Monday, December 25, 2006

Old rose ramblings

I wore an "old rose" blouse today. Got it on sale, of course. It has sewn-in darts, woven stripes, and machine-embroidered embellishments. Fritzi would have approved, although she could have sewn a better-fitting one.

Chocolate brown has returned to the little girl fashion scene. My little students are wearing brown with pink, turquoise, or lime green, and it fills me with an irrational hope for the future. The color combo and the floral print corduroy tug deep in my core to a basic sense memory of what it is to be a little daughter safe, cherished, and nurtured.

When my sons were small I read a story written by Fred Rogers, yes, Mr. Rogers, about how our feeling of home and safety is connected with our earliest memories of colors, patterns, sounds, and smells. I've never been able to find the story again. It may be that it is more powerful to me because I can't find it, and therefore keep looking! The story told of a young woman who was seeking a Persian rug for her home. As a very young child she had moved often to places all over the world, but her parents had always taken one rug to each new location. The young woman was searching for a rug exactly like the one she had learned to crawl on as an infant, but she didn't know it. That pattern would connect with her earliest remembered experience of "home".

The annual blouse sale at the Miller & Paine Department Store Budget Shop on the lower level of Gateway Mall in Lincoln, Nebraska, just down the stairs from Kresge's, was a crazy event in the late Sixties. Women would stand in line for the chance to paw through the racks and get into the fitting rooms. The Budget Store was also the place to get day-old Miller & Paine bakery bread, cinnamon rolls, and crumb cookies, and I can smell each of them just remembering! I can also smell the tired linoleum floor tiles and a hint of sizing. The stairwell from Kresge's down to the Budget Store smelled of ancient popcorn, plastic floral wreaths, dirty snow, and parakeet cages.

Going with Fritzi to the blouse sale was an acknowledgment that I was becoming a young woman, which was very scary, uncharted territory. Fritzi wanted me to have new clothes for ninth grade. The blouses I chose would inspire her fabric choices and sewing efforts to create outfits. She would even knit a coordinating sweater vest. It was a heavy burden, given my mother's perfectionism. I knew these choices allowed no middle ground, no enjoyment of the shopping experience for its own sake. This was Red Rover all over again.

Still, I recall each of the six blouses as if the sale were yesterday. The "old rose" blouse was a simple short sleeve blouse with the sleeves folded up. I had never heard the phrase "old rose" before I went into the fitting room, and I was sure I would look like an elderly spinster great aunt. Instead, the color is one of the most flattering for my hair and skin.

My next choice was a delicate, textured pattern of pale yellow and sage green vines on an ecru background of wide seersucker with very full sleeves. Fritzi chose a sage green wool remnant to make a simple button-front jumper with brushed silver buttons. The wool made me itch, but I will keep choosing sage and silver combinations as long as I live.

The third blouse was white with tiny woven stripes of embroidered blue, pink, and yellow flowers. The leaves were pale green, so the blouse also went with the jumper. Thirty-eight years later, I seek out the embroidered fashions. Fritzi also made royal blue culottes to go with the blouse, and I was grateful they weren't wool.

I wore the olive green shirt with the exaggerated cuffs and collar for my ninth grade photo. I tied a paisley scarf knotted like a necktie, and wished I looked more like a Mary Quant/Jean Shrimpton /Twiggy-esque model in my Yardley white lipgloss. There was only so much Edholm and Blomgren Photographers could do to make me look better! The photo shows a ninth-grader far more childlike and naive than most of my current third grade students.

The fifth shirt was a simple warm light blue. The color was so satisfying with the chocolate brown skirt and the brown and white groovy mod scarf around the neck! I was definitely channeling Petula Clark here, and not sleeping on the subway!

In those days I felt the most glamorous in the button-down-the-back peach blouse with the extravagant ruffled neck that made me look like a tropical fruit-flavored signer of the Declaration of Independence. Fritzi created a peachy tweed outfit of pantskirt and long vest with covered buttons. Then she knit a coral sweater vest, and found matching coral tights. How amazing that we dressed so nicely just to crank the journalism class mimeograph machine!

That blouse sale in my Wonder Years still tints my color choices. On some deep level it feels like home, both safe and with psychic baggage.

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