The Past Meets the Present
I spoke with an old friend today and we were reminiscing about our teenage years. She is going through a change in her life and like many of us do, she reached out to her past in order to make peace with the present. We had met during our eighth grade year of school and quickly become friends. Neither of us were a part of the "happening" crowd and we spent many hours talking about our dreams, our parents, and of course, boys.
Together we had planned to change our lives by changing our appearance and becoming more refined than the other girls we knew. At that point, we thought it would be wonderful to become fashion designers and to make that happen, we both signed up for the beginner's Home Economics class when we started our Freshman year of high school. We were living in the 70's and bell bottomed pants were all the rage. I had watched my favorite aunt sew clothes for years and she had made it look so easy that I was determined there could not possibly be much work to the sewing art and I would master it in no time at all.
My friend, Patti, had taken to sewing like a duck takes to water. She had a natural eye for coordinating colors and using the perfect sized stitch to make the fabric appear seamless. I had not been at all prepared for the seemingly endless sewing of seams; seams that had to be torn out and put back again until they were perfect. Nor was I expecting my index finger to become a living pin cushion being pricked with the needlepoint time and time again even when I used a thimble. The thimble, of course, never seemed to stay on my finger. Most of the time I had to sift through the thread that was lying all over the floor to find the shiny silver finger protector that didn't seem to work for me.
Patti and I both survived the class, barely, and after placing yards of colorful fabric into the split seams of every pair of jeans we owned we decided to try our hands at putting together a dress. As we imagined it, this would not be just any dress, it would be a dress that every girl envied and every male with hot blood running through his veins would want to chase. After searching through every pattern in the fabric shop we finally found one that we thought might work for our soon to be sewn together dresses. It was to be a snug fitting princess line dress with ruffles trimming the half sleeves and five gold buttons down the front that were meant to draw attention to cleavage. Patti chose a cherry red velour for her dress and I settled on a dark blue velour for mine. Keep in mind, the fashion scene at that time was filled with the peasant look but we could not possibly settle for looking like a peasant. We wanted to look worldly, educated, and of course, desirable beyond any person's imagination.
We spent hours altering the dresses, hemming and hemming again to shorten the original pattern and assure that the fit was as tight as possible without making it impossible to breathe. We had found an old wire dress form that had once belonged to my mother's sister when she still had a waist. We pinned, we sewed, we learned to curse, and we sang but we did not give up on our dream dresses. By the time we had completed the dresses we had nearly outgrown them, it had taken that long. Without realizing it, we had kept ourselves occupied and focused on our goal while the rest of the world seemed to stand still.
Patti swears that her dress was the only thing that helped her get a date for the prom that year. She talked about the dress day after day during lunch break and finally, just a few days before the prom, she was invited to attend with a boy that was only half-bad looking. We laughed because I remembered who escorted her to the prom and she couldn't remember his name. "Good grief, Dianna, he walked beside of me without touching me or looking at my face. The dress made me feel beautiful and the main thing I remember about him is that he had on a nice suit with white and blue sneakers. I was embarrassed to be seen dancing with him." It had taken her two weeks past the night of the prom to convince the guy she was moving to Alaska with her family to work on the pipeline that was still in the planning phase. He finally figured out that she was not eager for his attention.
We both laughed and she reminded me of how great I had looked in my dress. If only I could have seen it! I hadn't attended the prom but I had agreed to go to a dance with a boy from school about two weeks after the prom. In a moment of temporary insanity, I had decided that I could not possibly wear my eye glasses with such a beautiful dress. It would take away from the glamour and sophistication of the evening as I had imagined it in my mind. So, for the entire evening, I could never really see my date's face and I groped my way through the crowd. People all around me were nothing more than blurred shapes, soft around the edges, shining in the light that streamed down from the ceiling like rays of sunshine from Heaven. It didn't matter to me because I FELT gorgeous for the first time in my life!
For the longest time, Patti and I were a matched set. You never saw one without the other. We had bonded that year as we learned and changed. There had been something almost spiritually satisfying about creating our own dresses and having some control over our lives for the first time in our lives. We had stopped worrying so much about other people and learned to pay attention and respect to the world around us.
We took a rafting trip with a group of other teenagers that summer (I wore my glasses so I was able to see my surroundings). It was beautiful and dangerous, capturing our sense of adventure and our need to walk on the wild side if even for a brief time. Most of the other people with us had carried containers for throwing water at each other from raft to raft but we hadn't thought of that. We became perfect targets and normally that would have bothered me but this time, as battle fever moved from one raft to the next in rapid succession, I just felt relaxed and enjoyed the splash of the water as it cooled my body.
Patti lives in Michigan now and has a family of her own. She started her own business after her thirtieth birthday just over twenty years ago. Would you believe she mends and does alterations on clothing? The only sewing I do is simple repairs to my own clothing, normally repairing a seam or replacing a button. Patti and I agreed on one thing before we ended our conversation today. We have both worked hard but neither one of us has enjoyed a bed of roses. The good times have been few and far between but the bad times have never overwhelmed us. We are both comfortable in our own skin and we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you do not have to have a "good time" in order to have a good life.
The world may not know we exist but we have friends and family who loves us just as we are. I don't think we could ever match the feeling of accomplishment and success we felt the first time we wore our handmade dresses but the sun still rises in the east and goes down in the west as it always has and both of us have survived to enjoy it. Maybe just for the fun of it, I'll bring out my rusty sewing machine and try to sew myself a new dress. This one, however, will be far more practical and durable because if it reflects the woman I am now, it has to be sturdy and tough!
© Dianna Doles Petry