Saturday, November 03, 2007

Air Force Wife: The Jewelry Party

I've joined that cult of people who, with NaBloPoMo, are vowing to post every day for the month of November. I will be posting stories about life as an Air Force Wife all month long. For seven long enjoyable years Bob was in the Medical Service Corps as an Air Force Officer. He loved it. I barely survived. Enjoy tales of my pain for the month of November.


For seven and a half years of my young adult life, I was an Air Force Officer's Wife. It wasn't by choice. I had no illusions of playing out a Debra Winger/Richard Gere An Officer and a Gentleman fantasy. No, I met my husband in college, and when we married, I was finishing my bachelor's degree, he his master's and we were well on our way to corporate bliss in the city, followed by suburban bliss in a planned neighborhood with a few kids. Maybe even a gated neighborhood if we played our cards right.

I got my gated neighborhood, only there were young men in fatigues with M-16s at the gate. The story of how we ended up as a military family is a long one, and one that will not be told today. That will take some red wine and an evening holed up in my office to relay, but by the end of the month I will. Today I will share with you a story of when we were stationed in the deep south. It was lovely, it was terrible, and it was one of the most memorable places we have ever lived. We sucked the juice out of that experience, and hopefully I have some left to go with the pith....

The south was a captivating place for me. It wasn't just all that catfish, or sultry, lightnin’ bug infused nights. It wasn't the novelty of looking at a place through Yankee-colored glasses and learning that the Civil War is still high on the minds of many Americans. It was many things, heightened by the fact that while in the south we lived in Officer housing on a large Air Force base.

It was also the parties.

If you live on an Air Force base, I don't care if you're stationed in Guam or Minot, North Dakota, you will be invited to a Stampin’ UP!, Pampered Chef, or Creative Memories party within about 4.7 seconds of your arrival. Before we PCS'd (that means "moved" in military-ese) to the south, we had lived at another base in Idaho where I had assiduously avoided all parties. I was above those, you know. And I also failed miserably at assimilating into Air Force culture because of my reticence in becoming a military spouse (yet another story, my failure to be a good Officer's Wife). So, after a few too many episodes of Dr. Phil and his incessant asking, "how's that working for you?" I decided to throw myself full throttle into Air Force life. And that included attending the parties.

It started one hot August morning. We had just arrived at the base, we still had moving boxes lining our halls and we still got lost on the way to the commissary or the BX. Then my pale pink invitation to the “Premiere Designs, Inc” party arrived in the mail. It was to be hosted by a nearby Colonel's wife and the instructions were clear: “Wear solid colors, NO JEWELRY and a smile!”

I gritted my teeth. I was going to be a good officer's wife, dammit, so I RSVP'd yes.

I will wow them all with my fresh, Western approach to life and fashion, I thought. I’ll dress in some cute khaki shorts, a Nike T-shirt and those great Teva sandals I picked up in Seattle. So my toes had three different colors of chipped polish. Big deal. They would instantly see my devotion to my daughters, who clearly have a creative streak (my youngest tried to paint a cat on my big toenail, and so what if it only looks like a bad case of fungus? They’ll only see what an accommodating mom I am). I’ll bring a bottle of champagne and some orange juice and my new friends and I will have mimosas! And we’ll buy jewelry! And they’ll tell me how cute my western accent sounds! And even if they don’t, I’ll be without my children for at least two hours. The sounds of “Born Free” drift through my head, as I imagine using my hostess’ bathroom without a toddler velcro’d to my leg. I can’t wait!

The day of the party, I ring the doorbell to my neighbor’s home, and Laura Bush answers the door. Or her cousin. Her perfectly lacquered hair doesn’t move as she takes me in, her lipsticked-smile wavering only the smallest bit as she eyes the bottle of champagne.

