Miss Vivian

Miss Helen Fetters wishes to share this photograph of her mother, Fallopia Wertemberger-Fetters, posing on a toilet chair.

Miss Vivian moved to Sycamore Shadows just after World War II, beginning work in the lingerie department at Hibb’s Department Store the next morning. Sixty-eight years later, she still works every day the business is open at the only job she has known. The years have taken their toll and she’s not as spry as she used to be, but Miss Vivian will not consider retirement. If Hibb’s owner Lloyd Lloyd Chalmers were to suggest it, he would find himself tarred and feathered, so loved is Miss Vivian, even among those of us not accustomed to wearing lingerie.

When Miss Vivian came to Hibb’s, men were not permitted in the lingerie department, so when she was asked to model lingerie for female customers, she accepted the assignment without hesitation. Miss Vivian was young and shapely, her lovely face forever smiling, her exquisite figure clad in the latest styles. This was an era when even bedroom clothing had an elegance not often seen today. For my female readers, I would describe her figure as elegant; for the men, imagine your ideal and fertilize it. No, let me just say it: Miss Vivian was voluptuous.

Though bras were never burned in Sycamore Shadows, cultural changes came, and in 1978, Chalmers announced his intention to open the lingerie department to male customers. Men would finally be allowed to accompany their wives and offer suggestions, though their choices, then as now, were seldom the most comfortable to wear. According to Mayor Chibble, who remembers the day of the opening well, a line formed in front of Hibb’s at 9 a.m., winding around the corner and reaching nearly to the theater. It wasn’t the liberation of the department that had generated so much excitement, it was the question of whether Miss Vivian would continue her modeling career for both sexes. Despite being comfortably in her 40s, Miss Vivian had lost little of her youthful figure.

You may imagine the shock of the crowd upon finding Miss Vivian in her usual place, wearing only a nightgown, backlighted, smiling shamelessly, oblivious to the disapproving looks of the women and the rapturous stares of the men. Mayor Chibble swears the garment was made of mosquito netting.

According to store owner Chalmers, who still feels pride when he recollects Miss Vivian’s presentation to the public at large, the business suffered for some time afterward, and it was not until writing this column that I learned how close he had come to closing the store. But as with the John Doe statue in Marsuoin Park, morals were adjusted to minimize inconvenience, sales recovered, and Miss Vivian, oblivious to the commotion, continued to smile while wearing sheer nightgowns and lacy underwear.

No one knows Miss Vivian’s age, for she refuses to tell. Her hair has faded, her skin has wrinkled-some would say cracked-and her figure is now misshapen, sagging in places that once pointed to treetops, but she remains the most famous, and certainly the most beloved, mannequin in Sycamore Shadows history.

NEXT WEEK: “Life in the Shadows”

(Send feedback or questions about Sycamore Shadows to craig@imaginactory.com or via mail at P.O. Box 326, East Liverpool, Ohio 43920. Visit Amazon.com for information on the 2017 Sycamore Shadows Yearbook. )