I REMEMBER MAMA ON MOTHER’S DAY

My mama, as she would refer to herself in the Southern way, was a “pistol.” My dad called her “Pistol-packin’ mama;” the phrase is from an old country song. He was right: those were qualities an Army officer’s wife had to learn as she stood up for herself and her children (she raised three of us).

As the seventh of eight children, Mom had practiced being her own person early in life. When it’s Mother’s Day, I remember Mama and all the effort she put into making sure her kids had the best she could give. In retrospect, I can truly appreciate her creative efforts, which came right from her heart. It’s difficult to write this story without tears: Garnette Motley Williams died 39 years ago this month. She wasn’t quite 53. She didn’t go to college, but she knew a great deal about life and how to treat people with love and consideration. She let her heart dictate and then she went for it–whatever she chose to do– with enthusiasm and energy.

                                                                                                                             
Passport photo –Tupper, Victoria, Darby, Garnette

Besides being the best wife, mother, sister, cousin and friend she could manage, her primary talent was sewing.   She tried her hand and/or Singer at almost everything stitchable: slipcovers and drapes, specialized window coverings (swag and jabot, Empire style sheer curtains), men’s shirts and ties, children’s clothing and almost any fashionable garment for women. When I was younger I had a Madame Alexander doll, about six inches tall, and she made tiny outfits for it. Her creations for me assured that I’d be stylish despite my dad’s thrifty habits. She kept the old Singer sewing machine humming; it came along with us to various Army posts, including Tripoli, Libya. During my teenage years in the Middle East, we found material, probably in an Italian shop, and set up our version of an assembly line to sew clothes for the two of us. Mom and I wore the same size and would pick out a pattern that was suitable for both, although we’d use material of different colors and patterns. We didn’t want to look like twins!  I would cut out the pattern and sew the darts, for instance, and Mom would put in the zippers and work on anything difficult. I still remember the cotton 1950s style scoop-neck sundresses: hers had a black background with a lively print; mine was red. Those were the years of puffy crinoline underskirts, which girls had to starch and keep clean to keep their outer skirts sticking out. Mom came up with the unusual idea to use soft plastic chicken wire as an underskirt. It kept its shape longer and was easy to keep clean. As I remember, I didn’t wear it often because it was a little too unique, and I was wary that someone might discover it.

In later years, when I was in college, she made me some elegant party clothes: a spaghetti-strap basic black satin dress with a little short-sleeved jacket with a scalloped bottom that I wore to a college dance, and a sexy, form-fitting black wool sheath with a boat neck and long sleeves I wore to several parties. There were many more creations, but the only garment I still have is my wedding gown. I got married in Germany in the ‘60s while my parents were stationed in Frankfurt. My mother found the ideal satin and lace material, and the perfect net for a veil, and it looked divine. It even had a small train. The gown is stored in a box, without all the fancy acid-free tissue of today. Even though I wonder what shape it’s in, it’s comforting to know I still have it. The only garment Mom didn’t make for my wedding was Dad’s suit. Interestingly enough, the wedding dress design  is somewhat similar to the one worn  not long ago  by the new Princess Catherine of the United Kingdom.

Mama on my Wedding Day–she made her dress.

Years later, Mom made my cousin Penny’s wedding gown and her bridesmaids’ dresses as well. After all the work on Penny’s gown, Mom ironed it, but the iron was too hot and lifted off some of the material on the front of the dress. Mom agonized, but Penny’s sense of humor and practicality wouldn’t let my mother fret.  “I’m glad it’s you who did it and not me! It doesn’t matter because my flowers will cover it,” Penny declared.  After the ceremony and a few glasses of champagne, Penny cared even less: it was a funny sorry to tell all her guests. I didn’t always appreciate Mom’s talents. Regrettably, especially in college, I envied the girls whose parents gave them money to buy clothes in a department store. It was only later that I figured out that my mama’s talented fingers created original attire for me, and they were sewn with all the love she could give. She created clothes for me that could never be bought.

Oh, my Mama Mia, I miss you so!

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