Period Piece: Granny's Great Discovery

February 7, 2006

Gloria’s post reminded me of a funny story I recently heard from my sister, who just birthed her third baby a couple of weeks ago.

My grandma grew up poor – one of a tenant farmer’s ten kids. When she started her period, she thought she was dying. No one had explained to her what menstruation was, let alone how to handle it. She stuffed her undergarments with old rags and stockings, and lived with the secret dread of her eventual demise.

Fast forward eighty years. My grandma, who’s now 94, visits my sister and her new baby. She approaches my sister privately, clutching a small pink package. “Honey, I wanted to tell you about these. You put them in your underpants and they stay there to catch the blood. I thought you could use something like this.” Grandma unfolds a tiny panty liner. My sister, who’s bleeding like someone’s who’s recently squeezed out a ten pound baby, thanks her for the tip.

It’s good to be reminded how far women have come: how much more we know about our own bodies and how many more tools we have at our disposal. For perspective, cruise around the Museum of Menstruation, the brainchild of retired Department of Defense employee and lifelong bachelor Harry Finley.

Unfortunately, Harry’s family doesn’t support his venture:

“My stepmother told me more than once I’d disgraced the family name. I got pretty depressed about that. She hasn’t spoken to me in 12 years,” says Finley. When he meets new people, “I try not to tell them; I’m past that. I tell them I paint portraits, which I do.”

I for one am glad that Harry had the cojones to launch his online ode to “the dot.” Otherwise, I would have never known that women were once compelled to douche with Lysol.