The clothes that we wore, the way we were dressed, the outfits we put together, have always been reflections of you.
One of my earliest memories of you is something you wore – the brown quilted skirt. What I remember best about it is using it for dress-up clothes in our pretend play, but I always knew it was yours and it was special and quite unique. Over the years, you tried many different styles…long hair, short hair (always red!), cat’s eye glasses, ‘cat-in-the-hat’ hats, cowboy boots and shirts, pedal pushers, jeans, pant suits, swim suits, polyester gowns, tennis shorts, tennis skirts, tennis shoes, running shoes, cameos, copper jewelry, and Hudson’s Bay & Linda Lundstrom jackets. We watched you change over the years, yet there was always a basic, consistent style that was you. You accepted the way you looked with little or no make-up, hair dyes, flashy jewels, high heels or gaudy colours. You were a great role model for us. You cared about how you looked but in a down to earth, comfortable sort of way.
When we were little, you were careful with the way we looked, too. Matching outfits purchased for Thora and Nancy would be gently cared for so that they could eventually become matching outfits for Nancy and me, and finally I would grow into the original Thora dress and wear it solo. How did you ever get those little cherry dresses and plaid sailor dresses to last so long? You performed the same miracle with our tights, carefully darning the toes until they could be darned no more. At that point, the feet of the tights would be removed, the legs hemmed, an elastic stitched on to hook under our arches, and
coordinating knee socks slipped over to keep our otherwise bare toes warm. You had already discovered the layered look!
On the first day of school, we always had a new ensemble for the obligatory photograph. New dresses and jumpers were often purchased during our summer travels, while new shoes were found at Edward’s on Manitoba Avenue. The lives of these outfits were also prolonged with careful use: dresses, jumpers and blouses were worn for two days in a row, with clean underwear daily! All items were set out by you the night before. What a great feeling it was to go to bed every night knowing that you had carefully prepared every detail for us.
We were always told (by you) that you could not sew and we accepted that because… you could knit the most amazing sweaters, hats, scarves and Barbie clothes in the world! There was always a warm siwash to wrap up in or a spectacular Mary Maxim sweater to keep out the cold. You knit for us throughout our lives and now you create for our children, too. We all appreciated the Aussie sweaters you made for us down under. How DID you knit in that sweltering heat??
While you tried out different looks over the years, you also tolerated our experiments in fashion! Pixie cuts, platform shoes, stretchies, mini midi & maxi skirts, hot pants, polyester, crushed velvet, bubble blouses, India cotton shirts, hippie plaid shirts with ripped & faded jeans, jean skirts, perms, afros, shags, blue mascara, black mascara, green mascara, green nail polish, halter tops, Joe Cocker shirts, smock tops, fake fur, real fur, pierced ears, clogs and earth shoes. You endured all of these, letting us express ourselves as we chose. Your example makes it easier for me to watch my own son dye his hair black or wear a necktie with a t-shirt!
Amazingly, I think we all ended up having pretty good taste in clothes! Shopping trips to Tergesen’s sure help! There have always been many ways that you showed us how much you loved us. Clothes may seem superficial, but the time you took with ours was filled with acceptance and care; a reflection of your love for us.
(This was originally written about ten years ago and is being posted now to honour my Mom on her 80th birthday on October 19, 2010.)
©Conni Cartlidge, 2000