by Margaret Sizemore Clark
In my youth I was what I would consider to be a tomboy. I grew up playing with my older brother’s Matchbox cars. One year for my birthday I received a “huge” Pontiac station wagon car, not a model of one, but a scaled-down version of the real thing, just right for transporting a Barbie, but she hadn’t been invented yet! I was delighted!! I rather enjoyed doing “car” things with my father, and I liked playing in the dirt after a rare rain.
In those days girls were taught all the necessary skills to be a good homemaker, hostess, wife, and mother. Sewing was one of the skills to that end, and being accomplished using a sewing machine was something that my family did well. My mother made matching outfits for me and the sister just a year younger than I, along with the sister that was eight years after her. We frequently received lots of comments about the cute matching dresses or shorts sets when we went places. Additionally, at least two of my sisters learned to sew when they were Girl Scouts. My oldest sister was making her own clothes in high school and became very skilled at it. I was never a Girl Scout. The pressure to conform to “the norm” was mounting, but I resisted. To her credit, Mom kept trying to encourage me to sew but eventually she realized that it wasn’t a good idea to try to force me to learn, and apparently the sewing gene had skipped me, so I dodged that bullet. But in junior high it came up AGAIN: one of my best friends was in 4H and was making her clothes, as were most of my friends. It was pointed out what beautiful, fashionable clothes they were creating, but I wasn’t taking the bait. The last assault on my refusal to learn to sew came when my older sister needed a babysitter for the summer while she and her husband worked. I was invited to come to Oregon to live with their family. Little did I suspect that it was to be another attempt to teach me to sew, and I was trapped! My sister patiently tried yet again to teach me how to sew, and I tried, I really did! I think I made something fairly simple, using straight seams, but when it was done, so was I.
Years later my oldest sister retired to Sisters, Oregon. Now, if you or a loved one are into quilting, you know that Sisters has an outdoor quilt show every July, and the quiet, sleepy little town with about 1500 citizens swells to ten times that much. Women come from all over to take classes, make quilts, compare projects, and see what others have created during the year since they last came to Sisters. My younger sister and two of her friends were teachers, so they were able to make the pilgrimage to “Mecca”, aka Sisters, every summer, a week ahead of the quilt show. During that week they fed their addiction for buying fabric, sewed, taught each other new techniques, and showed off new machines. I was a teacher too, but at a year-round school, so I couldn’t come with them. Eventually I was able to transfer to the track that was closest to the traditional school year, so I was invited to join them, BUT: I was warned that since I didn’t sew, I would have to bring some other type of hobby that would keep me occupied, or else I would have to be “Cinderella” and wait on the others. I complied. I didn’t want to miss out on the shopping trips, the gabbing, and seeing the amazing things they created so I became “The Husband”.
Husbands are the patient angels that come with their wives during Quilt Show week. They are so legendary, that wise quilt store owners have created a special place for them to hang out while their wives shop. There is usually a tent with chairs, and a large ice chest filled with cold water. It fell on me to drive my four “sisters” from fabric store to fabric store and wait in the husband area while they shopped, had the fabric cut, and waited to pay for it. It can be a very time-consuming process, but I was armed with a good book or a crossword puzzle BOOK (not just ONE puzzle) to work on while I waited for them to exit. Back at the house I often ironed pieces of projects while they sewed, or generally helped wherever I was needed. You may be thinking that my “job” sounded an awful lot like one Cinderella might have done, only there was a big difference. I loved doing it. We laughed a lot and we listened to each other while we worked on our projects. We knew when an engagement had been announced or a new baby was expected. We also heard who had lost a loved one, or whose family had a problem. In a very real sense, all five of us were sisters, although not all of us were related by blood. That was the real take-away from the weeks and years we made the trip to Sisters.
One year we all went to the quilt show as usual, slowly wandering through Sisters looking at that year’s quilts, until we came to a building where we stopped. My favorite color is purple, so I went over to inspect a particularly lovely purple quilt. A voice over my shoulder instructed to read the tag on it. It read, “Made for Margaret Clark by” and gave all four of their names. I burst into tears! They wanted me to know how much my being there had meant to them, so they had made the quilt top during the winter and sent it to my older sister to quilt. It was a truly a labor of love and a gift I cherish.
These days my “sisters” and I are in our 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and are retired. The home in Sisters was sold. I STILL don’t sew. But on every occasion when we notice or use the treasures that came from Sisters, we recall the times we spent there and the love that went into making those precious gifts.