Stitching My Memoirs

Stitching My Memoirs

A Story by barleygirl
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when sewing was center stage . . .

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In this photo, mom and I are off to Audrey’s (not shown) wedding, circa 1980. Mom sewed her own dress from scratch while I made my dress and belt. Mom, a hairdresser for decades, curly-permed (permanently waved) my hair in this photo. She made sure my bone-straight tresses were plenty curly during the big-hair eighties and nineties. Ah, those were the days! People sewed their own clothing quite often. I have photos of the dresses I sewed for occasions, such as performing with my guitar, singing “We’ve Only Just Begun” (Carpenters) or “Wedding Song / There is Love” (Peter, Paul and Mary) at weddings.

I was born in East Palo Alto, which was the poor side of that wealthy city. South of San Francisco our family farm included orchards and a few cows, maybe a donkey and our usual menagerie of pets. All the family orchards were soon long gone as urban sprawl gobbled each open space. Since dad made only a few dollars a day doing factory work back then, mom was a wizard, the way she stretched his meager pay to cover a large passel of kids. I can’t even say how many, because inhabitants switched regularly. With half-siblings and step-kids and cousins-on-loan (because parents would be down on their luck), the population at our farm was ever-changing.

That’s why I’m impressed how mom managed to handle all that mothering, meanwhile sewing most of our dresses for a half dozen daughters. Another thing she was good at . . . managing the kitchen assembly line at harvest time to keep so many kids in check, coordinated and productive, for canning all that fruit at various times throughout the summer and autumn. A master drill sergeant.

On our farm, parents lived in the tiny main house and kids were divided into one out-building and a big barn. Bedrooms were makeshift with hand-nailed wardrobe closets lined up to create “privacy” barriers. But there was no privacy. This was a cavernous partitioned barn where voices echoed. It was a noisy free-for-all in the barn with the older kids slow to settle down of an evening. I shared a smaller out-building split between me and one of my sisters, Diana. As the baby of the family, I had to go to bed early. But I lie there in my little bed, listening to all the hootin’ and gigglin’ coming from the barn for hours.

A common inquiry, when one left an outer door open: “were you born in a barn?” (Meaning: shut the damn door!) To that, any of us kids would say: “yes!” This was hilarious to us. I was born on a farm (practically in a barn) and dad delivered me. It was his first day off in six weeks, a holiday (fourth of July) and he had to deliver a baby (me) with a cord wrapped tightly around my neck strangling my deep blue head. Mom often mentioned how scared she was, since she’d never seen such a deep shade of blue. A doctor was never called. We were too poor.

Starting kindergarten, I awoke one morning intent on dressing myself in my favorite dress that mom just finished sewing. It was frilly and too fancy for school really. But I was only five and I was dying to wear this dress. I had never dressed myself before. Some bossy older sibling decided what I would be wearing and then proceeded to dress me for school (baby of nine).

After dressing myself for the first time, I flounced out to the barnyard in my fancy dress that mom just sewed. My older siblings bellowed with laughter. I didn’t know it was Saturday. This school gig was new to me and I didn’t understand “weekends.” My cheeks stung red, humiliated, the object of uproarious laughter. Mom said to wear my dress for a bit, as long as I didn’t get it dirty.

When I was eight, we moved to San Mateo, a metropolis compared to our previous rustic lifestyle. San Mateo is halfway down the peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose. At this time, only five of us kids were still living at home, my older siblings having moved out on their own. We moved since dad got his first bureaucratic job, a stuffy-a*s position making decent money. He bought mom a top-of-the-line Singer sewing machine with a hundred different stitches, selected by touching a few buttons. Forever, mom had been drooling over this One Touch sewing machine in the catalog but the gift came as a surprise.

Did I mention mom’s scissor issues? She was meticulous about keeping her sewing scissors polished, unscathed and sharp. Mom insisted nobody touch her scissors. To use them for the wrong purpose, she told us, would make them too dull to ever sharpen properly again. Since mom was also a hairdresser, she had a separate collection of scissors for cutting hair. Nobody . . . and I mean NOBODY messed with any of mom’s professional scissors. When I learned to sew, I had to get my own scissors. Besides, mom used left-handed scissors.

