Blame the Black Underwear

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic


Blame the Black Underwear

(written by Bernice Schneider - born Sept 30 1923)

When I was barely 18, my Brother Bernie collected me at Chicago’s train station. I had lived in New York, thinking I would become independent. I didn’t. Bernie was newly married. Without discussing it with his Wife, he took me in. His Wife never forgave me.

At the train station, Bernie demanded, “What happened?” He didn’t understand why his 18 year old sister was now alone, homeless and back in Chicago. I’ve always blamed the black underwear.

If I didn’t blame the black underwear, I’d blame my Mother. She raised three children during the Great Depression, as a single Mom. We weren’t just poor, we were impoverished. Whenever Mom could not pay the rent, we moved. We moved a lot; always to the top apartment in a walk-up. We always had a view; but always the apartment across the alley.

As a child, I did not know I was poor. As a teenager, I figured it out. My high school sorority made it clear when they kicked me out. To stay in, you had to own a cashmere sweater. I had none. I was lucky to have five pleaded skirts for school. I owned them only because I had made them by hand.

While realizing I was poor, I developed a craving for black underwear. My Mother always bought the cheapest. That met only one color- pink. Pink panties, pink bras- nothing but pink, pink pink. Year after year it was more pink. I craved black underwear.

My Mother attempted to escape our poverty by marrying a man that lived in New York. The marriage was arranged by the Chicago family with his New York family. Mom had never met the man. But she was moving to New York to marry him.

In the 1930’s things were different. Including, my Mother believing it was unimportant to tell her new fiancé that she would be arriving with a 17year old daughter. He was thrilled. So thrilled, he sternly said at his front door. “I will not support her and I will not open my heart to her.” I responded meekly, “Nice to meet you.” He didn’t respond, nor did he ever say another word to me for the year I was there. He was true to his word- he never supported me.

For a nickel, I rode the New York subway, not knowing where I was going, other than to look for a job. A nice lady seated next to me had an idea— Macy’s. “What’s that?”, I asked. “A magical place with everything a woman would want, including especial women’s items”, she snickered. I looked perplexed. She added, “It’s where I bought my first set of lacy black underwear.”

I found my way to Macy’s. I ate a hot dog a day for a nickel in the automat, and saved by skipping a drink. With every penny, I bought black underwear. More than a girl would want. At that point, I kissed Mom goodbye.


Submitted: March 21, 2020

© Copyright 2021 margie132. All rights reserved.

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