My mother is passionate about art history, and for her 75th birthday she took me along to visit Rome, tour the Vatican City, and view the masterful works of Michelangelo.
“I have been waiting a lifetime for this,” she said, as we trekked up the steep marble steps of the Sistine Chapel. We followed a massive throng of international tourists, worshippers, and other visitors as they poured through the grand entrance and into the ancient sanctuary.
But suddenly a stern and powerful official Vatican guard stepped in front of me, blocking my path with his broad-shouldered body.
“This is a place of worship, you cannot go in there dressed like that!” he scolded me in perfect English, pointing at my hiking shorts. “No one can enter unless their knees are covered,” he announced – waving me away with his hand.
I tried to appeal to him, explaining that we had traveled thousands of miles for this rare religious opportunity. I pointed out that I needed to help my elderly mother navigate the crowds and slippery marble steps. I emphasized that this was the pilgrimage of a lifetime for her.
But he wasn’t buying any of it. “You must cover your knees. Otherwise you cannot enter,” he repeated.
But then my creative mother intervened. She stared up at the guard through her bifocals, and her eyes sparkled with hope and enthusiasm.
“I have an idea; he can wear this!” she said, as she unzipped her black skirt, slid it down to her ankles, deftly stepped out of it, and then twirled it Las Vegas stripper style on the end of her finger.
“Hurry up, Son,” she insisted. “We’re keeping this nice uniformed man waiting. Just slip it on over your short pants. It’s long enough to cover your knees and I’ll just wear what I have on now.”
She was referring to her slinky black half-slip. The guard stared, almost as shocked as me, and scratched his head. But he could not object because even though I was cross-dressed, my knees were indeed covered. So were my mother’s – even if it was only by the seductive hemline of her lacy black satin underwear.