It has only become to clear to me in my adult years how unique parts of my childhood truly were. When we’re growing up, I guess we assimilate naturally into the world around us. Our perception would then be that “this is normal”. The skeleton elements of my childhood are pretty average: public school, Christian household in the suburbs of a big city. But some of the best parts of my “kid experience” were things way outside the norm and one of the most unique I owe solely to my Mother…
My Mom used to make our clothes.
To some, that sounds insane. I was born in 1984 in a Naval Hospital, not on a prairie in a covered wagon. And yet, hand-made clothes were completely normal for me. I have memories of my Mom taking me and my sister to the fabric store to pick out patterns. She’d show us the picture on the front and we could pick out our favorite. Then, we’d get to go up and down the aisles pawing through rolls of fabric looking for something that “spoke” to us. She’d even let us go to the button section to select the buttons we wanted for the front.
When we’d get home, she’d bust out her flexible tape measure and tickle the measurements out of us. We’d have to stand with our arms out like we were flying while she pinned the patterns to us and made notes. The patterns just looked like tissue paper with a bunch of dotted lines to us. But to Mom, they were the earliest signs of art. That’s how we discovered our Mom was a magician. We’d go play or watch TV while she sent the sewing machine into crazy fits of noise. Hours later, she’d still be pinning and sizing and cutting. Sometimes, she’d fall asleep right at the sewing table, pins and thread stuck all over the place. But somehow, a few days later, we’d have a dress. Somehow, she’d turn a bunch of folded papers into an outfit.
Eventually, I wanted to know about the magic that Mom made. I wanted to know how it all happened. I started watching her work. I’d ask to help cut the thread or pin the fabric. She taught me how to load the new thread, fill and change the bobbin spool, and how to sew different stitches. I started with small projects and had made my first beanbag by the time I was 10. A few years later, I finished my first quilt at 14. It was exhilarating to me. And yet, for so many years I have taken those skills for granted. It has taken me a long time to realize how lucky I am that my Mom shared her magic.
One tradition we had around the end of September every year was to pull out the Halloween box from the rafters to decide what our costume would be. My Mom would plop the box down in the garage and we’d take out all of the props collected over the years. With the props as inspiration, we’d head to the fabric store so Mom could get the right fabric for our costumes. Sometimes inspiration came from movies or books. Either way, they were made by Mom.
One year – I think I was 8 or so – I pulled out a brown grass hula skirt and threw it on over one shoulder so it draped across me instead of sitting at my hips. I shouted, “Look Momma, I’m a caveman!” Right away she had her vision. She went to work on making a skin-colored body suit and a pair of grey fuzzy boots for me to wear. She found a giant bone and fastened it to a clip to sit in my wildly teased hair. She even made me bone earrings and bought a plastic club for me to carry. I really did look amazing. I never gave her credit for it though. Since it was my normal, I guess I just assumed it was everyone’s. I assumed all of the kids in the parade that day at school had moms that sewed their costumes. I don’t think I ever truly grasped how lucky I was.
So here I am, 30, and sewing my costume for this Halloween. I have kept the tradition alive my hand-making my costume every year, and my Mom is in my heart the whole time. Thank you, Momma. Thank you for sharing such an amazing gift with me. I can’t wait to pass it on…