A seamstress can touch a lot of lives with a needle, bobbin, and thread. The Button Jar.
July 16, 2013
A VG Serial: The Button Jar.
“It just seemed like the thing to do,” she told Bertha.
“So I just did it.”
“If I had waited until tomorrow, I am sure I wouldn’t have done it.”
Bertha never forgot those words.
Even before the sewing machine arrived, Miriam went about the business of learning as much as she could as fast as she could from wherever she could about being not only a seamstress but a master of it.
She learned not only the lexicon of it but the method of it; she learned about bobbins and needle threading and stitching and measuring and bias tape and seams and casing and eyelets and darning and ruffles and frills.
She learned by reading everything she could get her hands on about sewing, by questioning and watching those expert at it and, yes, by using her imagination.
And, as she later would smile and say:
“By guess and by gum.”
The thought of having to repay that spur-of-the-moment loan frightened her, prodded her.
But, in time and through practice and through a large and frustrating and trying investment of trial and error, Miriam was the recognized seamstress in Mansfield and thereabouts and was the seamstress of choice of the upper class women who could afford her services.
As she sewed, Miriam taught Bertha not only about bobbins and needle threading and button hole making and all the rest but, just as importantly, how to track her costs and charge so as to make a fair profit.
Bertha learned well.
In time, Bertha began to assist her own family by earning money as a seamstress.
Like her mother, she sewed for the wives and children of some of the better-to-do folks in town – bankers, doctor, lawyers, merchants.
During the winter months, she would teach other mothers for free how to sew so that by the start of school in the fall they could have clothes made for their children
Being a seamstress gave her usefulness – even status – in other ways.
Each spring, when the school senior class play was produced, Bertha would without charge make the costumes.
She never mentioned it, but she would be pleased when at the bottom of the sometimes smudged Mimeographed school play program there would be this three-word acknowledgement:
“Costumes by Bertha.”
Her last name was never printed there. She didn’t want it to be.
Of course, she also sewed for Beatrice and Bonnie and, on occasion when he would let her, Bobby Two.
But primarily her familial sewing was for Beatrice and Bonnie. She made dresses and blouses for her daughters – Beatrice in her favorite color of green and Bonnie in her chosen color of burgundy.
Bobby Two was another story. Bertha always called him a little man’s man, beginning about the time he denounced his given name of Bobby II and, in keeping with his mischievous bent, started at first printing and later cursive writing his name on school assignment papers as Bobby Two.
Bobby Two liked that. He also liked the attention it got him, especially at school and later at other places in town.
Sometimes, after the classroom had emptied at school, he would go up to the blackboard, get some chalk and write:
“Bobby Two was here!”
Bertha would tell him to stop doing that.
But he never did.
Bobby Two really did not like his mother making his clothes. He insisted the boys at school would call him a sissy. He would pick his jeans and shirts from the Sears catalog and Bertha would order them for him.
There was one exception. Bobby Two saw a tweed coat in the catalog and liked it. Bertha bought some cloth and made it for him. She put some oversized, chocolate brown, wooden buttons on it. The coat had four pockets with flaps on them – two pockets at the top, two pockets below, about waist level.
Bobby Two loved that coat, which he for some reason called his country coat. He would wear it when dress-up time required it; to night time school functions, to church, to the occasional funeral.
It pleased Bertha that she could at least make one item of clothing that pleased Bobby Two.
Still, there was a breakthrough – although much, much later — with Bobby Two. When he was marrying Jane, Bertha had made him a shirt in his favorite color, French blue, and had put some mother of pearl buttons on it that she had bought on one of her rare trips to Dallas. She hoped he would wear it on the couple’s going away trip to their honeymoon.
Bobby Two surprised her. When he had changed from his tuxedo into his going away clothes, Bobby Two had put on the French blue shirt with the mother of pearl buttons.
When she saw Bobby Two in the shirt, she smiled at him.
He smiled back at her. Broadly.
Bertha was pleased.
Weeks later, she received in the mail a color picture of Bobby Two, dressed in the French blue shirt.
With the color photo, he included this hand-written note:
“I wish I had always let you make my shirts. I shall forever cherish this one. Love, Bobby Two.”
Chapters of the Roger Summers short story, The Button Jar, will be published on Tuesday.
Please click the book title, Heart Songs from a Washboard Road, to read more about the collected short tories of Roger Summers.