At Home With Vivian: Patterns in time

I said the Easter dress was purple. Johnette said it was white.

I went through my mother’s old photo albums the other day looking for that certain picture to prove my kid sister wrong. Photo albums are my ‘external’ hard drive. That’s where I keep memories that my brain has no room to store.

With Easter fast approaching, I’ve been feeling nostalgic for the good old days. My mother sewed dresses for her four daughters and I in turn sewed clothes for my children. My kids are grown so it’s been many years since I sewed anything cute. But now I have granddaughters! So, last week I sewed cotton print dresses for my two toddlers. One fabric had kittens in the pattern; the other was full of bunnies. I couldn’t resist making white eyelet pinafores too.

I made the dresses using the same pattern that my mother used to make a dress for me back in the 1950s. I know it was hers because her name was on the pattern envelope and I recognized her handwriting. The dress design featured a Peter Pan collar, puffy sleeves, and a gathered waist. A pinafore and a bonnet pattern were included. I know my granddaughters won’t keep anything on their heads, so I didn’t make them bonnets. I keep imagining how cute Betsy and Daisy will look in those new old fashioned dresses! The outfits are in the mail as I write this column.

I was telling my kid sister Johnette about my sewing project, mostly to give her a hard time. She has two adorable grandsons who are totally into dinosaurs and not the least bit interested in wearing cute things made by their grandma. Rubbing it in, however, wasn’t much fun because

Johnette said having a grandson means “Less work for me!”

In the middle of telling Johnette about using Mama’s old pattern, she reminded me of the Easter dresses our brother-in- law Stan made for us one year. I remembered my dress vividly. I loved that dress! Purple, I said. White with a print, she said. And that’s why I was going through the old photos.

During that conversation, it occurred to me that I did not know why it was Stan who made the dresses. In fact, I don’t know anyone else who has a brother-in- law who ever sewed anything. So I called my sister Brenda and asked, “Why did Stan make the dresses?” she laughed.

“Because he’d rather sew than take care of a crying baby!”

“I was feeling very domesticated at the time,” Brenda said. “I knew Mama was having a hard time financially. I tried to help out by making Easter dresses that year for you and Johnette.”

Brenda and Stan had recently moved to the Naval Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut, where Stan was assigned to a ship that hadn’t come back from patrol yet. When the submarine did come in, the sailors were given two weeks of R&R, then two more weeks of a daily check in before they would be deployed to Scotland for several months. It seemed to Brenda that Stan had a lot of free time that month.

Brenda picked out the dress pattern, bought the fabric, and cut out the pieces. “I probably started the project later than I should have,” Brenda said. She had an infant, Teresa, to care for too.

When Stan saw Brenda under a time limit trying to sew while caring for Teresa too, he wanted to help.

Stan was one of those rare people who loved learning and was good at it. Brenda said she’d show him how to do something once and he had it down forever. Years after they were married while visiting California, Aunt Ruby taught Brenda how to knit. Brenda was knitting in the front passenger seat on the way back to Washington when she finished a skein of yarn and couldn’t remember what to do next. Brenda said, “While Stan was driving the car he told me, step by step, what to do. He had been listening to Aunt Ruby teach me and he remembered it all!”

Stan was not raised around small children. To him, figuring out a sewing machine was easier than figuring out a crying baby. Brenda showed him how to thread and operate the machine and how to pin the fabrics. He was off and running. “Stan was always better at understanding pattern instructions than I was,” Brenda said. He never sewed much after our Easter dresses but when Brenda got stuck on an obscure pattern instruction, he gladly helped out.

Stan enjoyed the challenge of sewing the pretty Easter dresses so much that he made us two more dresses for everyday wear. Then he made stuffed bunnies for Johnette and me too. Before they mailed the dresses to us, Brenda took a picture of Stan with his accomplishment. I love that picture. Stan was so young! Even though the picture is black and white, I can still see the twinkle in his blue eyes. Stan passed away a couple of years ago. I miss that twinkle.

That crying baby, Teresa, is now a grandmother. When I showed her the pattern I was going to use to make the dresses for Daisy and Betsy, she said “That’s a cute pattern! They don’t make them like that anymore.” Teresa inherited a double dose of sewing talent from her parents, Stan and Brenda. I told Teresa that I had inherited several old children’s patterns and asked if she would like some, especially for her tiny granddaughter. Teresa made the mistake of saying yes.

I shipped her all but the few I kept for my granddaughters. It’s time to pass the baton. Patterns from Aunt Ruby, Aunt Karen, Aunt Marion, my mother, and from my own stash are winging their way to Teresa. I can’t wait to see which pattern she chooses to make first! I sure hope she takes lots of pictures.

Ah! Found the picture! I was right! Sort of. I took a picture of the old photo with my cell phone (isn’t modern technology wonderful?!) and texted it to my kid sister. “Neener neener!” I texted.

“I was right!” But alas, so was she. We were both right. There were two dresses in the photo.

One was purple, the other was white.

Happy Easter!

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