No Ruts In Our Shoulders

No ruts in her shoulders either.

No ruts in her shoulders either

My friend and I were laughing smugly the other night about being Kate Hudson-like when it comes to our endowment — modest.  That’s okay with us, less gravitational pull you know and no disfigurement from overburdened bra straps. Then I read a comment this morning from Sioux, a reader who had commented on my Death By Girdle post. It reminded me of something I wrote three years ago, about the unblinking truth of the YMCA locker room, which seems particularly prescient now, since the same lithe friend I just referred to lost her mother just a few days ago.  Mother daughter relationships are never simple, but one fact, I think is universal – we never get used to being orphans. This goes out to the Hernandez girls, with love.

It’s Fun to Be at the Y-M-C-A

Have you ever noticed how the locker room is the great un-equalizer? Whereas some things in life put us on a level playing field, like, “place your feet in the stirrups and scoot on down,” the locker room at my local Y is a never ending tableau of what once was, what is now and what will never be.

Most men would be alternately aroused and appalled; I am analytical as I stand in front of the mirror blow drying my hair, smack dab in the middle of a blatant reflection of the cruel continuum of aging. Opposite ends of the spectrum stand on either side. Like the old-time Vargas drawings in Playboy magazine, the gal on my left in simply stunning; picture perky breasts, with perfectly pink nipples. Hard to tell about the gal on my right, as her nipples have gone south, for all of the remaining seasons of her life. If there’s one good thing about being slightly-less-than-moderately-endowed, it is that gravity is my friend.

Gal on the left, bends over to dry her hair, straightens back up, her dark blond locks, skimming bare shoulders, she is, in fact, bare all over. With a body like that, I would be too –as often as possible. Gorgeous breasts, tiny waist, slim hips, long legs — a few too many ornaments for my taste though. Talk about gilding the lily! She has an earring in her nipple and one in her…well, I can’t for the life of me figure out how she works around that particular piece of jewelry.

Not that I’m staring or anything. Women who are naked in the locker room train their eyes straight ahead. If someone walks up to you bare butt naked, no matter what, your eyes stay on their face. But, one doesn’t usually have the opportunity to stand right next to a specimen worthy of a Sports Illustrated cover!

Maybe I should just tell her. Maybe I shouldn’t try to ignore her flaunting, trouncing and hair tossing. Maybe I should just come right out with what I’m thinking. Would it be inappropriate to say…

“Pardon me, but I simply must tell you that you have an absolutely beautiful body!”

Probably. Probably just as inappropriate as me saying to the woman on my right,

“my God, how did that happen?” as she pulls up her parachute panties, and slowly backs up, aiming for the plastic bench with the handles, to sit down, catch her breath and put on her socks.

This makes me miss my mother.

Not that my mom was large, far from it, she was fairly trim, and quite voluptuous all her life, a source of competitive pride. She brought me a pair of hand me down jeans, when she came for a visit once. She pulled them out of the suitcase and said,

“These pants are too big for me. But now that I see your behind, I’m not sure you can get into them.”

She was tactful that way. And even though she wasn’t rich, she had a lot of class, and took great pride in her appearance, heaven forbid that she’d dress like an old lady. She did need help with her socks though, not being able to reach her toes anymore. Seeing the little old ladies at the Y, slowly getting in and out of the pool, walking so carefully, so as not to fall, shampooing with arthritic fingers through fine, gray hair, fumbling for hooks on unreachable bra backs and sitting down with heavy sighs; so much effort just to get dressed. Studying them, through furtive glances, makes me miss my mother so damn much.

