I know why Mona Lisa had that silly smirk on her face.
Her hand-me-downs didn't fit.
No, you can't tell it by looking at the masterpiece. But if you could have peeked around back in Leonardo's studio, you would have seen overlapping material, hiked-up drawers and pins holding everything together. That outfit probably fit Mona's plump big sister perfectly but when it came time for Mona to say "cheese," she just wasn't ready to wear the Giocondo family's good clothes.
I know how you feel, Mona.
It's difficult to smile on command when your britches need stitches.
Recently, I came across Our Big Family Photo, taken when I was about 5. Eddie and Hilda and their gang of eight. Mom and Pop were sitting in fancy chairs and all my older siblings were standing in a semicircle around them. My littlest big sister and I got to stand next to Mom and Pop. That's me sticking out like a sore thumb in the white sport coat and that silly Mona Lisa smile.
Mom wanted to get one good family picture before any of the kids took out on their own. It was our last chance, as you can tell by my brother's Army uniform. He looked sharp in his dress greens and all its shiny buttons, tie neatly tucked into his shirt like all those Army guys did. I liked how he wore his envelope-style hat cocked to the side. Mom put him on the end, not just because he was the oldest, but because he looked so good in his uniform and maybe his spit-shined boots would show.
He was the lucky one. Mom gave the rest of her troops marching orders that we had to look our Sunday best. Suddenly, she turned into Cecil B. DeMille preparing a cast of thousands for "The Ten Commandments." There were pants to be hemmed, shoes to be shined, hair to be trimmed, buttons to be sewn on and lots of white shirts to be bleached, starched and ironed. She didn't want us to look like Ma and Pa Kettle's brood.
That's when Mom invented the makeover. A little makeup for the girls and their hair up in curlers the night before. If there are spacemen, I figured, they probably look like my sister with her hair in curlers. ("Take me to your leader, Sis.") Mom even went to the beauty shop, which I never remember happening before. She looked nice.
Pop got out the clippers and set up his barber shop in the bathroom. He draped a big bath towel around each customer's shoulders and went to town. He shook it out between cuts, but by the time my turn came around, it was a sheet of prickly hair. It was itchy and it made me squirm. Both sides. The electric clippers was hot by the sixth boy's head of hair. Pop held my head still with one strong hand and clipped with the other. He moved my head around like the stickshift in our Buick.
Some of my brothers talked him into using scissors for their locks but for me it was all clippers. I had two choices -- short and shorter. There might be a little nick here or there when my head zigged as Pop's hand zagged. But nothing that would show up in the picture.
My job was shining shoes. It was a big, smelly job but somebody had to do it. Black, brown, oxblood. I shined all 20 shoes with a couple of holey socks. My Army brother taught me how to spit-shine but I'm still not telling whose shoes I spit in ... er ... on.
Meanwhile, Mom was herding together coats and ties for all the boys. Some were bought, some were borrowed and some were handed down. It pained Pop to hang up his overalls for a few hours and put on a "monkey suit." That's what he called it. So did I and all the other monkeys.
My cowboy brother had to trade in his Wranglers and Stetson for a coat and tie. My Marlon Brando wannabe brother's T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up and motorcycle boots bit the dust. And my sister's pedal pushers yielded to a velvety dress with a bow on back. (The bow could easily be turned into horsey reins with the flick of a 5-year-old's wrist, by the way.)
Me? I had a pair of hand-me-down pants. I could have easily fit my whole body into one leg, but Mom took care of that by doubling them over at the waist in back and holding them up with an array of pins. My white shirt held all the starch Niagara could spare. The collar pinched my neck in a vise. And the arms were stiff as boards. I tried to keep them at my sides but they kept rising up like I was flying.
A bow tie made my eyes bug out.
I don't know where Mom came up with my white sport coat but it sure made me stand out. Remember Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca"? That was me.
Getting us all in place was quite a trick. With a tug here and a "stop pulling your sister's bow" there, we were all ready -- finally.
"Smile," the photographer said.
With too-tight shoes, stiff shirt, pants hiked up to here, pins poking there and my white "don't move or you'll get dirty" sport coat on, I did the best I could.
Here's lookin' at you, Mona.