"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, March 31, 2024

From Easter Bonnets To Flannel Chic And Back, The Odyssey Of A Good Catholic Girl

Alicia Parsons remembered the first time she felt she had a calling when Father Brophy read this verse from the Song of Songs, " You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you." At that moment she felt that God was speaking directly to her, only to her, especially to her, and she felt beautiful. 


'Beauty is as beauty does' is the old adage about vanity, and Alicia knew she had to guard against it.  Even though she felt anointed, she must not compromise her soul and must show humility, respect, and love for others even though she felt superior to them. 

She wrestled with this contradiction - did showing respect for others counteract the vanity of self-love? Or, in other words, if vanity was not displayed, was it a sin? But then again, shouted the voice across the room, if you can't show vanity, what good is it? 

And so she felt that showing off the grace of God - her beauty - was an act of goodness and charity, and she would never withhold it from anyone; and so it was that Alicia became the belle of the ball, sought after, pursued, and desired by men. 

Each time she came through the door, she was challenged by the tough girls in her class.  Girly girls were counter-revolutionary throwbacks and chattel. Get rid of the curls, eyeliner, and lip gloss and trade it in for jackboots and flannel, they said. Bernal Heights should be her Mecca not Hollywood.


Of course she paid no attention.  Boys were attracted to her like bees to flowers, she was God's primal gift, a sacred vessel, a Mary Magdalene, Bathsheba, and Esther waiting for a miraculous seed to be planted.  The butch women of Bernal Heights were the oddities.  Where on earth did they come from, Alicia wondered, and how had they missed the boat on loveliness? At the very least they could fancy up, adopt a Jodie Foster femme look, give feminine allure a whirl.  After all these women were still women.  The legacy of female beauty is long and storied.  There is no diversion from its standard from Nefertiti to today. Why diesel up? 

Now, to be honest there were girls who turned Alicia's heads, but they were, like her, feminine beauties, form and feature perfect with no sign of turning coat; but yet there was something appealing about the attraction.  What could be more significant than two perfectly feminine women joined in sexual congress, in a Lawrentian epiphany, a Kantian being and becoming?  Where did God say that her beauty had to be dispensed categorically? 


And so she and Arden Phillips began an affair 'among the roses' as Alicia put it in remembrance of the first time they kissed in the formal gardens of Dumbarton Oaks.  It was a sweet kiss, the taste of rose pollen on Arden's lips, her cheeks flushed and rosy, a miracle of God's bounty. 

Of course not being hardwired for that sort or thing, Alicia's romance with Arden was short-lived.  She missed the feel of a man inside her, not a lot of girly fingering, and kept thinking of the real men of the Bible who begat and fathered and begat again.  The entire Old Testament was nothing but begetting, whoring, and fertility.  No matter how the tough girls in her class might have raised Bernal Heights to the pantheon, where in the Bible did two women ever unite? 

Alicia went to church ever Sunday, but the old fire and brimstone of Father Murphy had been damped, and pretty boy Father Owens and his fussy chasuble and silk slippers made her leave mass before the Offertory.  She knew what was going on in the rectory, and it made her queasy.  

Yet, good Catholic that she was, she was not deterred by Father Owens or put off  by the Church.  God in his infinite wisdom created little gay boys like Peter Owens and they were blessed for it; but keeping her distance was no sin. 

As she grew older, her beauty remained.  While it no longer had that peaches-and-cream freshness, it had matured into 'woman' - a creature of seduction, wiles, and savvy intent.  There was much of the Eve about her - the first seductress, the very first woman who wanted a man and knew exactly how to get him; and all women after her could do the very same thing. 

Edward Albee had it right when he said that marriage was the crucible of maturity.  George and Martha flay each other to the marrow in a sexually existential fight for clarity.  Imagine two butch girls of Bernal Heights trying that out, Alicia thought. 

'Give flannel a try', said one of her colleagues in her K Street law firm. 'Come with me to San Francisco'; but Alicia knew what was what behind the offer, and she knew that as soon as her colleague stepped off the plane she would ditch her Armani suit and Gucci bag for work boots, flannel and Levi's.  

It was getting time for marriage and children, but her stunning beauty did not pay off dividends in that regard.  Men who would be faithful husbands, good fathers, and hard workers were intimidated by her; and the Casanovas, the men of absolute sexual confidence and will had no interest in anything but another notch in their belt. What was a woman to do?  At least lesbians did not have to worry about pull-by dates and could go off into their dotage without so much as a thought to procreation. 

Yet, there's a man for every woman.  Kate, Shakespeare's shrew, was destined for a life of bitter spinsterhood until Petruchio came along, a man of wide sexual interest and experience but looking for a spicy, fiery, willful woman and not the shrinking, adoring violets he had bedded in the past. 

Yet the longer the clock ticked on, the longer she felt apostatic - she had been given God's special gift and was squandering it.  Shakespeare again had it right in his Sonnets.  His young, beautiful man had a duty to procreate, a responsibility to his Creator. To while away his time in inconsequential, barren affairs was wrong.  She agreed.  Intelligence was a dime a dozen, but physical beauty? One in a million. Ugliness claimed inner beauty, but no one was buying. 

Every Sunday she prayed for opportunity, but none came.  While the parishioners of St. Maurice of the Fields wondered why on earth this gorgeous, appealing, suitable woman had not married, Alicia knew it was her own fault, and time to let down her guard. 

Yet when she did, the ragtag, gross bunch of suitors who showed up at her door were disgusting.  Better to keep her vessel closed, flowered, and intact than give it up to this lot.  Men!, she thought in a troubling moment.  Maybe she was turning the flannel corner. 

Most of us lost track of her after she took a job as a prosecutor in Nome and joked that having given up the ship, she was probably married to an Inuit sealer.  'What a shame', we all said, those of us who fell into the intimidated category, amazed at the woman's spectacular beauty but doomed by Freud to keep our distance; but an Eskimo? 


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