The Lady Belcher was immaculately coiffed, having spent hours in the mirror twisting the curls around her face into perfect ringlets. She wore a blue silk dress patterned with impressionistic blossoms, as though Monet had painted it himself. Her necklace was strung with jade. A diamond watch encircled her tiny wrist, adorning her sleek hands and painted nails, and her wedding ring dazzled the sun. It was with great irony then that she took the can to her lips, pressed her Peach Sunset lipstick into the aluminum, gulped loudly, filled her cheeks with air, swallowed hard, and let it rip from her belly up her throat into the roof of her mouth, until she could feel the vibration in her nasal passages, a gastric eruption that might have torn a hole in the neck of a lesser woman. But my mother was a champion belcher. Picture Belching Barbie.
One of my least favorite bodily functions is belching. When I hear that throaty sound I imagine a spout of green gas spewing forth, tumbling sour clouds. My mother thought belching cleansed her digestive tract. If she belched before she went out on social occasions, she was far less likely to fart at the dinner table, or hiccup in the ear of her dance partner. So once she was all dressed up and ready to go, she made a ritual of producing a big belch with her preferred inducement, 7-Up, a froggy burble rippling up her esophagus and catching in a fleshy rasp. It was one of her lady secrets. She belched the Queen’s Belch.
I think she learned this habit from her mother. My grandmother was more of a Lady Burper than a Lady Belcher, but she employed the cleansing act just the same. Lady Burper was also posh in her dainty pink frocks and matching jewelry, white gloves on Sunday, rhinestones around her eyeglasses. Each day at four o’clock, a time when her ancestors might have been enjoying high tea, she sat in her livingroom and had one Salem cigarette, and one Miller High Life beer in a longneck bottle, which she sipped with her lips pursed and her pinkie extended, in noble fashion. Of course, she drank her beer from the bottle because she liked the bubbles, and you know what that means. Just a few minutes after her last swallow a slight shudder would quake her shoulders, her eyes would drift, and a soft thump of air would rise through her chest to gust between her rosy lips. “Oh, dear,” she would giggle, each time, as though she were surprised.
Lady Belcher and Lady Burper — these were the women who trained me to be a lady and I loved them. In their company I understood that there were rules a proper woman must follow to be socially accepted, and then I saw that being ladylike was just a game we played.