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  • Felice Cohen

Girls Will Be Girls

Part of being an organizer is being prepared for the unexpected. Like having an extra roll of toilet paper in the bathroom or an umbrella in your backseat. Then there are those items you hold onto “just in case.”

Last week my mom came for a visit. In between all the walking, we did a lot of window-shopping. (The Big Apple offers a bit more of a selection than Cape Cod.) One store we stopped in was a brassiere shop. For years my mother took care of her three daughters, but in this store, it was all about her “other girls.”

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While I sat outside the dressing room, a Romanian saleswoman (who also happened to be a child of Holocaust survivors) tirelessly brought over various bras for my mom to try on, shamelessly opening the curtain and walking in. It reminded me of the scene from the movie “Yentl” when the tailor says to Barbra Streisand, “A tailor’s like a doctor, what’s to be ashamed?”

And while I was on hand to give my opinion, the two of them were chatting it up behind the curtain.

“My mother died when I was 18,” I heard my mother tell the saleswoman. “But she was there for my first bra. I remember it like it was yesterday.”

When my maternal grandfather, Papa, met my grandmother Fela in Germany after the war, she was seeing someone else. One night Fela was robbed and everything was stolen. Wanting to win Fela over, Papa asked his sister Cesia to help him buy Fela new clothes, including bras. Not knowing Fela’s bra size he bought one in every size. While only one fit, Fela saved the others. Either she was sentimental or she wanted to be prepared just in case.

Fast-forward fourteen years.

Papa and Fela are married and living in Brooklyn with their three children. On the day their oldest, a daughter, hit puberty, Fela took her twelve-year-old into her bedroom, opened a dresser drawer and removed a package delicately wrapped in tissue paper. The bras. Still new. Fela handed the smallest one to my mother.

“It fit perfectly,” I heard my mom tell the saleswoman. “Then my mother slapped me to ward off the evil eye.”

The saleswoman laughed. “My mother did the same to me.”

Sitting on the other side of the curtain, my eyes filled with tears, it dawned on me that all these years of assuming I got my organizing skills just from my dad’s mother, Nana Banana, whose kitchen cabinets were organized with military precision, that maybe I got my “being prepared” genes from my maternal grandmother… how fitting.

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