Mom was feeling her oats so she splurged on yards and yards and yards of pink polka-dotted fabric that was on sale. I hated this fabric the moment mom pulled it out of shopping bags with so much excitement. She was making bedspreads for the two single beds in my room, but she noticed I was crestfallen to see this fabric. I felt so guilty when she explained that this was all she could afford, since it took so much yardage to cover two beds and gather the sides and all. Well, at least every seam was embroidered with her fancy One Touch stitchery.

Later on, mom took tailoring courses at the nearby community college. These were hardcore sewing classes. By the time she graduated, she could nail a tailored suit that anyone would be proud to wear for a special occasion. (Quite unlike those hand-knitted Christmas sweaters that recipients never wear).

As mom’s final project, she created a six-inch-thick binder with a perfectly pressed sample of every sewing trick she learned. All different styles of plackets, pleats, buttonholes, zippers and collars. I loved perusing that binder to admire her perfectionism and also the fascinating fabrics she chose. A rich client at mom’s beauty shop often travelled to (what was then called) the Orient. She would “tip” mom with a free bolt of outrageously expensive fabric at her weekly appointments. This was back when women wore the same bouffant hairdo all week, heavily-sprayed to last, sequestered with a thick brown net during slumber.

I just remembered some extravagant cashmere mom got from this lady. The most exquisite shade of mauve, mom sewed me a cashmere poncho that was toasty warm, with a real silk fringe in black. My poncho was lined with heavy black satin, so luxurious against my skin. I started each high school morning hiding in my voluminous poncho, fending off my anxiety about entering the zone of noisy aggressive clans of virtual strangers. I rode the bus an hour into town, so it felt like I didn’t know these kids the way I knew my friends out at the lake. I didn’t see any town kids for three months every summer and that was when my life was most full and exciting, working at the lakeside restaurant. That mauve cashmere poncho with the black silk fringe was my fortress against high school angst.

Back in San Mateo, mom sewed my most memorable dress. Made from lilac and ivory chiffon, very flouncy, every tier of ruffles was embroidered all around with a different fancy stitch on her One Touch. This was the dress to beat all dresses. Most designers would call it overkill, but mom found it irresistible to show off her deluxe sewing machine with all those intricate stitch patterns.

This was my first time living in a heavily-populated neighborhood where I could walk to school instead of riding a bus in from the boondocks. The day arrived when I first wore this treasured dress to school. I was the cat’s meow at age nine. I walked to school with my best friend Margie (same name) and we walked home together too.

On the way home, lacking one bit of ladylike finesse in my frilly dress, I strolled the top rail of a six-foot-tall fence along the far playground. There was a big barking dog on the other side of this fence, but I didn’t think it could reach me. Sho‘nuff it did. The beast did a dancing leap and threw a snaggletooth on my chiffon dress, ripping some gaping shreds. Margie and I walked home slowly because I dreaded facing mom and the stabbing guilt. She did an amazing job repairing the dress, but I still cringed to look down and see a mass of crisscross hand-stitching . . . like darning socks, mom connected the shreds.

When I was ten going on eleven, we moved to San Antonio Lake at the barely-populated end of Monterey County. Dad was less explosive after being sprung from the stuffy parks department officialdom. He loved working outdoors, being boss over park rangers, campgrounds and lake. The most positively impactful thing my parents did was to create a 4-H youth club for all the country bumpkins in the boondocks. They went through all the bureaucratic rigamarole so we could enter our animals in the Salinas Valley Fair every May. This was a very big deal in a country kid’s life. We were finally “legit” in the animal barn at the fair.

We did community projects like walking twenty miles of country road, picking up trash. Then we threw a potluck after painting trash cans with our 4-H logo and putting the barrels out along the road. A number of parents stepped up to lead the various groups: sheep, pig, carpentry, cooking. Mom was the sewing leader, of course. I learned to sew in 4-H from mom and the other young girls loved learning from her too.

