When I was a little girl, Mom made most of our clothes and we wore a lot of hand-me-downs. Clothes came in two categories: Good Clothes and Everyday Clothes. Good Clothes were for wearing to church, to the store and to school. Everyday Clothes were what we wore when we were at home. We also had a sub-category of Everyday Clothes: Barn Clothes. Barn coats, barn mittens, and barn boots or shoes; these were also Everyday Clothes, but were only for the barn, and were stored separately from school coats, mittens and shoes or boots. Sometimes, we wore Everyday Clothes into town, but that depended on where we were going. If we were just going to the grain elevator with Dad, Everyday Clothes were okay, but to the grocery store with Mom, we changed into Good Clothes. As soon as we got home from wherever we went, Mom told us to “Go upstairs and change into your Everyday Clothes.”
Every summer we went camping. Weeks before camping Mom was busy making Good Clothes for the camping trip. Most of the time when we camped, we just wore our bathing suits all day, until after supper, then we changed into Good Clothes and went into town for an ice cream cone. One summer, a local newspaper photographer took pictures of us on our camping trip. I had on a green and white striped shirt and white pedal-pushers, which Mom made fresh for the trip. I think she was quite proud of her family that day, I know I was.
My older sister, Deanna, was a miniature fashionista, so hand-me-downs from her were like manna from heaven. I loved looking like her, she was so, so beautiful. We also got hand-me-downs from cousins. I thought this was super, ’cause we got to rifle through bags full of clothes, try them on, sort them into Good Clothes or Everyday Clothes, and claim which ones we wanted for ourselves. Sometimes Mom took these apart and made new clothes out of the hand-me-downs. It was like magic the way Mom turned something old into something new.
Sometimes Mom took us with her to the department store to pick out patterns and material for Good Clothes or yarn for mittens. Looking at fabric was like walking through a meadow full of tall grasses and wildflowers. Each bolt of material had a different look and texture. Mom felt the material between her fingers and sometimes crunched it in her fist. Then she pronounced whether it was suitable for the dress pattern we picked out. Mom studied the pattern back, then instructed the sales clerk to cut the material to the required length. While we were away at school, Mom transformed the folded piles of cloth into dresses and shirts and shorts and skirts . In the evening, she knitted yarn into mittens using four needles, while she drilled us on catechism questions, spelling words, or had us read to her. If we were lucky, we got to watch the first part of “The Lawrence Welk Show” on television. If the Lennon Sisters were on that week, we got to stay up until they sang, and then off to bed we went. I always hoped the Lennon sisters would be on last, but that never happened. I think Lawrence Welk had that secret parent-conspiracy thing going on, where all the adults are think the same way, so he never had the Lennon Sisters sing last. Sometimes, as we climbed the stairs singing “Wake up, Little Susie”, and trying to dance like Janet, we heard Mom’s Singer Sewing Machine whirring behind us.
The best thing of all that Mom made for us was our Halloween costumes. We began dreaming up costumes the day after Halloween. Our imaginations put Mom’s talents to task. One year she made Bonita a bear suit out of a hand-me-down faux fur coat; she made me an elephant suit out of Rit died old sheets. Another year she cut an old sheet into strips and wrapped me up as a mummy. I won “best costume” award for Mom’s rendition of the headless horseman from”The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
When I was ten, I learned to sew in 4-H. Mrs. Tymrack taught me on her treadle sewing machine. First I sewed a straight line, with no thread on a piece of Big Red tablet paper. Then it was time for real sewing. That first year, I sewed a dish towel; it was just a hem and a blind stitch, and an apron. At the end of the winter 4-H season, I modeled my apron, on a stage and everything. Ooo, did I feel important, or what? Every year, we made something different and more complicated. I always got a blue ribbon, but that’s mainly because Mom checked everything, and made me tear it out and start over, if it wasn’t just right.
At Christmas Grandma or Mom made us flannel pajamas, which we wore all winter long. Eventually Mom made the pajamas for her grandchildren. Three years ago, she retired from pajama making, so I picked up the baton. Now I make pajamas for my eleven grandchildren. I’m not near as creative; I keep to one simple pattern. Still, it feels like I am part of an important tradition. I always think or Mom and how hard she worked. But mostly, how much love went into everything she made.