I was eighteen the first time I got my ears pierced. A couple of weeks later someone bought me a pair of novelty earrings. I remember only two things about them: I didn’t like them and they were mostly red. With the logic of an eighteen-year-old, I removed the earrings which had been inserted with a piercing gun and let the holes in my lobes close up and heal. If I didn’t have pierced ears, I wouldn’t feel guilty about people giving me earrings that I didn’t like and didn’t want to wear. I gave the red earrings away to someone who liked them.
Four or five years passed, and I had my ears pierced again. After wearing the surgical steel earrings for the required time, I dumped them and bought these gold earrings. I wore them for months before I bought any other earrings.
I was in middle school in the early 1970s, when my mother and aunt decided to join the sisterhood of women who were ditching clip-on or screw-on earrings and getting their ears pierced. Money was in short supply, so they chose the do-it-yourself route and pierced each other’s ears, a method generally used by teenage girls at the time to get around parents who wouldn’t give permission.
I’ve heard the story before, but it’s been a while, so I asked my mother about it again.
“Tell me again what you used?” I asked.
“Needles, ice, and brandy were involved,” she said.
“Did you use a potato behind your ear?”
“Oh, yes,” she said.
The potato stabilized the earlobe for piercing and kept the needle from stabbing a neck or finger. The ice was to numb the lobe.
“What was the brandy for?”
She wasn’t sure. She thought they used it to sterilize the needle and wipe their earlobes before she and my aunt pierced each other’s ears.
“Maybe you drank it,” I said.
She laughed but didn’t think so because neither she nor my aunt cared much about drinking and neither liked brandy. But I like to imagine my mother and aunt sitting in the kitchen, each tossing back a jigger of brandy then banging their shot glasses on the table, bracing themselves before shoving a needle through each other’s ears.
“We used cheap earrings too because we couldn’t afford gold ones,” she added.
My mother eventually had her ears pierced twice because she didn’t like the position of the original holes. So, she let the old ones close up, and had her ears pierced again. But not by my aunt.