Averyell A. Kessler
My mother knew something was up when she gave me a pink bathing cap. I plopped it onto my head immediately and ran to look at myself in the bathroom mirror. All summer, I’d been suffering from Riverside Swimming Pool’s new dictum – females must wear bathing caps. Ugh! I’m not sure why they decided only female hair clogged up drains, but male hair was exempt. The small white cap I’d been wearing was ugly and smelled like burning tires. Tucking my long blond hair under the cap was like fitting a 95- pound hog into a bikini bottom. The chin strap was a garrote, and water worked its way into my ears anyway. My new pink one looked like an artful arrangement of rose petals. There was no chinstrap or smell, and if fit! Whoopee! All was well until I insisted on wearing it when I wasn’t in the pool. The last straw occurred when I wore it on a city bus heading downtown and walked up and down the aisle modeling it for the other passengers. Mama realized that my passion for costume was far beyond clumping around in her old shoes and coating my lips with Fire Engine Red. I was authentic dress up child.
As a result, every holiday was an adventure. Mama taught herself to sew and produced a sugar plum fairy costume which smothered my skinny legs under a blanket of blue tulle. Daddy made me a wooden wand with a silver star on top. (Wish I still had it.) I lived for five straight days in my majorette outfit, tightly hugging a baton which I didn’t know how to twirl. I had a collection of plastic tiaras, a nurse’s cap, and a red, sateen devil suit. The tail was a bit troublesome, especially at the dinner table, but the horns were great. When Davy Crockett appeared, I spent hours in my coonskin cap even though it hotter than a blazing campfire and the tail was itchy. My brownie uniform was fun, but everybody else had one.
As I grew, my passion for masquerade still existed. There were new teenage delights, miniature heels, lacy underwear, and my own lipstick. Also, baby doll pajamas, fingernail polish, and a new haircut called a ducktail. My close encounter with saddle shoes weaned me away from fads, but I envied my teen-age buddies in costume for the annual high school musical, as well as my Murrah Miss friends. Choir robes were colorful and dramatic, but I couldn’t sing.
At last, a final chance for a championship, blue ribbon, first class masquerade presented itself. News spread that a controversial movie was coming to the Lamar Theatre in downtown Jackson. It sprung from the scandalous imagination of D. H. Lawrence, creator of the outrageous Lady Chatterley and Oliver Mellors. Jackson bigwigs heard the news too and reacted as if the devil incarnate had purchased a home in Belhaven. I viewed it as an opportunity. My boyfriend du jour and I made plans; this movie was a must see.
The bigwigs made plans also. Clergymen were alerted, as was the chief of police, high school principals and the PTA. A back fence whispering campaign kicked in. The mayor promised that he would allow only one showing of this film to determine its content, before it would be confiscated and driven out of town in a flurry of outrage. A definite ready, fire, aim approach. That’s when the wisdom of Mark Twain spoke with authority, “The more things are forbidden, the more popular they become.” A never fail assessment of human nature. Boyfriend and I decided we’d attend in disguise in case something happened. Something was not defined.
We each purchased a can of spray-on hair dye in deep ebony. While it wasn’t permanent, it resembled spray-on varnish. The result was stiff helmet head hair, as well as dye encrusted fingernails. I located a Greta Garbo style raincoat hidden in my mother’s closet. Boyfriend visited a thrift store and purchased a maroon and silver tuxedo jacket that fell below his knees. We told our parents we were going to a costume party and left home dressed like blossoming idiots, a typical teenage phenomenon.
When we parked on Lamar Street, the entrance plaza of the theatre seemed calm, but a long line of mismatched people waited at the ticket booth. This was not Jackson’s tea and cookies circuit or even my grandfather’s raucous horseshow crowd, but a patchwork quilt of everybody from everywhere. I won’t attempt to pilfer words from today’s mindless mantras, but these folks were as diverse and inclusive as a Bourbon Street Crowd on Mardi Gras. No one cared that police cars were idling across the street or that an intense man in plaid slacks and a bad toupee waved a sign reading “Highway to Hell.” When we finally stepped to the front of the line, the ticket seller didn’t blink. She sold us tickets even though we smelled like moth balls and looked like characters from a Vincent Price movie. We were only curious teens who wanted to see what everybody was talking about. Yes, the film was controversial and edgy, but that’s the fun. Today, it would be considered a bowl of cold oatmeal.
When the movie ended, a cadre of policemen entered the theatre, threading their way through a cross current of humanity. The film reels were confiscated and the camera operators were arrested as well as the theatre staff. It was a major event in Jackson, and I saw it all, from the safety of my disguise. I also learned that see, hear, and read for yourself are good ideas. Here’s a tip, beware of spray-on hair dye; it lasts for three very long days until relentless scrubbing finally wins. Better to appear in a pink flowered bathing cap even if it pinches.