Meet Earline, the busty 75-year-old who lived a secret life in our basement.
My mother hired live-in housekeepers on a continuous basis and the first
one answering the classified ad got the job. The only criteria were that the
person was breathing and not blind. My dysfunctional family’s comings and
goings would normally cause all housekeepers to flee within the first 24 hours.
Except for Earline, the busty 75-year-old who lived a secret life in our basement.
That secret life involved entertaining customers in a lacey black bustier, fishnet
hose and comfortable white Dr. Scholl white shoes. My household was unaware
and sleeping during these escapades.
Earline smelled of Vicks Vapo Rub and managed to get high while mixing
it with my mother’s jar of Noxema and Jack Daniels. She was higher than a fly
on LSD. Those smells dissipated at night as Evening in Paris perfume became
the hit as it permeated through our duct work.
Earline was a closet dominatrix and wore sensible shoes in the day and a
starched white uniform.
You probably think life with a live-in female dominatrix
would cause a 7-year old like me a bit of anxiety. Contraire, she shared my pink
chenille-covered twin-bedroom set with me while snoring loudly as she became
insulated into my cocoon. Meanwhile, I conducted scientific experiments nightly
by placing Kleenex on her face. I hoped it would soar into the air like clouds.
Her face morphed into my canvas as I took toxic multi-colored highlighters and
produced extraordinary face paintings. I tinted Earline’s cheeks and forehead
with images of a Wheel of Fortune, a Kit-Kat Clock and even a Medusa, just for
starters. She became my RuPaul diva work of art.
She was also a whip-wielding “dominatrix” by night. My family’s
basement was Earline’s private domain. Our underground dirt room was adorned
with riding crops, whips and chains decorating the walls.
Earline did do a few housekeeping things. (GARBAGE IN FREEZER)
(SPRITZ FOR THINGS SMELLING BAD) My mother had a habit of slapping
a twenty-dollar bill on the dining room table so Earline and I could “make”
groceries as they say in New Orleans. We would head to the Piggly Wiggly like
we won the lottery. Up in the air and into the basket flew sugarcoated donuts,
potato chips, and onion dip, red Cola for me and huge bottles of Jack Daniels for
Earline. Lots of Jack and Coke.
At my family’s dinner parties, one or two or five guests would pass out
and Earline had no problem walking over passed-out bodies limply arranged on
the floor in the mornings, kind of like a murder scene, only calmer. She made it
She was noticeably amused when I was called upon to connect the snaps
on mother’s full-length girdle. She held back a colossal laugh while I mustered
up Olympian strength snapping 16 snaps from the bottom of the girdle working
myself to the top. My mother would yell, “Push it up, push, push!!!” There sat
Earline on the edge of the bed, totally fascinated. She had no idea whalebones
had such gargantuan force since her collection of bustier’s certainly didn’t have
that potency. Earline fantasized about recycling mother’s old girdles into her
One day I had the courage to go downstairs and visit that basement.
Passing our small office typewriter, my childish curiosity caused me to stall and
sneak a peek on a typed page and some photos. Instantly, I recognized our home.
It was my house, for God’s sakes!!! Standing hunched over the desk, I grabbed a
photo. A full view of Earline’s face filled the page, smiling and smeared with
red lipstick, blue eye shadow and a vixen twinkle in her eye. Underneath her
face were Gothic-type lettering, “NO PAIN – NO GAIN.” In the margins to the
right were small letters in a column that read, “Role play,” “Bondage,”
“Corporal Punishment,” “Foot Worship,” “Cross Dressing” and “Fees
between $100 and $200.” The margins to the left on the page were decorated
with thumbnail photos of crops and corsets, nosebleed stilettos, leather, latex,
and lamb cuffs. I couldn’t stop looking!!! There was another photo of Earline
standing up in leather crop pants and bustier wielding a whip in her hand and
pointing toward a chalkboard. She shared step-by-step instructions on setting the
mood, decorating a room, picking a proper outfit, and how to tie the exact knot.
This was my housekeeper, Earline! The best housekeeper in the world, all
adorned with fishnets, a bustier, teased white hair and Dr. Scholl’s shoes. In our
home. In our basement. And our secret.
During my years of co-habituating with Earline, I experienced a fainting
spell in the middle of an afternoon. Time passed and I heard voices above me
and knew I was in a reclining position in a hospital room with bright lights. “It
might be polio. We should do a spinal tap immediately,” said a nurse. That
scared the hell out of me knowing I was in trouble. Darkness again. Time
passed. Earline stood before my hospital bed with her sensible white Dr. Scholl
shoes, fishnet hose and a Coke in her hand.
“Drink it slow, Cher Babe, dawlin’ hawt. You’ll be fine. We’re going
home soon” At this moment, I realized whips and chains weren’t all that bad nor
was that ghoulish crypt in my basement. My live-in housekeeper was with me at
the hospital. Caring and loving. With or without her whip and bottle of Jack
Daniels. She was a constant in my life since my parents were never present.
Earline had my back and few things matter more to a child. In my head, our
basement had a love zip code and it was a judgment free zone. Now when I see
black fishnets, my memories of Earline pour in but it was that bustier swag that
only Earline could own. I always stayed in touch with her. One day as an adult, a
package came in the mail, she sent me her vintage pink bustier. The card read
‘ALWAYS BE YOUR AUTHENTIC SELF, CHER BABE.”
Did you enjoy this short story written by Cindy Small? If so, subscribe to our Blooom newsletter to receive more stories, and wellness tips directly to your inbox!