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Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Box

By Janet Thompson

She has never forgotten the mailman bringing “The Box.” From Oklahoma City, tied with heavy cord and covered with many stamps, it was addressed to a short, scrawny, frizzy-haired girl with bony knees.

Clearing the coffee table, she and her mother sat side by side on the sofa drawing out the surprises, one by one. “Mom, it’s like Christmas in August!” the little girl exclaimed.

Its treasures always delighted her because it held beautiful child’s dresses that came from a real clothing store. She was so small, store-bought clothes in her size were too childish.

As long as she could remember, she had worn dresses made by her mother. Each outfit had matching panties. None of her friends had panties to match their dresses and while her friends envied her, in her homemade clothes, she was the one embarrassed.

She wished not to be dressed so differently. It’s a kid thing, you know, and nothing has changed to this day.

Her mother created one outfit the little girl never forgot. Made from pink cotton pique’ fabric, it was special.

Her mother had appliqued three Dubonnet-colored cherries on green stems with green leaves. The appliques were repeated every dozen or so inches apart all around the hemline, with one group at the neckline like a corsage. Each wine-colored cherry, like real ones, was almost an inch in diameter, the forest green leaves were properly sized for the cherries, and the green stems were hand embroidered.

Wine-colored bias tape bound the neckline and the ends of the puff sleeves. The matching panties, with elastic at the waist and wine-colored bias binding around the legs, were pink.

The little girl was just tall enough to see above the tabletop as her mother, a whiz with her Singer Featherweight portable sewing machine, fed fabric through the needle. (Formerly a dancer, she had always made her own costumes).

When her mother bought the prized machine, it came with a child’s machine; about one-quarter the size, hand cranked and labeled Singer with black and gold decoration. (On it, “Miss Frizz” learned to sew doll clothes). Many years later, her mother gave the little machine to a friend’s greedy child. Oh woe!

It wasn't until the little girl was in the seventh grade that her mother first bought her a ready-made outfit. This one was also memorable - a red plaid skirt, pleated all around. But I digress from the story of The Box.

The little girl’s cousin, Lois Jean, was slender, tall and unlike the scrawny girl, about a year older and well proportioned. An only child, her dad had a government job and he was also a skilled craftsman, building fine cabinetry and hard-case furniture. Her parents didn't have the burden of providing boarding school tuition either.

Each fall, Lois Jean’s mother bought her new outfits for school because, like a weed, she outgrew her clothes so fast. Then her mother boxed up the like-new beauties and sent them off to Denver.

When The Box arrived every year, the clothes were always too big for the scrawny little girl but a mother who was a whiz with her prized sewing machine could make miracles happen.

Janet was the skinny little girl happily wearing the cleverly altered, store-bought treasures. Janet only met Lois Jean twice, because her family lived in Oklahoma.

* * *

Years later, after I moved to California and my Uncle Gene had died, Aunt Nona and Lois Jean lived in Long Beach. Visiting one day, I happened to mention how grateful and excitedly each year, Mother and I always celebrated receiving another Box. It always came in August, right around my birthday.

Aunt Nona and I saw tears well up when Lois Jean heard the long-revered story of how for years, her castoffs made her Denver cousin so thrilled to receive The Box.

I fought back tears as well. The three-way hug that followed sure made we three feel like family.

Here is Lois Jean. But I never got the overalls.

BoxJThompsonLois Jean370

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


We used to send boxes to my cousins in north Wales. My mother taught tailoring, so the clothing that she made was in demand and were often entire outfits...dress, matching coat, small purse, etc. One year, in return, I received two British children's books from one of my cousins carefully chosen from her own small library. I still have them.

I could have written the above story with few alterations. I also had a cousin in CA who sent us her out grown clothes. Most of our clothes were made by my mother until we were in Jr High. They were always beautifully made and in style but one of the biggest thrills was when my mother bought me a complete wardrobe when I went to college.

Lovely story, sounds like you have many more in you. My sons were the recipients of my sister's son's outgrown and nice clothing. The boys were each two years younger than hers. both eldest skinny, and both youngest stocky. I am still grateful.

I loved your story Janet! I wish I could have seen a picture of you in one of the lovely dresses your seamstress mother made over just for you! Many women, mothers of us elders, were outstanding seamstresses. I know I too, appreciated the lovely clothing my mother made for me. It's one of the reasons I love to look back at pictures from the 40's especially.

I wish people today could realize how much their children's clothes could mean to a younger cousin. Too often those clothes are given to a local charity, and while that's fine, I can see by this story that it might have been better to have been "handed down."

I truly enjoyed your story,Janet.

It reminded me of the one time in my life that a box of beautiful clothing was sent to our house for me to open.

It was at the height of the Depression about 1935 and was thrilled to receive the box.

A neighbor of ours had secured a job as housekeeper to a very wealthy family who had a young daughter a year or two older than I.

These were her dresses and coats I was getting and I thought I was a Princess until I outgrew those beautiful clothes.

Then it was right back to wearing my brother's old coat again.

That's the way life was in those days.

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