Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Little Miss Aster and the Homemade Dress


My hands are filthy with soil still caked under my fingernails from planting my fall flowers. I should go wash them before I get my laptop all dirty, but I don't really feel like leaving this armchair. I just got done putting my little red dianthus into the ground between the Applachian flatjack stones along my front walk. And yesterday I spent most of the warm afternoon with my yellow hardy mums and purple asters, which I layered prettily around my mailbox.

There on my knees, yanking up weeds and planting flowers, I smiled as I was reminded of how my mom used to call me "Miss Aster" every time she thought I was being especially bitchy. I remember one time in particular during my middle school years in Alabama. My mother was an excellent seamstress, and she often picked up side jobs with the local cleaners to do their alterations. She was an absolute miracle worker when it came to the sewing machine, but I dreaded when she would take it in her mind to make something for me. Her sewing had been great for me when I was in elementary school, but once I hit middle school, things were different. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, but homemade clothes, no matter how well-made, always got me crucified at school. During this particular era in that Southern town, if you weren't wearing Eastland shoes, rolled-up stonewashed jeans or shorts (think Baby in Dirty Dancing), and sweaters from Parisian's, then you weren't able to live it down. There were two groups in this town--the really rich, who lived on Country Club Drive (no, really), and the really poor, who lived in hovels and shacks about town. Caught somewhere in the middle, I didn't really fit into either one of these, but social climbing is practically impossible for a kid whose mother insists on trying to "copy" the latest fashions out of a McCall's catalog in the fabric section of Wal-Mart. I could either hurt her feelings or get made fun of, and I did plenty of my share of both.

On this one occasion, she laid out some denim material on her sewing room table. She was obviously very proud of it, and she beamed as she handed me a pattern for what looked like a sack dress with a butterfly collar. (I had been pining for a denim dress, something all the Country Club Drive girls had been wearing, and I had told her as much.) But, there I was, abysmal and on the spot, as she asked me what I thought of the material and pattern. It's so hard to be tactful when you're that young. I hated it, but I didn't know how to tell her that--she was already too emotionally invested in her idea to produce for me the dress of my dreams.

Then, unexpectedly, she gave me an out..."If you don't really like it, or think you won't wear it, just tell me. Then I won't go to the trouble to make it.." she said with a little hesitation. I heaved an inner sigh of relief. I was off the hook! "Mom," I said, "I just don't think it's something I would wear." There. I said it. I could go about my business. But, no. She was not going to let me get away that easily. As if bouncing back, she said, "Well, let me go ahead and make it, and then, once it's all together, I'm sure you'll love it." I sunk right there where I stood on that marbled-blue sewing room carpet.

All that week, I cringed at the sound of that rhythmic whirring of the sewing machine as it wove my social doom. When my mother finally called me in to view the finished product, I had a specially prepared speech that I would use to try to convey to her how the kids would treat me if I walked into school with that homemade dress on. But as soon as I walked into that room and saw my mom's proud face, my speech flew directly out the window and into the camellia bushes.

I wish I could say that I accepted the dress that day with love and gratitude, and that I wore it with dignity because it was made by a mother who had put it together with her own hands and heart. But a thirteen-year old doesn't always think in those loving and gracious terms. I was honest instead, which is sometimes the worst thing you can be when you're talking to your mother. I told her simply, "I'm sorry. I just can't wear it." And that was it, except for the terms "Miss Aster" and "ungrateful child" that dropped from my mothers lips like little daggers (which turned out to be every bit as ugly and hurtful as anything that the kids at school could have said to me). And, yes, they echo into eternity, making me feel terribly guilty even as an adult.

I don't know whatever happened to that dress. I don't even recall trying it on. But I did manage to think out loud yesterday, as I was submerging those purple asters into that hard Georgia clay. "You know, mom," I said, "asters are actually really pretty flowers." I know that she probably laughed, wherever she is, and I know she's probably forgiven me by now.

4 Things not left unsaid:

Diva Carla said...

Wandered over from the CDMD, and I love this post. I can't believe your mom called you Miss Aster. You got off lucky. When I was too uppity I got called "Miss Astor Butt!" That is really hard on a 12 year old.
My mother made me blue jeans. Grrr.

She also made me a swingy, cingy, little red mini dress that I loved to wear. I was hot but didn't know it!

I'll enjoy visiting with you again.

Keetha said...

Oh, honey. What a touching post. What is it about things like that, they linger with us.

And yea you for planting fall flowers! I'm very impressed by that: "fall" flowers. Like you must plant "spring" flowers, too. I am just thrilled that all the ferns, the ferns that I watered not once this summer because it never occured to me to do so, did not all die.

Searching for a pen... said...

It's funny that you should mention the ferns. (: I cut my dying ferns way back with some kitchen scissors a few days ago. I had planned to write a whole post about it, likening it to what we have to do also in our lives--every once in a while it becomes necessary off cut off the "dead stuff" (i.e. bad relationships, outmoded thought-processes, etc.), so that way down deep, our "roots" can get/stay healthy. Anyway...(:

Megan said...

Loved this post. The flowers are beautiful. This time of year makes me nostalgic too, often bittersweet. Yet here I am swathed in expectant red papers! : ) Thank you much.