IT’S IN THE GENES


a-hat-for-all-seasons “A HAT FOR ALL SEASONS” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Is there a different category for each of those tiny gene things we confidently assume make up our personality? Just because Great aunt Hattie was an accomplished oboe player, will that make us a musician? If Uncle Henry cashed it in at the ripe old age of 102, does that mean we will follow suit?

Of course not, what a silly thought. But what about the clothes shopping gene? I can only answer for myself, and I’m sorry to say that because of the women in my family and their example, I have not only spent an inordinate amount of time and money in the rag trade, but have passed that gene on to my female descendants, including a ten year old great granddaughter, to my shame.

Call me shallow, but I even remember the new coat I had at age 11 when we went to see “Gone With the Wind”. The Depression made it difficult for people to indulge themselves, so that pink coat was a one-off experience for me.

I can’t remember a time when shoes have not attracted my attention; either on someone’s feet or in a store display. Perhaps it was the effect of the shiny Mary Jane’s my Grandmother bought me. I spent a lot of time washing their soles at the end of the day. One of my first jobs in dressing window displays was trying to make men’s work boots attractive. This was before I made a business of doing it a few years later.

No one can go into the clothing trade unless you truly love clothes. My grandmother, mother and aunt were accomplished seamstresses who also had a great deal of good taste, and I became comfortable sitting at a sewing machine as well. One of my daughters at age six was annoyed with me for not mending the hem of a dress as soon as she wanted it, so she grabbed a needle and thread and did it herself. I think sewing may be a lost art among the young today.

My mother in law tired of sewing soon after I married and gifted me with her old electric sewing machine. They were not always electrified. As a small child staying with an auntie, I slept in her sewing room, where her old foot pedal Singer machine stood.

My ‘new’ sewing machine was a Damascus Grand. It had copper fittings inside and when it need repair, there was only one old man in town who knew how to fix it. It perked away for years, keeping me and the girls presentable, eventually turning out clothes for the grandchildren. When it finally gave up the ghost, we made a lamp out of the head, which stands now in my studio.

We seldom throw things away, sometimes keeping them long after their usefulness is a memory. It is fortunate to have a friend of the same size and taste as your own, and closet cleaning is a fine time to share. Some years ago a friend called and asked if I could come help her clear out her closet. You can only do that with a close friend. At the end of the afternoon, glass of wine in hand, she decided she could bear to pass along a pair of light green sling back shoes I had admired. A few days later she knocked on my door at 7:30 a.m. to say she really wanted them back. What could I do? Sometimes we become too attached to our belongings.

So saying, I said a sad goodbye to my collection of ‘never-to-be-worn-again shoes by loading them into the trunk of a friend’s car. She is happy.

LITTLE GOODY TWO SHOES


goody-two-shoes

Trading insults over a card table one evening, a friend tossed out a challenge in retaliation to one of my own: “OK, Little Goody Two Shoes!”

It’s such an old saying, but where did it come from? We’ve all read the story of the little orphan girl who had only one shoe, and how smug she became when she finally acquired a second. But the phrase was older than the story.

I began searching, and found that the 1765 nursery rhyme seems to have been possibly–a neat kind of backformation, where a story was invented to account for the phrase. Or perhaps the story existed as an oral folk tale before it arrived in print.

The story itself was so long it was called the first children’s novel and even compared to Cinderella who also had a missing shoe. The difference between the two stories is that Goody went about gloating over her good fortune which gives us the moral: don’t shout about your sudden good fortune; it makes you hard to be around. Remember that when you win the lottery or get a new pair of shoes.

The phrase was in use even before the story; it’s found in Charles Cotton’s 1670 book “Voyage To Ireland In Burlesque”. But who wrote the story? First published in 1765, it is thought that Oliver Goldsmith was possibly the author.

It was around before the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and the works of Lewis Carroll which attempted to promote excessive goodness to an unbearably sentimental degree. Many of the books I was given as a child praised the good child and sent the bad child to bed with no dinner. Naturally, I did not miss a meal.