When I was growing up, my mother was a very good seamstress, and she made a lot of our clothes, at least for me and Margie. She dressed us alike most of the time, so she made two of each garment.
Sometimes she had the money to buy the fabric at C. R. Anthony. That was a retail store on Twenty-Third Street. She would buy pretty lace to use for trim and buttons to match the fabric. If she couldn’t find buttons to match, then she would buy the ones that she covered herself.
There were times when she used the feed sacks that the chicken feed came in. It was very pretty fabric though, and my mother could make anything look good when it came to clothing.
Many of our dresses looked the same. They had short puffy sleeves and a sash to tie in the back for a pretty bow. The bottom parts of the dresses were full, and she would usually put a wide ruffle around the bottom. She loved ruffles. Even her own clothes had ruffles down the front of her dresses or blouses. She just liked the look of ruffles I guess.
I used to untie my sash and chew on the end of it. That really upset her.
“Ruthie, why do you always chew on your sash?’ she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, then who does know?”
“I don’t know.”
“Stop saying, ‘I don’t know.’”
“I am getting tired of fixing the sash on your dresses.”
“I won’t do it anymore.’
“You will, too. I know you.”
“I will try not to do it anymore, Mother.?
“Well, see that you do. Next time you will get a spanking.”
She would tell me the same thing every time about me chewing on my sash. She never did spank me though. I really tried not to, but when I would get nervous, that is what I did. She always saved a small piece of fabric to fix my sash because she knew I would chew on it.
She never used a pattern to make clothes. She would just cut things out and sew them together. She had a great talent for designing clothes. She probably could have been a designer and made a fortune, but she did not have the education for that.
She did all of her sewing on an old treadle Singer sewing machine. When I was real little, I would crawl under it and sit on the treadle and rock back and forth. I don’t know how I can remember that because I was about three years old. But, as I write this story I can see myself rocking on that treadle.
When she would finish sewing two dresses for Margie and me, she would get the iron out and press them with a damp piece of cloth. This, she said, would make all the seams lie down flat and would make the dress look much better. It took her a long time to do two dresses because she did every single seam on the garment.
When she was finished, she would let us try them on. I loved the trying on part. We had to put on a slip first. Then she would put the dresses on us. They always fit perfectly. She would always send us to show Daddy our new dresses. He would tell us how pretty they were and how good they looked on us. He would tell Mother what a good job she did sewing them, too. I think she liked to show off what she did. I think it made her feel good about herself.
She had just finished making us a new dress, and she said we could wear it to school the next day. I could hardly wait. Margie was excited, too. We didn’t get new dresses that often, and we wanted to show off a little bit I guess.
We had breakfast next morning. It was oatmeal and toast, of course. Then, she combed our hair and braided it. We put on the new dresses, and I thought they looked so pretty. Margie and I were both dancing around and laughing.
“Now, girls, I want you to be careful in your new dresses today,” she said.
“We will,” Margie said.
“Yes, we will,” I chimed in.
“And, Ruthie, don’t chew on your sash.”
“No, ma’am, I won’t.”
We left for school, and we waved at Mother as we walked down the path. I was in third grade. I had a real nice teacher named Mrs. Logan. She had a boyfriend in the army. She used to read some of his letters to us girls. I really liked her, and she was real pretty, too.
I sat near the back of the room near a big Victrola. I got up to sharpen my pencil and to show off my dress, too, I guess. When I got up, I got the ruffle of my dress caught on the handle of the Victrola, and it ripped it almost all the way off. I didn’t know what to do! I grabbed the ruffle and was trying to hold it up.
“Are you all right, Ruthie?” the teacher asked.
“No,” I said, and I began to cry.
“Let me help you.”
She came to where I was and looked at my dress, Then she said we needed to go to the office. I thought I must be in trouble if we were going to the office. She put a girl in charge to watch the class, and we went to the office. I could hear all the kids laughing at me. What a bad day!
Mrs. Maddox was the principal. The teacher left me there with her, and she looked at me as I sat down.
“What happened, Ruthie?’ she asked.
“I tore the ruffle on my new dress.”
“Well, let me look at it.”
“My mother is gonna be mad at me.”
“It was just an accident.”
“But, she told me to be careful.”
“Well, we could just pull it the rest of the way off.”
“No, we can’t! It will be too short then! You can see my legs!”
I was crying. I didn’t want my legs to show that much.
“Please, don’t do that,” I begged.
“We could use the stapler and staple it back on.”
“That’s a good idea,” I said.
“Then, that is what we will do, Ruthie.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Maddox.”
That is what she did. It took her a while because she tried to keep it even, but when she was finished, it looked pretty good. I thanked her again, and all of a sudden I reached out and hugged her. I made it through the rest of the day. I was glad when the bell rang to go home.
I didn’t know what Mother would do. Margie said she would probably spank me, so I started preparing for it. I was used to that. I took the dress off when I got home and put on my old clothes. I was just waiting for her to come home. I knew I had to tell her, or I would be in worse trouble.
She walked in the back door from work, and she had a smile on her face.
“That was good,” I thought. “Maybe she had a good day.”
I went into the bedroom closet, got the dress, and walked into the kitchen with it.
“What is wrong, Ruthie?” she asked.
“I tore the ruffle off my new dress today.”
“Let me see.”
I handed her the dress, and she was looking at the staples.
“Mrs. Maddox fixed it for me.”
“Well, it’s not too bad. I can fix this pretty easy.”
“Am I in trouble?” I asked.
“No, you’re not in trouble.”
“You didn’t do it on purpose did you?”
“No ma’am. It was an accident.”
“I will fix it for you. Don’t worry.”
I was so surprised I didn’t know what to say, so I just shut my mouth. My mother was really hard to figure out. I never knew what to expect from her. She fixed the dress and never said another word about it. I think Margie was mad because she wanted me to get a spanking. That was a very trying day in the life of little Ruthie.
Janice Sautter is a great great grandmother who spends her time writing, painting, drawing, and playing video games. She lives with her husband Jim and their two dogs, Daisy and Lilly. She writes under the name of J. R. Carter.