Mom is a beloved lady in our country community, just down the road from where I now live, near the Big Sur wilderness. People remember mom as a top-notch hairdresser and caring listener in her King City beauty shop for years. Some of my Facebook friends started out being her face-to-face friends. At 97, mom has not reached out to people for years (hearing, memory, mobility loss). People ask about her: she’s doing as well as can be expected in assisted living in San Jose.

Sometimes I suspect Facebook friends who started out being mom’s friends . . . maybe they’re drawn to me because I remind them of her. They love reading my stories about mom, that’s for sure. None of my stories are more “liked” on Facebook than the ones starring mom.

After learning to sew, I made the perfect hippie outfit: big-a*s bell bottoms and a matching crop top with lacy fringe. I found the most colorful psychedelic fabric to create a top-to-toe flowery extravaganza complete with head scarf. This was back when everything had to match. I fashioned a cut-out along the side leg seams to add a placket, with extra fabric ruffled in the slit, maximizing the width of my bell bottoms with an added flare, way out to each side. I mean to tell ya, I was stylin’ in this get-up! A thick, bright pink, patent leather belt and a pewter peace sign dangling from a long leather cord completed my 1970’s statement.

I still have my original Kenmore sewing machine from Sears and a box of fabrics. The last time I did any sewing was back when I could walk without wobbling. After volunteering in an animal shelter clinic, I went home to sew dozens of drapes for our veterinarian to drape over her furry patients as she did her spay and neuter surgeries. I still aspire to haul out my sewing machine someday.

After a life of adventuring, I was devastated to be rendered unable to walk for a few years due to a neck injury. In the last six years since neck surgery I’ve been fighting to gain back some mobility in my legs, inch by inch, year by year. This struggle has been so lengthy and significant, I forget to mention my hands. Paws have been coming back slowly, after being stiff, numb, and painful for years. My goal this year: picking up the guitar again finally. So far, I’m just trying to toughen up and strengthen my hands on the guitar by doing chords. Someday I’ll get back to my sewing machine.

© 2019 barleygirl


My Review

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Featured Review

You, petal, my dearling friend, have a way of seeing the best and the most beautiful of everything that life has to offer and always has! This is such a fine piece of writing - times of will and won't but never mind a negative, all of it put in glorious story form; grammar, vocabulary an example many could copy! And yes, I do mean me!

Your mom reads to have been a wonder, and so much you learned from her. Seems you're two peas in a pod, Margie. A special lady she is, so too are you. Your meandering has taken this ignorant Brit to times and places, faces and all. through a life which - i must stress with silky sweet wondering, is what's made you very much YOU and.. unique! (Please send cheque by return sunbeam!!!) Hugs as ever, so delighted to have your rich and wonderful language back where it belongs. Off to see Lady E.now. Huggles galore.. tarrah. xx

Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

6 Months Ago

Thanks so much for your words of wonderment! This is one of those where I'm shaking my head, how did.. read more
emmajoy

6 Months Ago

Sometimes thoughts etc. need display themselves and - not a thing will stop them. Tis like a short .. read more



Reviews

There's something intimate about home-sewn clothes. They provide extra comfort, since they are not just made up of fabric, but also of feelings.
Life throws up challenges quite frequently, altering us in numerous ways. It is our spirit and our willpower that keeps us going.
I hope you pick up your guitar and go back to sewing pretty soon.

Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

6 Months Ago

I am doing well at getting my fingers back in shape to play the guitar. I've been working on it for .. read more
What a wonderful story. It just goes to show the value of a mother who is able to keep the family going no matter what the circumstances.

Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

6 Months Ago

Thank you for appreciating my memories about my mom . . . this one meant alot to those who have alwa.. read more
Lea Sheryn

6 Months Ago

You're welcome. It's always refreshing to read about one's memories of their mother. It's precious.. read more
another awesome write I love reading people life stories when they are far more interesting than mine. the back then you wore I could imagine quite clearly as it is written in the great description. you have way telling that puts the reader such me right there into the story, I am looking forward to reading more.

Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

6 Months Ago

Writing this story a couple weeks ago started me down a new path of writing longer stories. I haven'.. read more
Your writing style is so wonderful, Margie. I felt as though your mom could teach even me to sew....and I can not sew a button on a shirt! Your mom loved the world and she passed that love down to you, my friend. Picking up garbage on the road, being kind to animals, loving life....yes, that is what you show us in every piece of writing you post. How wonderful people remember your mom for all the wonderful things she did....and how wonderful she had a daughter like you. Such a lovely piece to read. Lydi**

Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

6 Months Ago

I have always felt very lucky to have parents that cared about all the right things, long before suc.. read more
I know nothing of stitchery my skill set is limited to button replacement... sorta. I couldn't tell you cotton from cashmere or a placket from a racket but i sure enjoyed your stitching. Just like when i read your poetry your story telling makes me feel like I'm sitting on that grand porch of yours listening to you hug the world. You have such a lovely voice Margie

Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

6 Months Ago

When I first started on this website 3 years ago, I felt obligated to "act professional" & write sto.. read more
My wife is a seamstress. Sewing machines everywhere. I enjoyed your story. A great skill to know. Memories of the past. We need them dear Margie. Thank you for sharing the amazing story.
Coyote

Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

6 Months Ago

Your first two lines paint an extensive picture of your life & I love you for sharing! (((HUGS))) Fo.. read more
Coyote Poetry

6 Months Ago

You did well dear Margie. Thank you for the story.
What a great picture of two beauties- you and your mom, Margie! Love the hair and dresses and smiles. The way you remember events and details just amazes me- what a treasure trove for your writing. I call your happy stories your “Sunny California Hippie Girl” style of writing- so filled with warmth, humor, and just plain enjoyment of life! Nothing held you down or back. Your mom raised a Sunflower Child for sure. As she so skillfully stitched a childhood to remember, you honor her with your skillful chronicle filled with color, depth, passion- and fashion! Yay for womens’ hands- they fashion the world into a better place! I love hearing you grow up in your wonderful stories, envisioning all your adventures- feels like a real sister. Oh yeah- my bellbottoms were faded denim and my crop top was white cotton lace just so you know...Love this Margie-story immensely my sister-friend! Xo

Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

6 Months Ago

Your sisterhood means all the more to me this moment, since there's a real-time sister in my life wh.. read more
Annette Pisano-Higley

6 Months Ago

❤️💋👍👍👍👍👍
I read with joy the whole thing and all the minute details you shared with us. I love how we look back and put things in perspective after the facts and realities of life. Those memories they being are precious and a springboard to lessons learned. I know you appreciate your mom so much and I'm glad she is alive still for you to enjoy her final allotted time on earth.

Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

6 Months Ago

Being bipolar, most of my life I was in a state of turmoil, no possibility that I could see the over.. read more
Sami Khalil

6 Months Ago

Whoa! Wonderful to know. You are welcome at any stage...
you have some fine memories of your Ma

Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

6 Months Ago

I've written some autobiographical stuff, quite a bit, but this one felt different, better, I was be.. read more
Einstein Noodle

6 Months Ago

dear and wonderful Barley Girl ... yes ... snuggles :)
Amazing Margie. Your description of your life is so relaxing to me, I could sit and read about it for hours. You allow the reader to relate to the little things that make a difference. Your mom sounds like she was quite the woman. I remember the days of sewing and paper patterns and the yellow velvet pants my mom sewed me in the first grade. I took some serious s**t for that day, two third graders tried to beat me up and steal my hat after school. I kicked the crap out of them, grabbed my hat and ran all the way home...lol. You are definitely a WC darling Margie. Love ya!!

Posted 6 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

6 Months Ago

I might have to pilfer the story of the traveling yellow velvet pants. That's some good material the.. read more

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Added on March 30, 2019
Last Updated on March 30, 2019

Author

barleygirl
barleygirl

Central Coast, CA



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