Hahhh,” she croons, in a soft drawl. “Come on in. Let me just put that in the kitchen for you,” she takes the champagne and holds it close to her sweater-set, that I would soon understand was ubiquitous in the field-grade officer's wives set, regardless of days with more humidity than a Russian steam bath. "Most of the ladies here would only use this for mouthwash,” she whispered as she set it behind a group photo of really well-dressed women under a banner reading “Daughters of the American Revolution Annual Rummage Sale.”

I’m led to a floral upholstered chair with lace doilies on the arms and given a glass of sweet tea as the party begins.

The Jewelry Consultant arrives and stands at the head of the room. She is wearing a simple navy sheath, hose, pumps and matching earrings, necklace, bracelet and brooch. Her hair is perfect. It doesn't move. I am still mesmerized by her hair and the fact that women still cover their legs and wear broaches when she claps her hands. The room is silent, save for the slight chattering of my teeth from the sweetness of my tea.

“Hello Ladies! Let’s get started! Now, we all have jewelry, do we not? (polite tittering and sounds of agreement). But does anyone here know the Cardinal Rule of Jewelry?”

There’s a cardinal rule? I’m sitting there trying to think of something like “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s big-ass diamond ring” when I notice one of the party guests has her arm raised. She’s sitting on the edge of her seat in the “Me! Pick Me!” position, back ram-rod straight as she reaches her arm up even higher.

The Jewelry Consultant gives her a nod and the woman recites, “Always wear earrings.”

With a patient smile, the Jewelry Consultant says encouragingly, “Close! Anyone else? No? It’s “Nevah leave your home without your earrings on.’”

There is a collective “Ohhhh” in the room. Confucius has spoken.

“In fact, Ah have a wonderful story to illustrate the importance of this rule! The other day, Ah was driving my daughter to school, when (let me just interrupt here to tell you that everyone is listening with rapt attention; you could hear a pin drop) Ah. Had. No. Earrings. On!” There is an audible hush. The women look horrified. Had I missed something? She continues, a conspiratorial smile on her face, as if she is about to share the most hilarious, knee-slapping tidbit EVER with us.

“Well, ladies. Ah had NO earrings in mah purse – you can bet Ah do now – so do y’all know what Ah did?” She’s almost squealing at this point. Even I’m on edge, so intense is her build-up.

“What?!” I yell.

“Ah took the earrings off of mah own daughter’s ears and put them on mine!” She finishes by covering her mouth with her hands, as if she had just said something screamingly naughty like, “And then Ah flashed the police officer mah titties, just to get out of the ticket.”

I’m crushed. But the rest of the room almost explodes.

“You did NOT!”

“Your own daughter!”

“Yes! And y’all can bet that will NEVAH happen to me again! Ah now have earrings in mah car, in mah purse…” she continues, but I’ve started to drift.

I’m snapped out of it when I notice the silence in the room and all eyes on me.

“Jennifer?”

I’m then asked to stand in the middle of the living room so that the the Jewelry Consultant can use me to illustrate Cardinal Rule of Jewelry Number Two: Earrings Make Your Face Appear Thinner. I have one earring on, and I’m being strong-armed from side to side as the Jewelry Consultant chimes, “See? Thinner. Bigger. Thinner. Bigger.” I decide I want to go home, when I’m refreshed by the glimpse of coffee cake as I’m swiveled toward the dining room. I’m released to my seat where we have to go around the room, tell our names and what kind of jewelry we like.

Hah! I’m Angie, and I like to wear white gold and silver!”

“Hey, I’m Tammy Jo and I like yella gold.”

“Hi. I’m Jennifer. I like jewelry my husband can’t afford.” This elicits no comments on my accent or refreshing western honesty. Nothing. I take another sip of sweet tea.

I left with an earring, necklace, and bracelet set for $123.45 and my next invitation to a Home Interiors party.

“’Bye y’all!” I chirped as I left, rummaging through the cobwebs of my brain for an appropriate southern colloquialism.

“It’s all y’all…” I heard as the door shut behind me.

