Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Indestructible Red Sailor Dresses

There were about a dozen of us assorted kids who formed the core group at Granny's store. Some were her actual grandchildren, some were nieces and nephews and some (like my sister and me) were not related at all. Granny believed in total equality,though. We were all treated the same and didn't know until we were adults our real connections.One day she was sorting through her fabric stash and came upon yards and yards of some stiff, heavy fabric. It was the same red as this bracelet. Granny called it sailcloth. She pinched it between her nose and outstretched arm and found that there was more than enough for all of us girls to have a red sailor dress with white piping. She didn't need a pattern, just measured the length of our arms and legs and started sewing. The dresses had a long dropped waist with box pleats at the skirt. The bodices were fitted and a line of pearl buttons marched off-center from waist to shoulder seam. Thick white piping like cake frosting spiraled from wrist to elbow on the sleeves. The dresses looked kind of snazzy as we watched them take shape. Then...we tried them on. The weight of that heavy, stiff fabric bowed our young shoulders. Granny believed in making things last. She included a few years growing room in the hem and seams so that the dresses could be let out as we grew. It was like wearing a featherbed! We told her how much we loved them so she wouldn't get the "fat lip" and hung them in our closets. I do seem to remember having to actually wear it a couple of times, but I grew so fast it was soon handed down to some of the younger girls. Years later I was teaching in another county in another state. My eighth graders waited on the bleachers for the younger students to come into the gym for a Halloween costume parade. Suddenly I couldn't believe my eyes. One of the tiny first grade girls was wearing an unmistakable red sailor dress! She had on a bedraggled wig and a pair of her father's brogans. She carried a patent-leather purse and wore a pair of oversized eyeglasses. She looked like...well...Granny. The child's mother had not come to the parade, and I never was able to find out how they came by the sailor dress, but the fabric was bright and clean and looked just as good as it did when I first saw it.

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