It all began when my mother and my great-niece came for a long-weekend visit.
“Auntie Terry Anne,” little Gemma said excitedly, opening her small polka-dotted suitcase. “I brought my Barbie to stay too.”
Presenting the slender figure to me, I realized that this was my own childhood doll. I smiled, surprised and elated to see her again. In an instant, I was transported back to my small childhood bedroom, brushing Barbie’s hair, wishing away my russet red curls with every brush stroke of her golden locks.
Then I noticed the array of clothes – instantly recognizable, as if my doll’s hand-sewn wardrobe was etched somewhere deep within me. I was that small girl yet again, pondering which outfit to choose. Perhaps the pink gown stitched from the left-over fabric from a bridesmaid’s gown. Maybe the lace-trimmed, blue fortrel dress? No, today it’s the jazzy jumpsuit, in all its purple and white pizazz. And all of those tiny clothes were stitched carefully… by my mother.
I remember the joy I felt when a new piece of couture was made ready for my Barbie, each unveiling as thrilling as a fine Christmas morning. I’ve always adored them and now they prompted a conversation with my mom.
In Monday Morning Emails, you’ll read of a tragic trauma in my childhood and of my mother’s resilience. Yet before that event that propelled her from the misery of her marriage onto a new path, even then she was resourceful, tremendously hard-working, and always loving. The memory that these clothes evoked flooded my senses, warming my soul.
“I just always sewed,” mom told me, “and in reality, designing each piece was kind of therapeutic… and an escape.”
“I understand. When I was a little girl they were wonderful clothes for my doll. I see now there was love in every stitch, I think they’re amazing.”
It was then a delight to relate the story to four-year-old Gemma. Wonderfully, she plays with that Barbie, clothed in none other than her great-grandmother’s expert tailoring.
“Opoe made these?” Gemma exclaimed, her expressive face, showing genuine surprise. “Let’s play Auntie Terry Anne,” she said insistently grabbing my hand. “Come!”
Then today, we were together again at my parents’ home. It’s a cloudy Sunday afternoon and we find more evidence of the family’s sartorial past-times. On a whim, I’ve donned my wedding dress and though the back remains slightly unfastened, it’s the first time in twenty-eight years that I’ve felt the urge to re-acquainte myself with my bridal gown. Just before my wedding, that dress had undergone last-minute tailoring by my beloved great-aunt from Amsterdam. The memory warms my heart and I long for her now, just to add another inch to help the long row of delicate buttons meet their dainty eyelets. Tante Klara would easily bring it to life again. No doubt with a re-design that would have been a joy to her seamstress’s soul.
Meanwhile, my mom has brought out an aged leather suitcase from storage. It’s brimming with simple childhood dresses and she recalls they were stitched by this same aunt who she was ever fond of.
“This is the one I’m wearing in one of my favourite photos,” she says, holding up a simple olive-coloured cotton frock. The photo is the last family photo taken on Dutch soil before the ship carrying her family sailed to Canada.
But there are more pressing matters at hand than fashion and tailoring musings.
“Come Auntie Terry Anne,” Gemma says reaching for my hand. “Let’s go play with the doll house.”
And we do, along with my niece Jessica and Gemma’s devoted great-grandmother, we make-believe around the well-appointed, darling doll house. Four generations, and a Barbie too!