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Friday, September 20, 2019

The Dress My Mama Made For Me--by Laurean Brooks

On last month's blog post I wrote about an embarrassing experience on my first day of school--namely the way I was questioned and vetted by the first-grade teacher to ensure I met the requirements to start first grade at Palmersville School. On this post I'll relate another embarrassing experience in third grade.

My mother made all her daughters' dresses until we reached junior high. After that, generous neighbors gave us bags of clothes outgrown by their slightly older daughters. Because Jewell, Ruthie and I were small for our ages, this worked out great.

A couple of weeks after starting third grade, Mama created a sash dress for me, made from blue and white checkered gingham. From the bodice to the waist the material was a solid sky-blue. From the full waist to the hem, the material was blue-and-white-checkered. Mama made the waist billowy by gathering yards and yards of material together and stitching it to the bodice. The sleeves she also made from the checkered material. Lastly, she added a checkered sash.

Mama made all her creations on an old treadle machine because she preferred it to an electric one. The trouble was, her treadle machine made long stitches. Those who sew know that long stitches will easily pull apart when tugged on. (You will understand why I mentioned this if you keep reading.)

I wore the blue-and-white-checkered dress for the first time on “School Pictures Day.” I was so pleased with it that I preened in front of the mirror that morning, admiring the pretty sash, the billowy skirt, plus the white nylon ankle socks that went so well with the dress and with my shiny patent-leather shoes.

We had our pictures made in the gym that morning on the stage with the curtains as a background. After another class, followed by lunch, we went outdoors for recess. In those days, school playgrounds had long, tall slides, monkey bars, see-saws, and swings. I loved the tall slide for the adrenaline rush it gave me as I sped down it at lightning speed.

This particular day I was climbing the ladder behind Kemp, waiting for him to land at the bottom. I had just sat down when a gust of wind swept my skirt up. Unbeknownst to me, when it floated down, the hem of my dress caught on a protruding nailhead at the top of the slide.

Wheeeee! I pushed off, speeding down the slide when a ripping noise reached my ears. Uh-oh. My rapid descent ripped the skirt from the top of my dress, inch by inch, all the way down. I could hear and feel it tearing apart, but there wasn't a thing I could do except ride it out.

When I slid to a stop at the bottom, I turned to look up behind me. My once billowing skirt was stretched from the nail at the top of the slide to the bottom of it. I held a death grip on the three inches of material still attached to the top part of my dress and cried.

A helpful classmate climbed the ladder to the slide and freed my skirt from the nail. I stood up, my face burning and my cotton slip in plain view for everyone to see, and clutched the three inches of skirt material still attached to the top of my dress. A classmate named Sherry helped me gather the yards of material together that once was my skirt. I grasped it tightly at the waist while Sherry ushered me to our classroom.

Mrs. Richardson's jaw dropped when she saw my predicament. Sherry explained what had happened since I was still sniffling. The teacher exclaimed, “Good Heavens! Sherry, take her to the home ec room where Miss Easterwood can get one of her students in sewing class to mend Laurie's dress.”

The girls in the home ec class gasped when Sherry and I walked into the room. A few laughed, but Miss Easterwood tried her best to not look shocked. Sherry explained how it had happened. Miss Easterwood jumped up and led me to the kitchen. “Let's get your dress off, first. You wait in here while I get one of the girls to repair it.”

I was still sniffling when she left me in the kitchen, closing the door between it and the sewing room. It seemed I was in the kitchen for an hour when one of the girls from home ec finally appeared, holding my dress up for inspection. She smiled. “See? It's just like new.”

I thanked her through my tears. The skirt was bunched in places, but Mama could fix that. And I saw a rip on the sleeve I hadn't noticed before. She had attempted to fix it, but it was in a place that could easily be seen. The nice girl pulled the refurbished garment over my head, helped me button it, and tied the sash.

The dress I adored that morning was now a symbol of humiliation. I would like to proclaim that I never wore it again. But, I did. Since I had so few dresses, I wore it every week until I outgrew it. And each time I put it on, awful flashbacks occurred. Flashbacks of zooming down the slide with the sound of Rip-rip-rip! behind me.

After the “hanging dress” catastrophe, I took extra care when I reached the top of the slide. I always tucked my skirt beneath me, before I shoved off and slid.

You didn't think I'd let a dress, hung-on-a-nail-at-the-top-of-the-slide, conquer me, did you?

Moral of this story: "When you reach the end of your skirt, grab what's left and hang on."

 “A stitch in time saves nine,” could only apply if we changed "nine" to "nine-hundred."

Do you like sweet romance in a simpler time during the late 60s and early 70s? This story warms the heart as it shows how misunderstandings can cause heartbreak and separation. Don't worry; my stories always have Happy Endings.


  1. Oh, my, Laurean. What a catastrophe--and you still remember the embarrassment. I had strict orders I couldn't play on the high slide at my elementary school's playground, but my mother was afraid I'd get my dress and slip dirty, not torn. I'm sure today, those long slides would never meet safety standards. Nice post.

  2. Judy Ann, believe it or not, the high slide was our only slide at Palmersville School. The only other bad incident I remember happening with it was a bully-boy knocked one of the girls off and the fall broke her arm. That was first grade. Thank you for commenting.

  3. Nothing is s better than Palmersville story that brings back memories and always has a good ending.

  4. Hey Unknown, Now I'm wondering who you are. But you are so right. Palmersville school was special and so were the those who lived in the community. It still is. Thank you for leaving a comment.

  5. Oh, my goodness, how tragic! I can well imagine how awful you felt. What happened when Mom saw it?

    (This recalled a memory I had of a dress and our sow in her pen and...well, we won't go there.)

  6. Miss Mae: Lolol. I can only imagine what happened with Mama, after you had the run-in with the sow.
    My mother didn't make a big deal of it. I guess she was understanding in that way. She did take the skirt apart and re-gather it. I remember it being bunched in places.

  7. What a neat story from start to finish. How fun to have the new dress and how wonderful the home economics class was to fix it. I so admire seamstresses, and your mother sounds like a great one. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for reading the story and for leaving comments, Gail. Yes, my mother was a good seamstress, even if the treadle machine's stitches were way too long. And I'm glad the high school girl in home ec class was up for the repair job. I just wish I knew who she was so I could thank her.

  8. What a story! I sure glad there was a good friend to help you out.

    1. So was I, Karen Michelle Nutt. This girl, Sherry, always came to the aid of anyone who was crying or in need of help.

  9. Oh, my gosh. The same thing happened to me—I may even have been in the same grade. Only the back came loose, so it wasn’t nearly as...exposing, but bad enough! I’m glad to not be alone in the club.

  10. Liz Flaherty, you poor dear! And here I was, thinking things like this only happened to me. Well, as they say, what doesn't destroy you will make you stronger. Lol.

  11. I loved your post, Laurean. I especially like the life lesson you learned, "When you reach the end of your skirt, grab what's left and hang on." Funny and true!


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