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Heirlooms Can be Key in Unlocking Characters

Photo of a mother and daughter, with clothes displaying their sewing skills
I love the hand-stitched detail in the dress my mother’s wearing in this portrait of her and her mother.

The key into a character can be as simple as a sewing basket that goes unnoticed until something causes me to remember why I’ve kept it.  It belonged to my mother.  Her mother made it.

Memories flood in—hours in fabric departments. Mom laying out a pattern.  Cutting, matching notches, pinning, fitting. Machine stitching. Marking the hem—Stand still!  Finishing and pressing.  Here!  Try it on! What do you think?

Mom poured all of her talent—and love—into the things she made for me.  A cowgirl outfit when I was a kid.  A tailored faille dress for a father-daughter dance and a white one over-layered with silk chiffon for high school graduation.  The last, most beautiful thing she made was a wedding gown for my daughter.

I have a picture of Mom wearing a dress her mother made for her. Sewing, with the expectation and routine it entailed, the accomplishment, the pleasure, the independence, and the satisfaction of having something to give, were basic to who they were.

Photo of a two-handled hand-woven basket holding
My grandmother made this basket, which, I believe, has always held mending and darning projects (remember darning?!).

Moss Trawnley’s mother, in HITCH, weathered the hard times of the Great Depression a state over from these real women, in Louisiana rather than Texas, and under much more difficult circumstances. The three of them would have understood each other, though, if they’d come together over a pattern book, and knowing that helped me find Mrs. Trawnley’s story.

This is a letter she wrote to her son:

Dear Moss,

            I wished you might see how good things are here and you are a lot of the reason. I know as you meant me to use your CCC pay money for the little ones and I have been, but with some of your extra leader pay I bought myself a dress and shoes not to be ashamed of.

            Then I said to Mr. Willis at the Dry Goods didn’t he need somebody selling yard goods who can find the straight of the material.  Goodness knows he has been making ladies unhappy with his cuts that make you throw so much in the scrap bag before you can lay out a pattern.  He said he would try me in Fabrics and Notions and business has picked up there so I am now on regular.

            Also your Pa is now appered on the earth again, and is on the WPA, only in Calif. this time, so between all I breethe easier than in years.  Not forgetting you pitched in when I was so worried how even to buy food.  You are a good boy, Moss.

            Yr loving mother, Bertha Trawnley.

 — Jeanette Ingold