March is Women’s History Month. I planned to write a new post today to celebrate a universally celebrated woman, but I have two excuses for re-blogging this post from February, 2019: (1) I was glued to the televised Senate confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court nominee by President Biden of a Black woman, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who I sincerely believe will one day be universally celebrated (2) I unabashedly celebrate one of the women who was certainly not well known beyond Grimes and Walker County, Texas but a woman who loved me dearly for as long as she lived.
my early years in my hometown of rural Richards, Texas
my dad and me at a family picnic in matching shirts
made by my grandmother (circa 1951)
a birthday party dress made by my grandmother (circa 1951)
my grandmother made this dress and a picture postcard of me
for her family Easter card in 1949
Bless her heart. My grandmother tried and tried to reshape my fashions which upon reflection she probably hoped would reshape my life. One of the most dreaded phrases my mother ever spoke to me – the one that made me cringe-was “Your grandmother is making you a new dress and needs you to walk down to her house to try it on. No arguments, no whining, just go.”
I absolutely hated to stand on her little stool while she endlessly pinned away to make sure the pattern she bought from a grand clothing store in the much bigger town of Navasota fit perfectly on my small body. She pulled, tugged here and there, made me turn around as she measured whatever cloth she had purchased when she bought the pattern. I prayed silently that the aroma I smelled was her pineapple fried pies…the only possible redemption from the hell of being poked and prodded for a new dress I didn’t want to wear.
My grandmother Betha Day Robinson Morris and I lived within shouting distance of each other in the tiny town (pop. about 500) of Richards until my dad found a new job that took us out of the place I called home when I was 13 years old. Our new home in Brazoria was less than two hours from Richards so we came back every other week for most of my teenage years. Distance did not deter my grandmother from her sewing, however.
She usually managed to have something for me to try on whenever we visited. I finally surrendered to her passion for sewing because as I grew older I came to understand sewing was an important part of her life, but to this day I dread hearing Pretty say she brought something home for me to try on.
my grandmother surveys her granddaughters
before Easter Sunday church services in 1963
I was 17 years old and wearing a dress my grandmother made for me
while my younger cousin Melissa modeled her store-bought outfit
My grandmother continued to sew for me until I was in my twenties. Every Christmas she wrapped a large box in her best wrapping paper and favorite bow saved from the previous Christmas to give to me. I always opened with feigned surprise at the dress she made for me to wear to church and praised her for being able to still find the perfect pattern and material for me even when I wasn’t there to try it on.
I’ll never forget the last time I opened a gift of clothing she made for me. She had made a pants suit – unbelievable. I could see she was pleased with herself for breaking from the dress tradition she wanted me to wear to making the pants she now understood would forever be my choice of clothes. The year was 1968 – I was 22 years old – my grandmother would have been 55. The pants suit represented a rite of passage for both of us.
Unfortunately, I never could bring myself to wear the pants suit which was made with a hideous polyester fabric and a horrible bright green and white large zig zag pattern. I couldn’t bring myself to wear it, but I carried it with me around the country wherever I moved for the next 30 years. I would carefully hang it in my closet as a daily reminder of the love my grandmother gave me for as long as she lived.
My grandmother Betha was a flawed individual but what I wouldn’t give today to hear my mother say “Sheila Rae, your grandmother is making you a new dress and wants you to try it on. No arguments, no whining, just go.”
P.S. When our granddaughter Ella gets new clothes, she can’t wait to try them on! Her mother Pretty Too has a friend Nicole who has a sewing machine and recently taught herself how to sew in a week – my grandmother would have been very impressed with that.