23 comments:

jen said...

oh.my.god. I completely understand your experience. I was raised in NC by Yankee parents and had a different experience than most of my friends--I didn't have a "coming-out" party, I don't lacquer my face in makeup, I wear yoga pants to the bank. The South is like going to another country.
I found you on NaBloPoMo--I love your blog!

BOSSY said...

NaBloPoMo. How come Bossy can't read that without thinking: Mole Poblano. Yum.

Jen M. said...

Bossy - you are so a woman after my own heart. Must have Mexican food today....
Jen: I joined the Jen group on NaBloPoMo and can't wait to find your blog!

Mamma said...

That sounds like pure hell!!

I'm looking forward to the stories this month.

Mary Alice said...

How was it that I wasn't at that party? I must have been lying on my floor drinking gin, with a cold compress on my head, recovering from the Bible Study earlier that day.

BetteJo said...

I was almost an Air Force wife - and I was being dragged hissing and spitting all the way. Didn't happen. Whew!!!

Rimarama said...

Having lived as a displaced northerner in the deep south, I can totally relate to this story. (And your accent is dead-on!).

painted maypole said...

ack.

you know, i don't think you can be a young mother without being invited to all these parties. I try to avoid them as well. I have managed to never go to a jewelry party, though. i did get sucked into the stamping ones.

Lorelai said...

I'm laughing only because I know these ladies. Surely they must have been a few of my past co-workers! hahahaha

mjd said...

Oh my, how horrible. Since this was the Colonel's wife, you must have been expected to go. "Nevah leave your home without your earrings on.” amazing. No wonder, women have a difficult time getting the same respect as men. Men do not even get invited to these kind of parties.

Nice entry for this NaBloPoMo event.

Jenn C. said...

This is my first visit to your blog. I love it. You captured the southern experience by a transplanted person so well! I felt like I was back in Birmingham, AL for a few minutes. Thank goodness I didn't have to live there for too long!

open_skies19 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy said...

For some bazaar reason, I picture Lady Bird Johnson as the jewelry consultant, lol

Cellobella said...

Are you sure you weren't living in Stepford at the time??!

Robin said...

I'm cringing, guessing that that was even more painful to live through than it was to read. This Yankee would definitely not fit in... *shudder*

Audubon Ron said...

I’m sure I never mentioned I worked for USAA for 21 years. I use to hire a crew of you officer’s wives (officer wife, always got that mixed up) in my call centers and such. You guys were a kick! …and pretty much had your way with me. Now I know why I like you. I haven’t had a can of whoop butt opened on me by an OW in a long time. I miss that.

Mary Beth said...

What a riot! These women would pass out cold if they saw some of the outfits I deign to go to the store in ... I can't wait to hear more.

jakelliesmom said...

Oh. I would not have fit in at all.

I'm so excited to read along on this month-long tribute into a most interesting and curious world.

bermudabluez said...

OMG, I love your blog! I HAVE to add it to my blogroll. You are hilarious!! I can't even imagine myself at one of those parties...I would not have gone. Looking forward to hearing the rest of the story....

Just Seeking said...

Oh my, this is hilarious! I would have said the same thing---I love jewelry my hubby can't afford---and then I'd be surrounded by all these grossly rich medical spouses (we're family medicine, remember? look it up people! lowest salary of them all) who were agast in their 2+ carat diamond earrings. Sigh.

dawn224 said...

Hm. I wonder if they make baby proof earrings?

Your line with the southern accent of flashin the titties to get out of the ticket - what does it say about me that THAT is what totally illustrated this story for me?

Cathy said...

Still sitting at my desk laughing...

I HATE those jewelry parties. I was invited to one last year.

No alcohol.

Lots of twittering about huge cocktail rings that I would never buy, much less wear.

Nevertheless, I felt pressured into purchasing something, so I ordered a $12 pair of earrings before slinking out the door.

I have never felt so out of place.

daisie said...

I'm in my 2nd year as an Air Force Officer's wife living on Guam, and luckily we live off base and I have my own full time job, so I can use that as my excuse to avoid such parties! Looking forward to future blogs.