Thursday, August 25, 2016


      Every year when County Fair time comes around, there blooms in my mind the memory of an embarrassing project I entered for the judging at our Fair in 1954. 
     Earlier that year, I had signed up for 9th grade sewing class. All I really learned there was how much I hated sewing. I asked my mother to sign for me to drop the class, and she refused. What I had started, I must finish.
     The summer afterward, my mother was surprised to learn I had agreed to make a bright sundress to enter into judging at the Fair. Perhaps I figured it would serve as proof that I had seen those classes through and actually had learned something. 
     On opening day, I took a last look at the dress. With new-found clarity, I saw the truth---I had butchered all that splendid floral fabric!  I had lost my battle with my mother's old-time, out-of-sorts and out-of-repair, treadle-style Singer sewing machine. 
     In truth, however, I knew that poor machine was not responsible for my own shortcomings. My seaming was unprofessional; the detailing was minimal and far from perfect; and the shoulder ties were less a style choice than my way of overcoming fruitless efforts at making sleeves. Even in the muted shadows of the fading afternoon, I could see my dress would not stand up to judging.
     In despair, I asked my mother, "Can I just forget to take the dress?"  Once again my mother said a project, once committed, must go through. Pointing to my flower garden, she suggested that I take along a second category for the judging. Was there time? "You have some minutes left," she told me. "Do what you know."
     I hurried to my garden---It always always gave me joy!---and I clipped and snipped until my arms were full of flowers. From a shelf I took my mother's favorite vase, a graceful, patterned Grecian shape in lustrous black; and contemplating vase and flowers, I followed a creative impulse.
     My bright bouquet had all the beauty of a sun-drenched wildflower field, and I dropped the brilliance of the flowers into the darkness of my mother's vase. Plunked in place without design or preparation, they smiled back at me, and I liked the daring carelessness of what I saw.
      As for myself, I felt a little dashing, too. My hopeless dress, draped across my forearm, was a backdrop for the flowers I was cradling, and I headed to the Fair.
     My flowers took First Place and won a lot of praise. For just a moment I felt guilty, as if my mother's handsome vase had won the prize. Then I thought of all the love and labor I had put into the garden that produced the blooms. Like my gardens, those blooms reflected some of what I loved and what I knew.  Mom was right!
      I wasn't wrong about the dress, of course. It didn't win a ribbon, and I cringed to see it on display among the rest. I quietly removed it and took it home.
     In later years I warned my husband when he proposed to me, to withdraw the question if he thought I'd ever sew for him. And still, he wanted me to be his wife. 
     Through all our married years since 1960, he has always smiled to see his vegetable gardens interspersed with flowers by a wife who doesn't care that they're not edible... 
     And he has loved to see his summer rooms adorned with flowers from the gardens of a wife who doesn't give a snap for sewing and admits it freely without guilt... 
     But he has always known that, if his socks need darning,  he will have to throw away the socks and buy some new ones.
     And that's the truth. You can blame it on the Fair if you see fit.