Shirts My Mother Sewed

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘Every morning, after I let Robbie, my seven year old Chocolate Labrador Retriever, out into the backyard, I walk through the house opening the shutters. The morning light fills my house and my life with the glow of a new day. I change into sweats and go to the kitchen where I lay out my place mat and antique silver napkin ring that holds a meticulously folded cloth napkin.

The place mat, one of six, was sewn by my mother from scraps, remnants of material for shirts she sewed for my brother and me, and dresses she sewed for my sister. Patchwork place mats. I look at them and I remember my mother. I look at the individual squares of fabric, and I remember the shirts my mother sewed. I remember how old I was when she sewed them. I remember when I wore them. I remember where we lived. I remember what grade I was in. In the fifth grade, I wore casino shirts. There were long sleeve and short sleeve shirts, striped shirts, plaid shirts, checked shirts. There were wide collar shirts, narrow collar shirts, button down collar shirts. There were shirts always in the latest style.

The shirts my mother sewed, were not only sewn by her, but washed, starched, and ironed by her. My child self didn’t give much thought, if any, to the closet full of made-for-me shirts. I was in high school before I learned that shirts could be bought at a department store.

When I entered high school, my mother began working at a full time job outside of the house and was still ironing my shirts.

“This shirt isn’t ironed right,” my smart-ass-adolescent self said.

“Well, let me show you how to fix that,” she said.

Never tell your mother you don’t like the way she ironed your shirt, my mature adult self thinks.

As a white collar professional, I believed a starched and carefully ironed shirt made an important statement about me, about my commitment to my job, and about the quality of my work. Working full time, I did not have time to wash and iron shirts. I sent them to the laundry.  My mature adult self wonders how my mother accomplished all she did.

Shirts are outgrown, handed down, worn out. Mothers grow old, quit sewing, and die. A set of six patchwork place mats provide a tangible memory of a loving mother and the shirts she sewed.

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