TWO PINK DRESSES
This post is dedicated to Mom, who celebrates her birthday tomorrow. Happy Birthday Mom!
When I think back to my childhood, it’s filled with memories of outfits my mom had crafted on her Singer sewing machine. Her work was varied, from dresses for me and my sister to window dressings, Mom had it all sewn together.
Mom first learned to sew in her high school Home Economics class. There, the students were taught how to provide balanced meals for their families, manage a budget, maintain a healthy home and, of course, learn how to work a sewing machine and turn out fashionable, creative designs one would be proud to wear.
One of the first items Mom made for me and my sister was a pair of matching dresses. The simple pattern followed the mod trend at the time (circa 1968). The dresses were made from a jersey material of a dusty rose, with a grid of muted grey lines creating a soft pattern. The design was straightforward but striking: a shift dress with a knee-length hem, long sleeves and a narrow collar band.
Mom fitted the dresses to suit us girls perfectly, and the two of us couldn’t wait to wear our new frocks. We didn’t have to wait long, since the very next day Mom instructed me to don my new dress. She helped me into a pair of white tights (which I loathed) and buckled my black patent leather shoes onto my two feet.
“Where are we going Mommy?” I asked.
“I have a PTA meeting,” she quickly replied, leading us toward the front steps of my sister’s grade school.
We entered the oversized doors and proceeded to the cavernous school auditorium, filled with the echoes of chattering mothers. Given it was 1968, that morning’s group consisted of females only, dressed in their best: dresses, stockings, high heels and handbags. Some even sported a matching hat. As always with these PTA meetings, my ears were overwhelmed with the cacophony of excited exchanges and laughter taking place. The mature voices filled my small self with a heavy mix of unintelligible sounds – conversations I couldn’t quite decipher at that time in my short life.
My brother and I followed our mother to open seats, several rows back from the stage. She chatted with the other parents, while I swung my legs over the edge of the wooden seat, wondering how long this gathering would take. My mother reached over and smoothed out a couple wrinkles on my dress. “I need you to sit still and keep your dress looking nice,” she reminded me. Somehow, I knew this meant I wasn’t going to enjoy the program ahead of us.
Two women stopped by us. “Dorothy, we’re ready for her,” one announced. Mom bent her head in my direction. “Heidi, go with those women.” I looked at her, at the women, and back to Mom. “It’s okay, go ahead,” she prodded.
One of the ladies took my hand and escorted me through a side door. Inside, we climbed a short set of stairs, arriving backstage, where I saw another whirlwind of PTA women, all with more excited chatter amongst themselves. I watched as heavy drapery curtains swished back and forth as groups of women and young girls through them.
The entire situation was foreign to me but seemed even more odd when my sister suddenly appeared backstage as well. “C’mon, Heidi,” she mumbled, and grabbed my hand to follow her. I stumbled after her and noticed she was wearing her new dress as well, along with the same white stockings and stiff shoes.
“Where are we going?” I cried out. “Shhh… it’s our turn,” she hushed me, raising her forefinger to her lips.
Still holding my hand, she led us onto the auditorium’s stage. There, I found ourselves facing the entire members of the PTA audience. All I could see were smiling female faces, expectantly looking up at the two of us – my sister and I – all alone on stage, except for one woman standing to our left, behind wooden a podium.
My confusion only grew from there.
“These are the daughters of Mrs Dorothy Van Howe,” I heard Podium Lady begin. Okay, I knew that was right. But where was my mom? I couldn’t see her nor my brother in the sea of heads filling the auditorium seats.
“Blah blah blah blah blah,” the announcer went on, using a microphone. I gave her a look of disapproval. What business did she have talking about my mother? I looked over at my sister. She was slowly turning around in her new pink dress, while I stood steadfast in my tight shoes, wondering what the heck she was doing.
I heard a few giggles from the floor. “Heidi, turn!” my sister hissed at me. I gave her one of my best glares, but she ignored me and continued turning around in circles, while I heard more murmurs from Podium Lady.
“Mrs. Van Howe followed a Butterick pattern, blah blah blah.”
My sister confidently turned to her left, to her right, and finally posed with one hand on her hip while she faced the audience straight on. My agitation grew. What was she doing here on stage with me… wasn’t she supposed to be in her classroom? More importantly… why were all these ladies staring at us?
The lady at the podium continued. “The dresses are blah blah, with a knee-length blah,” she announced to the crowd. Immediately I knew I wasn’t fond of this woman. She didn’t give a hoot about my wishes. “How did this woman know about my new dress, and what business was it of hers anyway?” I thought to myself.
More giggles arose, as my face slowly turned the same pink shade as our twin dresses. That spurned me on. I relented and did what I was told: mimic the actions of my older sister. I figured she was in the second grade, so she must know what she was doing. She turned. I turned. She smiled at the ladies, I smirked at them. What other choice did I have?
Finally, applause came from the audience. Podium Lady gave us a dismissive nod, while my hand was grabbed for the umpteenth time that morning and my sister led me back toward the staging area.
By then I was almost near tears, and I ran down the stage steps, searching for my mother in the crowd. I saw her beaming smile, while my brother sat watching me wide-eyed, wondering why his sister was starting to cry.
Sensing my discomposure, he too became agitated. His eyes widened, while his nose twitched and his mouth shaped into a grimace. I watched as his face turned mauve (close to the color of my new dress), and he burst out crying. A loud, sympathetic cry for his big sister. He wasn’t sure what had happened to me that set me off, but he wasn’t going to let his sister cry alone. That morning, his support meant the world to me.
Our mother sighed and turned to her friends, laughing with them. She shook her head and drew a handkerchief out of her handbag, carefully drying our tears and soothing our nerves. I sat down, not bothering to smooth down the back of my dress. Let it get bunched up and wrinkled on the pull-down seat. I didn’t care any longer. I sat, arms folded, and waited for that ridiculous PTA meeting to come to an end.
Luckily for me and my mother, that was my first — and last — PTA-sponsored fashion show.
Thank you for reading – PIZZA FOR BREAKFAST