Being the only girl in a house with all boys, going school clothes shopping every fall with my mother was a very special treat. Something that almost made me happy that summer vacation was soon to be over. She always dedicated one special day, just to the two of us, leaving the boys at home. On this day, we always did the same thing. First we went to the little cafe inside The Broadway department store for lunch. I thought this was very elegant, being a young girl. To me it was. I can still see the dining room where we would sit. Mostly ladies, lunching and chatting like ladies do. Some were taking a break from their shopping, sipping coffee and sharing girl talk. And some were mothers and daughters, just like us, sharing a day of shopping for back to school clothes. I looked at the menu, reading all of the selections, but knowing full well before we ever even sat down that I would be ordering the Monte Cristo sandwich. It was heavenly. It was tradition. It was perfect every time. With jam oozing out the sides of a lightly golden fried bread that had been delicately dusted like snow with powdered sugar. Cut into triangles to reveal the delicious combination of ham and cheese, both sweet and savory, that would melt in my mouth. I seldom have seen this sandwich anywhere else, but on the rare occasion I do, I must order it, for old time's sake. It always falls short of my memory of the ones I had in my youth. I felt so grown up on this special outing of ours, minding my table manners, and feeling proud to be in such a "ladies" place as this little department store dining room. After our lunch, we went to The Broadway to begin our search for a couple of new school outfits. Mom always steered me towards the winter clothes, even though it was still blistering hot and I would not be able to wear my new clothes for some time yet. I can still remember excitedly scooping several things off the racks, then hauling them all into the dressing room, where Mom would take her place in the corner seat, to begin the process of our selections. Off went the shoes, the skirt and top. I step into the pleated plaid skirt with the large decorative gold pin closure (think tartan kilt), squealing with delight at the perfect matching crisp white blouse to match. Mom lifting my tartan skirt to give the blouse peeking out underneath a good firm tug and then smoothing the skirt back down before I twirl to look at the back in my stocking feet. Oh how I loved this outfit! Not wanting to take it off, but doing it anyway so that I can rush on to find another outfit that equally delights me. We always got the complete outfit too. The skirt and matching blouse, or dress with the perfect shade of knee sox. I wasn't allowed to wear pants at my school, so it was skirts and blouses mostly. Mom puts the blouse and skirt back onto the hangers and places them on the hook we have reserved for our "KEEP" pile. And we repeat the process, again and again, until we have found the "perfect" back to school outfits to die for! I know that back in those days, my parents saved for, and set aside some money for each of us for our school clothes shopping. I don't know what the amount was, but I know that it didn't come easily. We didn't get a lot of things, but we shopped carefully for a few quality things, that could be mixed and matched. And of course, following the clothes shopping excursion, we always got two pair of new shoes. Usually a pair of sneakers, and a pair just for "school" and nice occasions. I remember that we had to change out of our "school" shoes, and into our "play" shoes after we got home from school so that our good shoes would last. The last stop to complete our back to school shopping in those last days of summer, was always at JC Penney's. This is where we got our underclothes and nighties. This trip was often done with all 4 of us in tow. New packages of white tee shirts, boxer shorts and white tube sox for the boys. Cotton floral print panties and new silk slips for me. But this particular year, I was getting something else too. My very first bra!! I recall standing in the aisle, between rows and rows of neatly stacked PLAYTEX boxes. Slightly embarrassed, but giddy with excitement, at what we were about to purchase. What I was going to be wearing!!! My very own bra! It was happening. I was growing up!! Becoming a woman!!! I can remember it as if it were yesterday. The sales lady measuring my back and underneath my barely there boobies. My brothers, David, Mark and little Timmy.....a couple of feet away, where my Mom had directed them to be, so as not to embarrass me. David was making faces, and posing like a girl, hands on hips, strutting to and fro. Mark was motioning to his "bra" and pretending as though he was getting fitted too, in very exaggerated motions! Timmy laughing out loud drawing attention to them. I thought I would die. Right there on the linoleum floor of JC Penny's unmentionables department!!! My Mom turned and wagged her finger in stern warning at them. But I think I may have even caught her stiffling a bit of a smile when she didn't know I was looking. Despite the horror of having my brothers tease me so, I left JC Penney's that day with two new bras, in rectangle shaped boxes, white with pretty lace detail, and a tiny silk bow at the center between my triple A trainer cups! I. Was. Growing. Up!!!
I will always remember those late summer shopping trips with my Mom with such fondness. And that one special summer, about 39 years ago, that I got my special rectangle box!