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What's wrong with wearing a swimsuit to the dentist's office?

Jan Hearne • Jul 31, 2012 at 8:53 AM

Sometimes it takes decades to fully realize the folly of an action — in this case more than four. I was 15 going on 16, and I was positive my mother knew absolutely nothing.

That summer I spent every day at the pool with my friends, particularly Libby (I’ve changed her name for obvious reasons).

Libby, who had turned 16 in February had her driver’s license, her own VW Beetle and a family so dysfunctional she was never missed. I was one of her two best friends. Yes, we were somethin’.

We’d already gotten off to a bad start with my mother. I’d been grounded (the first and only time) that May for missing a Holy Day of Obligation.

In Catholic school, you were given the holy days off, but you were required to attend Mass.

Libby and I went to Gatlinburg thinking we’d be back in plenty of time for 6 o’clock Mass, but then we decided to stop by “the club” and go swimming.

We’d brought a change of clothes, but our hair was dripping wet, so we decided it would be disrespectful to show up at church looking like two drowned rats.

Instead, we rode around. When I dragged in around 7:30, having left early that morning, my mother was furious in a way I’m not sure I’d seen before.

Her “Where have you been?” was followed by my snippy response, which resulted in the grounding — a month, later reduced to two days once she’d cooled off.

After that unpleasantness, it was clear to me I should fulfill my obligations no matter how bad I looked. So, when my scheduled dental appointment arrived, I told Libby I absolutely had to be there, without fail, or I would be grounded for the rest of the summer.

I arrived, on time — and I cringe to reveal this — wearing a swimsuit, flip flops and an oversized shirt with my wet hair pulled back in a ponytail. Yes. I did.

Only those who lived in Southern society some 40 years ago will understand how unseemly my behavior was. We still wore white gloves to church on Sunday and hats at Easter.

It was an act of pure “I’ll show you” rebellion, though I don’t remember being conscious of my intentions. It just seemed silly to conform to others expectations.

It didn’t help that my dentist was a family friend, the father of one of my classmates. He and his wife were part of my parents’ social circle.

When I walked through our front door after my appointment wearing said swimsuit and shirt, Mom looked at me as if I had caught fire.

“Where have you been?” she asked. That question never led to anything good.

“To the dentist,” I answered.

“Like that,” she said. It was a statement not a question.

And in that moment, the Sixties took up residence in our house. It was the first of many muted scuffles over the way I dressed, wore my hair, behaved, chose friends, lived my life.

Though Mom was more accepting than she should have been, she had her limits and concerns. She was holding the line against something she probably couldn’t name. She soon realized, as did many parents of that time, it was a battle she couldn’t win.

Now that I’m older, witnessing daily all manner of undress in every situation, I’ve come to wish Mom had fought harder and I hadn’t resisted so much.

Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at jhearne@johnsoncitypress.com.

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