The profile picture I use for my blog, Instagram, and Facebook page is of me when I was five years old. Although this particular outfit is not made by hand, the bows to tie my hair up in pigtails are.
She didn’t spin the wool herself, but my mom cut off foot-long pieces of yarn from a skein of red wool she had hanging around the house, and tied them using her best basic double knot.
She liked to knit. She never made anything extravagant, but we had enough afghans and winter scarves to last a lifetime. It was good to know we wouldn’t freeze to death.
She also liked to sew. But more on that in a minute.
When I was growing up, my parents didn’t have a lot of money. It wasn’t like we were an anomaly. This is the way it was for everyone we knew. We were an Army family. We hung out with other Army families. We lived amongst Army families.
In retrospect, the signs were clear. Typically, Santa’s toys don’t smell like bleach. And our weekly jaunts picking up other people’s discarded items along the curb on garbage day most likely wasn’t just an “adventure.”
Then there were the handmade clothes.
I can still remember going into the local fabric store and purchasing patterns with my mom. I remember the tan colored paper McCall’s patterns laid out across the kitchen table. The shears that were meant for nothing but fabric. And the straight pins that would inevitably stab us if we moved too much while being fitted for the perfect polyester red and blue plaid bell bottoms that we were all going to be forced to wear.
After my dad retired from the Army, we moved to a small town about an hour north of New York City. As if being the new kid at school wasn’t bad enough, wearing “Mom’s Special” was the icing on the cake. For me it was a pair of stiff denim gauchos — made stiffer with a can of extra crisp Niagara starch spray, or so it seemed — and a checkered shirt that came equipped with its own elastic neckline. You know, so I could hang myself with it if it got bad.
On my first day of school, Mr. Levi called my name to stand at the head of the class. I must have looked like a dark blue Acute Triangle to my fellow students. These were followed up by a pair of white knee socks and black and white saddle shoes which, unbelievably, did not catch on. Apparently, saddle shoes should have been left behind in 1956. Trying to bring them into 1979 just wasn’t going to happen.
A trend setter I was not.
Although I don’t have an actual photograph, I can still close my eyes and see myself standing there. With barrettes to hold back my long blonde hair, and a wide-toothed half smile that I’m sure said “please don’t throw anything larger than a whiffle ball at me” all over it.
I must have been a sight. I’m certain I was the only kid in my class to don clothes that were stitched by her own mother’s hands.
And you know what? I didn’t realize it until years later, but I was also the luckiest kid. Because my mother took the time to make clothes for me. Who needed Jordache jeans anyway? Well actually, I did. But I don’t want to talk about it.
I don’t know if I ever wore that outfit again. Even though I adored those gauchos. Peer pressure gets the better of you even at the tender age of twelve. My mother made them with love and I will forever be grateful for that.
But an elastic neckline, mom? Just so you know, there’s the crew neck, the boat neck, the scoop neck, the V-neck…shall I go on?