The Tacky Party

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When you are six years old, winning a prize, any prize, is a big deal. This particular accolade didn’t come for coloring the best turkey at school or for memorizing the most verses at church. Instead, my outfit got first prize at a tacky party.

Mother was actually the only one in our family invited to the party. Her Sunday School class, consisting of other middle-aged women, planned it as an alternative to their usual progressive dinner. I think most of the ladies were dieting that year and assumed this to be a way to cut down on their menopausal calorie-intake. My fifty-six pounds attended because I went everywhere with my mother.

I’d arrived late in her life as pregnancies go. The first doctor diagnosed me as a serious tumor, while the second opinion diagnosed me as a serious mistake. I was always the only child at Neva’s Beauty Shop on Tuesday mornings and the only preschool member of the Women’s Missionary Auxiliary at First Baptist Church. In fact, I usually represented everyone under the age of forty at most of the McAdoo socials, since my parents didn’t believe in paid babysitters.

The tacky party caused quite a hubbub in our small, rural area. A precursor to the ugly Christmas sweater affairs of today, it was modeled after the big city soirée someone had heard about in a newsy letter. The event would not only be hosted in the only two-story home within a twenty-five mile radius, the celebration would also include hors d’oeuvres, a fancy, French word translated by West Texans to mean “stuff piled on crackers”. But I digress.

My mother, who placed a high-value on matching her shoes to her handbag, took several days to pick out the most outlandishly clashing blouse to “not go” with her floral double-knit pants. When an orange and lime checked turtleneck was settled upon, she began her search for jewelry. A firm advocate of 1 Peter 3:3 (King James Version), Mother had to borrow a gaudy necklace from Aunt Lizzy, since she felt it an abomination to wear her own mustard-seed pendant to such an event. After all, Mother had told me a very godly story about faith and the little kernel hanging on that chain.

Once Mother was satisfied with her own ensemble, she turned to mine.

It took some convincing to persuade me to wear the panty hose. If Mother had suggested I wear my new, hot pink fish-nets, I wouldn’t have blinked. After all, in my mind they made me look just like British supermodel Twiggy. But, we weren’t talking fish-net and we weren’t even talking control-top.

No, Mother’s idea was that I pull one leg of these sheer stockings over my head.

“It will distort your face and make you look like someone else,” Mother coerced. When I balked, stating I’d never heard of such a thing, she added a comment causing me to question my mother’s circle of friends“Thieves do it all the time.”

I don’t remember my outfit that night. But I do remember standing on Billie Hickman’s porch with half a pair of Hanes stretched over my head. It was a bit uncomfortable, but the reaction of the guests was worth it. As I think back, I realize their praise had more to do with my being the youngest at the party than what I actually wore. Yet I still remember how thrilled I was at being number one. I went home that evening the proud owner of a spring-action vinyl tissue holder in baby blue.

Why is it so many of our holiday gatherings still host a tacky party? Not one with clashing clothes or a stocking head, but one where our attitudes can turn south in a blink of an eye. I’ve learned from experience that there is no joy in taking home this prize. When tackiness causes a wounded heart or downcast countenance, there is no thrill at being number one. As I personally enter this season, I’m praying that my early tacky championship is a one and done. This is one accolade I don’t want to revisit.