It was the need for a button, a trip into my mother's basement, and an old tin box that swept me away to a time when McCall's patterns lay across our kitchen table, and the hum of the sewing machine emanated from my parents' bedroom.
My earliest memories of childhood revolved around creativity. In our home, someone was always creating something. My father's table saw buzzing, my older brothers building a darkroom or a full-size basement diorama, and my mother designing houses, gardens and elegant fashions for herself, for me and for my Barbie dolls.
Each holiday would find my mother eagerly creating beautiful outfits for herself and me, coats and dresses complemented by hats, gloves and patent leather shoes; her nimble fingers hemming skirts with impossibly small stitches.
When she would attend a dinner dance or wedding, her designs would rival any found on a red carpet. She would swirl into the living room and ask, "What do you think? Do you like it?"
Most evenings found her sitting at her Singer sewing machine. The needle swiftly flew up and down before my eyes as my mother, Arline, was lost in her passion. Other nights she drew beautiful paper dolls on cardboard, their lovely faces made up with red bow lips. She would draw incredibly ornate ballgowns, cut them out with little tabs at the shoulders and waist. I would play with them for hours, even trying my hand at my own designs. My child fingers would clumsily clutch my pencil and frustration inevitably set in.
Nearly a half century gone by, in an old tin box in my mother's basement, I found an original Arline creation, a hand-crocheted Spanish style dress. That beautiful dress, now yellowed, was sitting on top of a miniature knitted green suit and peeking out beneath that, a red dress.
One touch of the fabric and I was lost. I was a child, the '60s "Madmen"-style was being fashioned before my eyes. The knitted green wool skirt demurely falling below my Barbie's knees was a sleek picture of grace. Tugging the sweater down around her tiny waist, placing the stiletto heels on impossibly small feet, the 8-year-old me was so proud of the new outfit that my mother created.
I carefully hung the suit on the tiny hangers in the small pink trunk that housed my mother's creations. Ballgown, bathrobes, cropped-leg slack sets, all originals, irreplaceable, and in the mistaken thoughts of a child, not nearly as fine as some of the store-bought outfits my friends' Barbies wore.
Recalling my childhood memories now, I feel a deep sadness as I watch that mistaken child barter away a beautiful blue tiered ballgown that should have graced the form of Cinderella. It had seed pearls sewn around the bodice and layers of tulle and satin falling to the floor. It went cheap, for a red calico sundress. It was that very sundress that I found in the tin box.
Now, as an adult, I appreciate the details, the patience, the work and the love that went into each amazing creation that came to life beneath my mother's talented hands. I have grown children of my own, and when they were young, I used the gifts my mother passed on to me to fashion memories for them to cherish.
In my mother's basement and attic can be found a lifetime's accumulation of buttons, fabric, patterns, and rickrack. All of these beautiful reminders are items my mother couldn't part with when she closed the fabric store she owned in Bethpage. She often speaks of her forfeited dream of becoming a designer. Instead, she married my father and turned down the invitation to attend a prestigious fashion school.
In my eyes, and in the eyes of everyone who knows her, she has far exceeded her childhood dreams. The designs she created for herself, her home, for me and my children are much more beautiful than any store-bought fashions.
As for my memories, I can proudly say for all I have learned and she has given me, I wouldn't trade a single one. For after all, I have the original.
Ann C. Kenna,
LITTLE CHEER IN MY POOR DAD'S GRAND GESTURE
Only close family members realized that my dad had an inferiority complex. He had a limited education, but despite that, had developed a thriving business.
He was intimidated by the fact that most of his acquaintances were professionals. Although they all considered him a successful businessman, most didn't suspect that this small business supported a large gaggle of relatives. Money was often tight, and frugality was the rule. We usually had the necessities, but luxuries were considerably limited.
Dad was a workaholic, rarely took a day off and never went on a vacation. One summer in the late 1940s, he was finally persuaded to spend a few days away with Mom and two other couples. He was traveling with an attorney and a doctor in one of their fancy Cadillacs, and he was anxious to appear comfortable in these unfamiliar surroundings.
They were in a country area in Connecticut when they came upon a small Italian restaurant tucked away on a back road. It was a bit shabby and run down, but they were hungry and stopped for dinner.
Once inside, they decided to order a bottle of wine for the table. This was the opportunity that Dad was waiting for. He just loved to play the "big shot." He waved his hand in a grandiose manner, and, without looking at the menu, he ordered "a bottle of your finest wine."
My mother was a bit apprehensive as she silently nudged Dad. Dad whispered to her, "look at this place; how expensive could it be?" Well, the bottle of wine was $200. They all had a good laugh, but Dad was mortified. The price didn't faze the others, but it was a hardship for him. He got a good tongue lashing from Mom later on, but that never, ever stopped him from making these pompous gestures.
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