Jimi Hendrix, 1969, our first date. Ahhhhhh, the memories. Most of you who are happily married may or may not remember your first time together, all the excitement perhaps, and the guarded expectation of the future. I was spared the latter as I was much too concerned about the night itself. It wasn’t because I was excited that my “crush” had asked me out, though I certainly was excited. It wasn’t because everyone of the era would have jumped at a chance for front section seats to experience Jimi Hendrix, though they would have done more than jump. And even the wonder of the new University Coliseum and the springtime of teen love were beautifully fused that evening. No, only one everlasting memory is forever emblazoned in the annals of my frontal cortex. That first date of forty years ago was the night I stopped four lanes of traffic because my underwear fell down to my ankles.
Were I to end the story right there, you might have still gotten a chuckle but I am sure you would have been left with a few questions which I have dodged and eventually explained through the many years I have had to remember and tell and re-tell thanks to my “date” turned husband Bud. After all, it was his first date with me as well. Certainly this would be something he would rather forget and certainly not relate to his southern matriarch of a mother. I must confess that although the horror of it all and the ultimate embarrassment have both faded through the years, the details have not. If anything, they have been fortified and even perhaps somewhat embellished as we have both told, re-told and even enacted this fifteen minute event through the years, to audiences all over the world.
For those of you who don’t know my history, I was an overweight, very insecure and troubled teenager. Although I came from a wonderful family where the others seemed to be normal, though I may beg to differ, I was surely the problem child. That is why I was so eager to get to the University of Alabama, which I chose because it was first alphabetically in the only College and University anthology in our small one-room library in Clarksville, Missouri. Having come from this small town of 500, where everyone knew everybody’s business, and where my relatives had all gone to the University of Missouri, I was eager to go hundreds of miles away where I knew no one, could go incognito and have a new start. My hometown doctor had put me on a popular amphetamine weight loss pill that summer, and I was well on my way to shedding the 100 pounds I needed to lose, when Bud asked me out. He had been seeing one of my French classmates and stood outside the door waiting for her each day. But when she acquired a permanent boyfriend, what did he have to lose by asking me out. Plus, he already had the Jimi Hendrix Concert tickets.
The precedent for my fallen underwear hinged on the fact that I had lost all the weight, had a brand new short shift dress, popular of the late 1960′s and had grown my hair long enough to iron straight; I was looking quite chic and confident in my own mirror at the dormitory that day. My roommate, Viola Drusilla Woofram from Guntersville, Alabama was coming along on the blind date we arranged with Bud’s roommate. The night was set and so were we except for a few last minute details.
Saturday afternoon in a girl’s university dormitory was electrifying. Having showered, washed and ironed my long hippy-style hair, I then put on the dark black eye make-up and white lipstick all the groovy chicks wore; I then began to get dressed. I had laid out my new outfit, but alas had been remiss in both doing the laundry that week and purchasing smaller underwear for my new svelte figure. Since we were running a bit late, I did what I had been doing occasionally. I folded over the elastic waist band and safety-pinned my Big Mama, size 22 extra-large panties to half their size. Thus, they were forgotten – until after the concert.
We had the most wonderful time and had even scrambled for one of the Hendrix wall posters which would later net us $2500. I might have paid that much to forgo the following embarrassment. As thousands of us poured out of the Coliseum and waited in lines to cross the eight lanes of traffic, we were all singing Purple Haze and Foxy Lady. Even more, we were all anticipating the parties throughout the apartment complex across the street, one of which belonged to Bud and his roommate. As we were finally next in line, Bud grabbed my hand and said, “OK, go!” Sprinting halfway across the temporary stopped traffic, I felt the immediate sting as though a bee had thrust his stinger in my waist. It only took me seconds to realize the safety pin holding up my drawers was not so safe after all. Trying to grab at it with one hand while Bud was pulling harder at the other, the inevitable occurred in one fell swoop; my Big Mamas were now around my ankles.
If you watched American Idol a few seasons ago, you may remember the fellow who mockingly made up a song about the way teen boys today wear their low jeans, “Pants on the ground, pants on the ground, looking like a fool with your pants on the grounds.” So let me ask you, “What would you do if you were on your first date with a cutie who was pulling you through traffic and suddenly your pants are around your ankles?” I had a flashback of being in a potato sack race and hopping to the finish, so as awkward as it was I attempted to jokingly do the same. But on the first jump, one sandaled foot was released, leaving the other to flail the pants in circles around both feet. Trying to stay close to Bud’s shoulder so he couldn’t look down at the big white flag waving at his feet, just made things more difficult, but we finally reached the curb. I could at least now walk slowly with the Big Mamas tagging along. People I didn’t know were laughing and whispering like we all do when someone exits a public restroom with a trail of toilet paper stuck to their foot.
As we approached the door to the apartment I managed to wrangle my trapped foot to the elastic waistband and kicked better than the designated punter for the Crimson Tide. Inwardly screaming, “Touchdown!” I merely breathed a sigh of relief as my running efforts resembled the dance of Ellen on Seinfeld. The rest of the night was wonderful, though I still felt as though I had been through the Twilight Zone.
The next morning Bud called to see if I’d like to go to the Janis Joplin Concert the following weekend. Of course I said, “Yes!” knowing I had plenty of time to visit Victoria’s Secret. As we started to hang up Bud started laughing uproariously as he wheezed out, “Boy did my neighbors have a wild party last night! We found a humongous pair of women’s underwear labeled “Big Mama.”
It would be months before I divulged to him my hundred pound weight loss, and who the Big Mama really was. Thankfully we had another good laugh, and are still laughing forty years later! Through the years my weight has fluctuated but our love and laughter has not. And Bud has continued to love me – through thick and thin!
Dr. Debra Peppers, a professional speaker for 25 years, is one of only five inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, which followed her retirement from Lindbergh High School. A member of the National Speakers Association, she has traveled to all 50 states and 60 countries teaching others that if she can go from being a 250-pound high school dropout, to Teacher of the Year there is hope for every child and adult. Her web site is www.pepperseed.org.