”

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