NOTE: I’m re-running this column from Aug. 4, 2007, for Karen Sullivan and a few other ladies who have mentioned it as being a favorite. I wish I’d been carrying a camera to capture the look on my mom’s face that day:
This past week I had the privilege of being a judge for the Miss Del Norte pageant at the County Fair. Each of the five young ladies competing for the title was well-groomed, talented, bright, poised and worthy of the honor. Choosing one above the others was very difficult. I’m not sure I’d like to be put in that position again.
This wasn’t the first time being in the presence of pageant contestants made me uncomfortable. In the summer of 1970 I had completed my sophomore year at the University of San Francisco. Instead of going home for the summer as I had before, my roommates and I rented an apartment. I had a part time job and took a film-making class during the summer session. My parents, especially my mother, wished I would have chosen to spend the summer at home with them. Mom sent me an airline ticket for a week’s visit in August.
Just because I lived in San Francisco during the late 60’s and early 70’s, didn’t make me a hippie. If you watch the movie “Woodstock” or documentaries about those times, the young people you see were not me and my friends. Our backgrounds and our upbringing kept us on the much straighter side. We were benign. We preferred heady discussions over jasmine tea at a Haight café called the Blue Unicorn to marching or protesting. But we did have a “wannabe” attitude when it came to fashion.
I started college with a trunk full of A-line wool skirts and crewneck sweaters. By the summer of 1970, I had given that wardrobe to Goodwill and bought a new one while I was there.
One Saturday in August I boarded the plane from San Francisco to Los Angeles dressed in my paisley best. When we landed, I sat patiently and waited for the other passengers to deplane. One after another, the contestants for the Miss California Beauty Pageant, being held in Long Beach that weekend, filed past me. Each wore a navy blue suit, a hat, white gloves, white pumps and carried a matching purse. I followed them off the plane. I saw my mother waiting by the gate. Her smile of joyful anticipation turned into a scrunched face desperately trying to determine if the image she saw was really her only daughter. My long burgundy skirt with side slits over worn brown leather boots and the embroidered peasant tunic with my macramé bag slung over my shoulder contrasted sharply – painfully for my mother – with the Miss California contestant’s “look.”
I thought it was hilarious, but all through lunch Mom was on the brink of tears.
Twelve years later, I was married with three children, and Mom came for a visit. We sat at my kitchen table as she cuddled my infant son. We talked about that day at the airport. Her smile and her words confirmed what I always knew: that a navy blue suit didn’t make the woman. She loved me unconditionally as I was, and she would love my boys in the same way.