I grow up at solo serve 

“Do you know of one your pants legs is lighter in color than the other one?” It was the 1970s and one of the most popular girls at McCollum High School had me cornered. I was too horrified to look down and confirm her chilling observación. She was talking about the polyester bell bottoms I had purchased at Solo Serve, a discount clothing store that specialized in irregulars and downright defects.

My parents dressed six children for school every year with the help of Solo Serve’s rock-bottom precios and we children never noticed the faulty stitching, cheap thread, and inferior construction.

My mother did not have the same luck.

My cousin Ana was getting married. While scouring Solo Serve for appropriate wedding finery for her children, my mother happened upon something for herself, también. Her tired gaze rested upon a tangerine wonder, a silk-looking dancing dress with extravagant ruffles at the neck, lace and ribbons everywhere, and quarter-size spangles.

The night of the boda, our Mami emerged from our tiny, dark, cold-water bathroom transformed. Before Salma, before Jennifer, before Eva, there were Latina mothers like mine — taking a brief respite from cooking, cleaning, and washing to show they, too, could be a movie star. Subdued and well-behaved in our sudden awe, we vied for her attention in the car, asking bashful questions as we respectfully leaned over the front seat, gingerly stroking the orange fabric.

CHALUPA RULE

What will you do when your dancing dress begins to fall apart?

¿Qué harás cuando tu vestido de baile se empieza a desenredar?

At the wedding, my Dad, resplendently suited up in a snappy Solo Serve special, took Mami for an inaugural spin on the pista de baile. All eyes were on my gorgeous, glamorous, glittering Mami as her prized dress decided to reveal its true nature and began to fall apart. At the conclusion of each canción, my Mami returned to our table wearing less and less of the dress.

First, the gauzy, see-through sleeves fainted and fell off her shoulders. Nervously stuffing them in her purse, she returned one dance later with the silk collar in her trembling hand. Thanks to that Solo Serve dress, we had to quietly slip away from the dance as the seams began to give way. My mother held her head high, her dignity intact even as she clutched at the ruins of her dancing dress and the remnants of her dream of dancing the night away.

However, she exacted a Latina Mother’s Revenge upon that dress. One afternoon, she dragged it from the ropero and made it hang at guilty attention while, like a general demoting an officer to private, she stripped away the remains of its shredded lace and ruffles, creating a sturdy, sleeveless classic that, chastened and obedient, paid its wedding-dance penance by serving my Mami well through years of school programs, bautismos, y funerales.

Just like my mother’s dancing dress, my defective polyester pantalones threatened me with impending social desgracia. And yes, my teen tormentor was right. My prized pair of pants did indeed have one light-brown leg and one dark-brown. The clothing gods at Solo Serve must have been testing me — the innocence of pobreza and the sweet blindness of childhood that had allowed me to wear defective, irregular clothes without noticing were over. I now wore, along with the two-toned bellbottom pants, discomfort, disappointment, and embarrassment. This was my version of the dancing dress and its very public disintegration.

Just like my mother at the dance, I squared my shoulders, held my head high, and smiled at my high-school tormentor. Then, placing one dark brown leg in front of the light one, I turned and walked into adulthood. No orange dress, no two-toned bell bottoms, no grown-up challenges were going to get me now.

 

Sin más,

Mario

 

Look for Mex in Manhattan every other week in the San Antonio Current.


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