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Forever Plaid

1939

By this time my musical talents had progressed far enough for me to be in the school band. My hopes soared as I practiced on the Orchestra Bells.

They were cumbersome to carry back and forth to school, but fame knows no pain.

One day I banged the wooden carrying case against the step of the old yellow school bus, and the case popped opening dumping the entire set of metal keys out on the ground. It was one of those total shock moments when crawling in a deep hole would have been less frightening.

"Just toss them in the case and lets go ... you can fix them in place when you get to school." Mr. Monroe hollered down from the drivers seat.

A lot he knew! I guessed he was not an Orchestra Bell player like me. I couldn't just gather up the notes in the skirt of my dress and haul them into the bus, I had to place them one by one back into their prescribed slot or the case wouldn't close. I could see the look on his face ... he could not be on his way until I accomplished this. He would be late for his appointed rounds in the surrounding hillsides of Brea and we would all be late for school.

One by one my friends piled off the bus to help, but those not knowing music were no help at all ... they were trying to place them in the wrong slots and they wouldn't fit! What a mess.

Week by week I practiced with the band after school but I didn't get progressively better. However by Christmas time I was included to attend the Band Banquet held in the Cafeteria.

"What will I wear?" I asked my mom when the announcement was made at school.

"We'll figure something out," that was her usual answer when she was presented with anything out of the ordinary. It was similar to the well-known Great Depression saying of "Make it at home, wear it out, make it do or do without!"

A black and white men's plaid jacket from the Goodwill Store became the answer. It cost 10. I watched as she ripped it apart piece by piece then spread them on the ironing board and pressed them with a wet cloth. The steam rose hot and smelly from the old wool material. Then she made a skirt pattern out of brown paper bags, fitting the pattern to me occasionally to see that it was the proper size.

"Shoot!" she said vehemently as she cut around the pieces of brown paper. "I'm short!"

I did the wrong thing, I laughed out loud! Everyone knew that at 5' 2" my mother was short! Why was she getting upset over it as she cut the pieces of my skirt?

"I'm running out of material!" she said, realizing that I didn't understand what her version of 'short' meant.

"What can we do?" I wailed, "What'll I wear?"

She grabbed a sleeve of the plaid jacket and ripped down the seam. She then laid the paper pattern over it but it wasn't wide enough in places to allow for the front section of the skirt.

"Shoot!" she said again. That was the closest she ever came to an epithet, at least in my presence.

I watched as she cut little sections of material and spliced the plaid together. She matched every color of the plaid, zigging and zagging with her scissors so that it was not visible that the entire front section of my skirt would be pieced together in thirteen small layers.

All was not lost! She alternated between the old treadle sewing machine and the ironing board, back and forth, back and forth, as she pressed the seams open after splicing yet another piece down the front of the skirt. When she finished getting all the pieces together there was not enough of that jacket sleeve to be remembered!

I was the only member of the band at the banquet that night in a black and white wool plaid skirt made from some old man's discarded jacket! Nobody ever knew that the front section was pieced together thirteen times!

Many years later that sewing lesson came back to me as I made a kelly green suit for Bruce out of a discarded , out of style, sack dress from the Goodwill that I had picked up for 25.

It's not just the sayings and the frugal lessons that were taught back in the Thirties, it was the example lived by my mother.

It wasn't just a skirt for the Band Banquet. All tied in was frugality, making do, matching the plaid design, pressing the seams, keeping the ironing board up while sewing, and not swearing when things went wrong. All these lessons were filed away in my young, impressionable mind.

Tied in with the memory of time served at the Orchestra Bells (which I never mastered) is the sewing lesson (I did become an accomplished seamstress!) and they're remembered to this day as forever plaid!'

Post Script: Yes, I know there is a stage play by that name, but they stole it from me!

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