Friday, October 7, 2011

Chatty Cathy

The more things change, the more you stay the same. I don't know about you, but I am totally turning into my mother.

Last weekend I found myself chatting with cashiers at clothing stores and the girl making my chai latte at Starbucks. Then I stopped myself and wondered, "What in the world am I doing?"

Mom had a habit of telling strangers all our private family business. The clerk at the store, the person behind her in line buying groceries, the cute gas station attendant (this was in the days when guys in uniforms actually pumped gas for you): They all got an update on what we were doing and thinking, whether they wanted one or not.

It might have been fine in Portland, Oregon when my mom was growing up during the Great Depression, but this was 1970s L.A. and I assure you, it was weird.

The low point occurred the day after I had foolishly given in to the idea of letting my aunt cut and perm my oh-so-sleek, long, straight hair, parted-in-the-middle just like the cool older girls at school. It was one of my worst-ever decisions, but what can I say? Mom and Aunt Helen, a hair dresser, caught me in a weak moment and finally wore me down.

The result was a tortured few hours bent over the kitchen sink, nose plugged against the stink of a home-permanent kit. At the end, there was the horrifying realization that I had not only survived, but I looked like a cross between Shirley Temple and Phyllis Diller.

Surely my education had come to premature close; I could never show my face to the outside world again.

Still, you can only lie on your bed crying for so many hours. The next day found me slumped down in the backseat of the car, hoping no one would recognize the monster I'd become.

Cue mom chatting with the cute gas station guy: "That's my daughter, she's hiding back there because we gave her a permanent yesterday and she doesn't like it, but I think it looks just ador..."


My shame was utterly complete. Not only would I never aspire to cool again, but my mother was determined that the whole world would know it.

Now that I've become a Chatty Cathy, I can only thank goodness that this compulsion is kicking in later in life, after my kids have left home. At least I'm only at risk of embarrassing myself.

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