Every time that I hear Dolly Parton sing her “Coat of Many Colors” song I stop and listen again to every word. It says so much.
I recently read the true story of a family with several children and good parents who did not have enough money to provide a party dress for each of the three oldest girls. Fortunately, they were
nearly the same height, though not the same size. Their mother selected a pattern that was loose at the
waist and a ribbon sash was used to gather the folds to make it fit all three. This meant that if an invitation included more than one girl, an excuse had to be made for why the other two could not
attend, but they willingly accepted this plan.
When I was small, a neighbor family had two girls, both skinny but with several inches difference in height. At the beginning of the school year, it was customary for a child to have a new dress, but as
above, there was money for only one dress. This mother managed to sew a rather deep hem in the dress, and overnight she would rip out the hem and lower or raise it so each sister would have a new dress to wear to school.
At the time I felt a little sorry for the girls, because no doubt the schoolmates recognized the same dress, but they wore it proudly nonetheless. Later on in life, tears would come to my eyes as realized the love of that mother and the attention that she gave to that dress to keep it washed when
needed and ready for the next sister’s turn.
Not that my closet was stuffed with clothes, but I had plenty as I saw it. Flour sacks made good petticoats and my mother could turn floral feed sacks into pretty dresses, starched and ironed crisp
without a single wrinkle.
I remember well one particular time during those Great Depression years when I had outgrown my church dress and there was not sufficient egg or cream money to buy new material. My mother
assessed the situation, painstakingly ripped apart her wedding dress and fashioned a beautiful dress for
Hers was not a formal traditional bridal dress but a nice dress-up dress which was typical for most brides to choose before the white suit era of later years. The fabric was dark blue silk crepe de
chine that was luxurious, compared to the most common fabric that we called calico.
She removed ecru lace cuffs from another old dress and shaped them to be an overlay collar. Finished on the bodice with a row of gold-tripped buttons given to me by elderly cousin “Aunt” Addie from her button box when I was at her house, my new dress was the prettiest thing that I had ever seen.
Somewhere during my elation, my mother quietly cautioned—in a tone that I knew was to be
obeyed—“Do not tell anyone that I made your dress from my wedding dress.”
I didn’t tell, but at the
moment I did not fully understand. I now do. The sentimental tradition of preserving her wedding dress
had been outweighed by her love for me. No one else needed to know.
I still have “our” dress, and it still speaks lovingly to me.