(Jo, aged ten years old, 1967.)
Spring in my family meant new spring clothes; a dress or two, new shoes, and a spring coat. Usually the clothing was sewn by my mother, and although I’d see the pattern, and glory in tracing my fingers along the fabric, my sisters and I would only have glimpses of the garments until they were almost finished. Sometimes I’d gaze in wonder and growing anticipation at the little heap of shapes on my mother’s sewing table.
She had a small sewing room right off the kitchen at our house. My bedroom was directly above it, and often I could hear the whirring of the sewing machine at night when I drifted off to sleep. It was a lullaby that always made me feel loved.
My mother was happy when she sewed. "You’re going to love it", she would say, smiling, "As soon as I saw that material, I knew it was exactly the right shade to bring out the green in your eyes." Or, "Princess Anne has a dress just like the one I‘m making you. I saw it in my magazine." In a trifling, I’d imagine myself in my new dress, feeling beautiful as the material floated around me.
The year I was ten years old, my mother sewed me a cape for my new spring coat. It was of pink Melton cloth with a darker pink silk lining and magenta buttons. I hated it! I had expected a coat. The picture on the front of the pattern had showed three figures. My eyes had fixated on the two in coats, barely noting the one girl wearing a cape. No one in my class wore a cape. Nor did anyone else I knew.
My mother, as she measured the hem line on me, knew immediately that I didn’t like it. I also knew I would have to wear it anyway. That didn’t stop me protesting, though. My disappointment came flooding out in a litany of grievances:
"Nobody wears a cape. Nobody!"
"Everyone is going to laugh at me."
"Couldn’t I just wear my old coat?"
My face burned with dislike, and also with shame at having offended my mother.
I wore my cape to school for the first time, filled with mute despair. I tried to carry my satchel strategically front of me, and place my arms in such a way that it hid the fact that it was a cape. To no avail, of course, and my fears of being teased were realized. Being called, "Stinky Pinky Bat Girl!" really doesn’t sound all that dreadful now, but I was a very sensitive little girl, and at the time it stung to the quick.
A few weeks after the cape made its debut, my father had business in London and he took me with him for the day. This was a rare treat, and I was thrilled, despite having to wear my pink nemesis.
As I waited in a rather grand reception room as my father attended his meeting, my eyes were increasingly drawn to a beautiful young woman sitting at the big polished desk. I don’t remember what she was wearing, just that I was very impressed with her beauty and poise.
As my father and I went to leave, I was startled when this elegant being spoke to me, "Your cape is just lovely. It’s the very height of fashion. You look so chic in it!" I left the building feeling almost like I had just had a bath; clean, transformed.
My father and I went out for lunch, and then to feed the pigeons at Trafalgar Square. He snapped my picture as I stood there in my pink cape. The delight of that spring day glows in my face.
In time I grew to love that cape. In fact, I wish I still had it.
(This is a Saturday Sepia post.)