Women’s Wear

No Telling

I love reading other people’s blogs. There’s always something out there that trips a writing or remembering switch in me. These little moments from other posts would be my antidote to writer’s block – if I believed in it. I don’t, you know, and neither should you. I have a whole litany of blog subscriptions that I read every single day. One of these is The New Charm School: Jennifer Warwick’s Blog for Recovering Type A Types. The latest blog post on her grandmother’s dresses inspired me. And that’s a good thing, because this is the last official day for NaFloScribMo.

I’ve spent the last hour or so writing about my Grandma Monda’s dresses and the woman who wore them. Such a woman. And such dresses. As a little girl I spent hours trying on her clothes over and over again, hoping they would someday fit me so I could become her. She was a tiny slip of a woman, under five feet tall and weighing in the double digits. I was busy growing into a body much taller and larger, so I do remember a summer or a Christmas or both when the clothes almost fit. I was eight.

Grandma Monda had a signature color – kelly green. She had many fine things in her closets, but I’ve imprinted forever on a kelly green rayon dress with white polkadots. She always left a few dresses hanging in a closet at their old family house in Stamps, Arkansas and that green dress was among them. Since my grandparents lived in San Francisco, there were times that our little family spent time in Stamps without them. One of the first things I’d do is run to the closet to make sure the green dress still hung there, still smelled like her, and that the rayon still fell from my fingers like mercury. Grandma Monda was my light – was everyone’s light – and the reassurance of that closeted dress was all I needed. I could wait, then, for the next poem, the next letter, the next visit.

When my daughter was a very little thing climbing in my lap, a little of the same happened for her. I had three waffle-weave cotton dresses – all the same style but different colors. These were the go-tos, the things I wore when I wanted the most comfort and the late 80s version, I guess, of the 50s “house dress.” At one of my infamous yard sales I finally gave up the ghost of those dresses and hung them on strung clothesline in the yard.

Emily was beside herself. A school-girl by then, she whipped those dresses off the clothesline slinging hangers and sale tags. Her tears were furious. These are the dresses I love, she said, you can’t sell them. I was struck dumb and then apologetic first because I had no idea, and then because I perfectly understood what she meant. Those dresses were hours and hours of snuggling on the couch, hems used to wipe tears. The face of her babyhood rested against that cotton and those dresses were not for sale.

There’s powerful love in the clothes of our mothers, our grandmothers. I suspect it’s the hand-me-down loving easing its way into the warp and weft of our DNA. I think of all the women who painstakingly cut up old dresses into tiny pieces to refabric the geometry of their love by making quilts. Born-again comfort objects. Mama’s blue print dress scattered across it like stars.