From Susan Parker: ‘Here’s to the Hard-Working Chambermaids and Busgirls!’

by Susan Parker
Tuesday January 27, 2004

“Ohmigod!” shouted my old friend, Ellen Porch. “Suzy Parker, you look exactly the same. Doesn’t she look the same, Mom? Look at her!”  

“Yes,” agreed Mrs. Porch, squinting over her bifocals. “Suzy Parker, you look exactly as you did 37 years ago! Why, I remember when you and Ellen were working at the motel down the street. Remember that Ellen? You were just little things. I couldn’t believe you had jobs. You were so young. So innocent. So skinny.” 

“Chambermaid Power!” shouted Ellen, raising her fist. “Remember those days, Suzy? Remember walking to work in those stupid white shoes? Remember those ambulatory stockings held up by garter belts? Those were the days, all right.” She shook her head and chuckled. 

I poured us each a glass of red wine and clinked glasses with my old friend and her mother. “Here’s to smelly polyester uniforms, sore feet and hairnets.”  

“No, seriously Suzy,” said Ellen, settling into my parent’s couch, and scrutinizing my face. “You look exactly the same.”  

“Yes,” agreed Mrs. Porch taking a sip of wine. Her hand trembled ever so slightly. 

The irony of these statements was not lost on me. I hadn’t seen either of them in 25 years. Ellen and I met when we were both 15. Our parents owned summer houses next to one another in Townsends Inlet, New Jersey.  

For several seasons we worked together, first as chambermaids, then as busgirls and finally, while in college, as waitresses. We were upwardly mobile. Our pay increased with each year. We became more seasoned, more hardened, more world-weary. Ellen went on to become a mother and a guidance counselor at a local high school. I had moved to California. Neither of us wore garter belts or hairnets or worked for tips anymore. 

Despite what Ellen and her mother had said, I knew I did not look the same. Ellen did not look the same. Her mother did not look the same. The years, the sun, the rich diets and the joys and pains of living had taken their tolls. You could see it in each of our faces, in our bodies, and in Mrs. Porch’s tremors.  

“Well, you both look the same too,” I said with as much conviction as I could. The truth was, I could probably pick them out in a police lineup, though it wouldn’t be easy. Ellen had put on at least 20 pounds since her chambermaid days and Mrs. Porch, who had at one time been very round in the middle had begun to shrink. 

“Yeah, right,” shouted Ellen with good humor. "Except now I look like Mommy did when she was my age and she looks like she’s going to disappear.” 

Mrs. Porch shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “I’m staying right here. Gonna finish up this wine with our old friend Suzy. Visit for a while and then go home to bed. That’ll be enough excitement for one evening.”  

Ellen patted her mother’s wrinkled hands. “Mommy doesn’t get around like she used to. Remember how she’d stand on the beach all day and watch out for everybody? Remember the Wesh kids and the Allens and the Wilers? Remember when the beach was bigger, the sand was whiter, the ocean was cleaner and there weren’t as many houses or people or trash?” 

“Yes,” I said. I poured us all another glass of wine. “And the sky was bluer.” 

“The sky was definitely bluer!” shouted Ellen and she laughed. It was the same giggle she had when she was 15 years old. I looked at her face more closely. Yes, Ellen did look exactly the same. I’d recognize her anywhere. She really hadn’t changed much, and neither had I. “Here’s to old friends,” I shouted, raising my glass again. “Here’s to hairnets and garter belts, to changing sheets and slinging hash. Here’s to hard-working chambermaids and busgirls around the world!”