The Right To Bare Arms

Joy Mayfield

© Copyright 2021 by Joy Mayfield


Photo of drooping lower arm.
 I never thought about my arms specifically until 2006.    That is the year my mother forewarned me,  “Your arms will turn on you one day.”
In 2006 my mother was 87 and I was 57.   She lived in a retirement community outside Baltimore, Maryland, while I lived 650 miles away from her in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee.
When our mother turned 85 and left her home of 50 years for a retirement community, my 4 siblings and I decided to take shifts looking in on Mom.  I would dutifully drive from Tennessee to Maryland every summer for 2 weeks to honor my commitment to my siblings and stay with Mom; not that she required any assistance.   In fact, she braced at the very notion of us caring for her and remained staunchly independent well into her 90’s.   
And so it was that in the summer of 2006 I found myself once again at my Mother’s patio door ready to fulfill my annual two-week commitment.  I knocked and within seconds she flung the door open and stood before me.   A quick glance and I noted immediately that something about her appearance was off.    A flash of fear ran through me.  Was it time to have Mom assessed for dementia?  
She noticed my quizzical look, saw me eyeing her blouse in particular and declared in effrontery, “I told you your arms would turn on you one day.” 
As she stepped aside to allow me entry, I grabbed my luggage and headed for the guest bedroom all the while racking my brain trying to figure out just what my mother had on her arms and why there was something so incongruous about her look. Suddenly with a flash of recognition, I remembered an old paisley sleeveless blouse my mother used to wear in the early 1970’s. 
Might you be begging to ask, “what is paisley?”   A quick internet search will prove educational.   Briefly, paisley was a popular colorful pattern printed on cotton and worn by both males and females in the flamboyant hippie era.   In the “further minutiae of the 60’s” department, there was even a word coined to describe the fashion of that spirited, rebellious time specific to hippie attire and that word was “mod.”  Mom latched onto the vernacular “mod” and continued to use the term for decades despite its quick exit from common parlance.   In point of fact, Mom thought using the word “mod”  forevermore made her quite hip and groovy.   Sigh.  Typical of Mom that 30+ years after the swinging 60’s, she would still refer to her dated wardrobe as “mod” and the epitome of haute couture.
 Goodness, let us return to the story at hand. 
Mom’s bizarre blouse in its current altered state and my remote memory of its origins were askew in my mind’s eye. There was something not quite right about her blouse.   I allowed a worry to seep into my consciousness then that Mom’s normal eccentricity had ratcheted up since I last visited her.  I worried that her bizarre ensemble might attract the attention of the Social Worker on staff whose sole duty it was to diagnose mental deterioration in residents under her charge and condemn the poor souls forevermore to Assisted Living, a doomed sentence if there ever was one in a senior living facility.
Mom followed me into the bedroom, noted again me staring at her blouse and my puzzled expression and declared with aplomb, “yes, these custom-made sleeves were once the sheer curtains that used to hang in your old bedroom.  You know how I disdain wasting anything that can be repurposed.” “Besides, you know I’ve always considered myself an amateur fashion designer and anyway, I am an excellent seamstress!”
In that moment I did not know what to say.    I felt she was expecting a compliment of some sort either for her originality, her thriftiness or her expert sewing skills.   Two thoughts were swirling through my head just then:  “is my mother a candidate for the Memory Care Unit?  Are those mutton-chop sleeves she’s wearing?”
I knew Mom was proud of her frugalness in reusing the old curtain sheers and was equally proud of her sewing skills.  I also suspected she truly believed these sleeves were a fashion statement that might catch on with the over 70 set. 
After I’d unpacked and settled in, we sat on the couch together.  My mother patted my hand and assured me she was mentally sound.    She looked me straight in the face and in a moment of compassion and empathy, she professed that no one should have to look at an old woman’s arms and that is why she created her “sheer sleeve attachments.”  
At the time I thought her vanity untoward.  Alas, time has a way of sneaking up on us.  Now I am 72 and yes, my arms have indeed turned on me.   
In the interest of full disclosure, may I confess here and now that since that visit with Mom and often when dusting the dining room table, I have noted my eyes drifting over to the windows, the windows covered in sheers.   And I find I have to squint and look at those sheers twice.
When I talk to my old friends about the state of our arms, the lament is the same and it is nothing but a sad refrain on what we once took for granted:  taut and muscular arms with flawlessly pink skin flecked with golden hairs.  It’s all a mere memory to us now.    Those golden hairs?   Replaced by errant kinked black wires randomly sprouting on what appears to be Naugahyde or someone’s vintage leather purse.
We had no idea the downward trajectory our arms would make over time.
We old girlfriends, being children of the 60’s, however, have decided that to despair is not an option and that we should instead put a positive spin on our FAM (flabby arms malady).  Celebrate our flabby arms?    Yes, Flabby arms unite!   
We’ve even designed a T-Shirt specific to our cause: 


Available in all sizes and colors.   Long sleeve only,  but of course.

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