Nothing prepares you for how sad it feels to be an orphan. I find myself gravitating towards elderly women in the check out line, hoping one of them might ask me to carry out a sack of their groceries. When I catch a glimpse of a gray haired woman with a blunt-cut bob, I turn automatically, like the rooting reflex of a newborn baby, when the softness and scent of it’s mama is near. Loss is a mean spirited bastard, jabbing us at the most random times and places — something about a person’s voice, their silhouette, the shape of their hands, the contour of their eyes, reminding us of the one who’s missing, subtle as a sucker punch. I saw a man in Washington D.C. last week, who reminded me so much of my brother Garrett, I found myself transfixed, ignoring the chatter and noisy bus boys. It was like, if I focused hard enough, my memory could laser a layer of Garrett on top of him, like a hologram—and for an instant, one fleeting instant, I might be able to really see him. Even though I could not touch him, I could be in his presence again. Maybe Garrett was there, in that noontime D.C. diner, nudging me, “Hey, don’t forget about me…” who knows?

My mother survived loss by not dwelling on it. And she always had a man around to help her make it through the night. She was a magnet for men from the time she was about 14. She was married four times, with many a tryst in between. Even after my step father died, (who lasted the longest with her, 22 years) it wasn’t too long before she had Paco.

It was my brother Don, who remarked, “why is it, that I stop by to visit my 63 year old, widowed mother only to find some wetback asleep on her couch, and yet, I am not the least bit surprised ?”

Lest you be offended by my use of the term”wetback” I mean it in the nicest way. Some of our family’s best friends are wetbacks. Growing up in Texas and New Mexico, long before the FOX TV’s “Border Wars” my gringo family was meshed with the descendants of wetbacks who got the hell out of Saltillo, Mexico before Pancho Villa rode in to take over their hacienda. My stepfather was first generation Mexican American, and let me tell you, I doubt his parents checked in with the INS once they got to Texas. Their seven children, all born in America, went on to become WWII veterans, nurses, engineers, and auto workers among other occupations –and I think they all paid taxes.

Paco, on the other hand, waded across the Rio Grande himself and became my mother’s cause celeb. Fifteen years her junior, he stayed with her in one capacity or another, for nineteen years, even up until her death; as her boyfriend, her sixth child, her stubborn pupil, (who never did learn English) her gardener, her maintenance man and never ending source of consternation, proving to be, in the end, one of the truest friends she ‘d ever known. When she had a stroke at 82, in the hospital for months, Paco would stop in to see her on his way to work and often late at night. We wouldn’t have known, if not for the nurses telling us.

When it was time to go see her at the funeral home, Paco met us at my brother Don’s. “Patricio, venido con migo,” he asked my son Pat, to ride with him in the pick-up which my mother had filled out the loan papers for. Paco wailed at the sight of her in the white casket, sobbing and crying out loud.

“Bever-leeee..” he cried and laid his head on her chest. It was killing the rest of us to witness this. Then, he stopped abruptly. He wiped his eyes on his handkerchief, blew his nose, patted her folded hands, took a deep breath and stepped away from the casket.


That was it, he was done. It was one of the most gut wrenching, yet comical things I’ve ever seen; legendary now, in our family history.

And as much as we routinely questioned her judgment, when all was said and done, my 82 year old mama left behind four kids, ten grand children, six great grandchildren and a lover turned lifetime companion weeping at her funeral. A man who loved her with all of his heart. I think, “gee, I should be so lucky.” She probably thought, “there’s three more where he came from.” Unlike her daughter, who is confident in all things except men, my mother had not one gram of self-doubt with the male species. Much like, I suspect, the flouncy, bouncy blond exhibitionist in the locker room. My mother thrived on the adoration of the many, I’m content with the affection of one, just one, good man. 


About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Thanks for the laughs this morning. Where is Paco now? Is he still around?

  2. Not sure where Paco is….I need to try to find him next time I’m in ABQ. Do I feel another road trip coming on???

    • Argh, I need to come back here more often. Jean, Jean the Dancing Machine. I was looking at your photos. I can’t express enough how much I regret not staying in touch with your mom after Garrett passed. I LOVE the photo of her…she aged so well! I think I need a road trip. I had to take a break from your book, I hope you don’t mind. It really was ripping me up a bit. So many similiarities…I frequently flip off my boss…gawd! Among other awful things, haha. Your story just feels too close. I’ll finish the book, I swear. Now, if I can only stop wanting to cry every time I look at your photos…haha.