by Abby Ripley
From my position I could see an overhead light, a ceiling light, and one complete wall: the door and a rectangular window, which in those early days was called a picture window, that is, a window with plate glass in it. The window made the room glow that afternoon, casting white light onto the bed that ran parallel to the wall. Actually when I think about it now the whiteness must have been a reflection off the snow which was falling heavily. We had stopped to take a motel room because the snow was making the road dangerously impassable. The road between Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana, was not a good one even in summer.
My mother had removed her clothes and laid them on the bedspread, but that was an ordinary act superseded by what happened immediately afterwards.
My Dad had taken off his clothes down to his jockey shorts and with a silly grin on his face, walked over, picked up my mother’s brassiere and tried to put it on. My mother’s face lit up with a wide smile, and she started giggling. After a few moments of struggling with the fastener and dragging the cups around to his chest, he slipped into the bra rather easily, still grinning like a chimpanzee. In his next move he put his feet through her slip, and pulled the elastic band up to his waist then did the same with her slate gray straight skirt. She had worn it with a ruffled off-white blouse and the gray matching jacket. By this time my mother was sitting on the end of the bed nearly howling with amusement. My father added the final touches: her black pumps, including her nylon stockings that he rolled at the top, and her black hat with a partial veil. He laughed out loud as he staggered to the dresser mirror to look at himself and pose like a woman. My mother clapped her hands and said something to him that I didn’t understand, but it was obvious they were having a hilarious time.
This happened in September, 1943, when I was six-months-old. I received confirmation of this occasion a few days before Christmas, 1976, as we drove across Death Valley in Nevada toward Lake Tahoe where we spent the holidays.
I had started the conversation by saying: ‘I’m going to describe a memory so that you can tell me whether it’s accurate or not.’ Even before the ending I could tell that it was true as my parents began chuckling and exchanging amused looks. At the end of the story, just as I ended it to you now, my mother turned to me in the back seat of the Cadillac and exclaimed: ‘I’m amazed that you remember that, and in so much detail. Do you know how old you were?’
I tried to get Dad to remember what had gotten into him, and his only answer was: ‘I just wondered how your mother felt when she got all dressed up.’
We had been visiting my Dad’s parents in Big Timber or Livingston, and Mother must have wanted to surprise them with her fancy clothes, but we really didn’t discuss that as we continued toward Lake Tahoe. Instead we told other stories about that infamous road between those two towns which today is no longer open for public transport. There are several mountain peaks through the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, and Granite Peak is the tallest at 12,807 feet. The area stands as the gateway to Yellowstone National Park.
In my youth we frequently traveled this scary road, and each time I hid my eyes while my legs turned to jelly, especially when we traveled it at night. There was no roadside barrier on the outside rim, and it was a long way to the bottom. Probably the last time I traveled it we were going in the opposite direction, toward West Yellowstone. I had just ridden in the Red Lodge Rodeo at the mature age of fifteen. That has been sixty-four years ago, but the image of my father crossdressing in front of me several years before that is as clear today as it must have been for the six-month-old, observing the scene from inside the top dresser drawer where mother had placed me on a pillow so I wouldn’t roll off the bed. About that dresser drawer, I remember feeling very uneasy as it had quite a downward tilt which is why I was able to see out. The scene that unfolded must have taken my attention away from the tilt as I watched the proceedings. All I can say now is that my father’s bizarre behavior could have warped me for life…maybe it has…but obviously they were having such fun that I picked up on that instead, and also remember it with lightness and laughter.