The Dolly's Dress

Always make it a pair. When buying a bra, get the matching panty. When sewing a dress for a little girl, make one for her dolly, too.

Mom sat quietly in front of the sewing machine, the lamp shining brightly over her shoulder onto the tiny dress she held on her lap. A matching one, only slightly larger, already hung in a little girl’s closet, far away in Australia. 

Mom turned the dolly’s dress inside out to inspect the waistline seam she had just sewn. She frowned and slowly pulled out each little stitch: something wasn’t right. This was for her first granddaughter. The dolly dress must match the girl’s dress perfectly.

 Mom, Isabel, dress. Photo by Karen Dean.

Mom, Isabel, dress. Photo by Karen Dean.

My own sewing lessons ended abruptly years ago when I broke a fourth needle. Mom had, however, successfully taught me the satisfication of sewing—precision—particularly when attaching a full skirt to a fitted bodice. Each stitch must take in more fabric from the skirt than from the bodice, but it must do so invisibly. Begin by pinning the side seams to one another, then pin the center and the back of the skirt. Do not sew. A gathered seam must first be basted. Cut a long section of cheap thread and sew it first by hand. Squish, push, squeeze the fabric. Do not fold it: we are gathering, not pleating. 

Once the dress was finished, she hung it on a tiny hanger next to her sewing machine, anticipating the dolly’s next visit. Mom refused to mail the dress, preferring to gift it in person so she could savor the delight it would elicit. 

As the months passed, though, her cancer progressed. She could hardly walk by the time the little girl arrived, but in the middle of the international arrivals lounge, next to the luggage carousel, dolly was stripped and joyfully transformed into something quite perfect.


- After her mother’s death, Jerilyn Sambrooke took a renewed interest in sewing but has yet to master the fine art of a gathered skirt. Jerilyn currently lectures in the Rhetoric Department at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also working on a memoir, Alpenglow: A Year of Darkness, that narrates the year following her mother’s death. Her reflections on grief owe much to her academic research on religious practice and secular life in contemporary fiction.

Blue and Grey and Brown

The walk-in closet smells like lavender, shoe polish, cedar and dry cleaning chemicals. This is what a man’s closet should smell like. There are 130 shirts (dress and casual), 13 suits, 9 pairs of jeans, 7 pairs of slacks, 25 pairs of shoes, 10 belts, and 14 sweaters. This closet comes with many instructions: 

He keeps the sweaters in clear boxes with a bar of Yardley Lavender soap in each box, along with three cedar balls the size of Milk Duds. The clear boxes are dusted regularly.

Because it is the best kind of lavender soap.

He only hangs ties on the tie rack and never with a knot in it. Silk is only so forgiving, he explains as he smooths down the wrinkles from that day’s knot. 

No, I don’t need ties that are more fun. These ties are appropriate. 

 John in an appropriate navy pinstripe, at his college graduation.

John in an appropriate navy pinstripe, at his college graduation.

His shirts from the dry cleaner are hung on the right-most part of the closet because new shirts are chosen from the left-most. They rustle like fall leaves in their dry cleaning bags as he squares the shoulders and lines them up perfectly. 

White and blue are the only acceptable colors for a man’s dress shirt. Pink is for salesmen. I am not a salesman.

Laundered shirts are hung by color grouping and sleeve length. 

Your mother shrunk this one.

Jeans in one section, slacks in another, hung legs on the left, perfectly aligned on trouser hangers.

Because that is the correct word for them.

All shoes, even gym shoes and sandals, have shoe trees in them; big, heavy, shoe trees that feel more like weapons than items of haberdashery. They are all cedar. 

If you treat them right, all shoes can last a decade or more. These are older than you, dear.

Suits stay in their waxed canvas bags until they are worn, and they go right back in at the end of the day. He tells me where and when he bought each suit, and the thought process involved in each. 

No. I prefer dark blue and dark grey. Brown is too midwestern. Black is for nightclub owners.

When I have to clean out his closet, and choose a suit for him to wear in the casket, the choice is easy, as if he was making it for me. 

- Beth Dugan is one of our favorite multiple-contributors to Dead Housekeeping and can be found at bethdugan.com

Making Manicotti (Mon-a-gaught)

“The crepes are very, very, easy; you just have to keep an eye on them,” my mother said as she stood in my kitchen, wearing her familiar blue apron — my sister’s long-discarded Kmart smock. These were her precise instructions:

Crack six eggs in that blender. Add 1 ½ cups of water and flour, but not all at once or you’ll clog the blender. Let it run for a few seconds. Don’t overmix it!  

The batter has to rest for half an hour, so let’s get the ricotta going. I hope you didn’t buy fat-free, it’s tasteless. Get rid of some of the liquid. Dump the ricotta into that big bowl. Now crack a couple of eggs and fold them into the ricotta. 

   
  
 
  
    
  
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    Marie La France in 1990 wearing her much loved Kmart blue smock. She is actually holding a Kmart flashing blue-light special lamp. The picture was taken during the author's sister's surprise 30th birthday party. She is laughing so hard she's doubled over.

Marie La France in 1990 wearing her much loved Kmart blue smock. She is actually holding a Kmart flashing blue-light special lamp. The picture was taken during the author's sister's surprise 30th birthday party. She is laughing so hard she's doubled over.

We have to chop the parsley. Is it washed?  It has to be dry or it won’t chop. I told you to wash it last night. You never listen. Did you get flat-leaf? Curly parsley is terrible.

Let’s do the crepes now.  Heat up the crepe pan—medium low.  No oil.  The first crepe comes out lousy. Don’t worry about it. Grab that gravy ladle and pour a ladleful into the pan.  Swirl the pan so the bottom is coated.  Wait for the edges to curl and come away from the pan.   Okay, now grab that spatula and pick the crepe up—GENTLY! Put it on the dish towel. Now listen, wait for the pan to heat up again. You’re always so impatient.


- Denise Sawyer is a new writer enrolled in the Creative Writing and English program at Southern New Hampshire University. She is also an active member of the Creative Women Writers of Greater Derry located in Derry, NH where she shares her creative works with other new writers and published authors. Her latest endeavor is a memoir taken from the pages of her diary penned at the age of 16. The year was 1971 and she has some doozies. She lives in Londonderry, NH with her musician husband, Jeff and their cat, Dizzy named after the great jazz musician, Dizzy Gillespie. Denise makes manicotti every Christmas Eve, and tries to remember to wash the parsley the night before.

Dress Like a Lady

Carry yourself like a lady. Dress like a lady. Don’t take foolishness from anyone.

I learned those things from my paternal grandmother, a tiny woman who was always well-dressed and –coiffed, and whose tolerance for the antics of others was miniscule.

I carelessly put on a poorly ironed (perhaps un-ironed) shirt once during a summer visit to her spotless home.  Because I was a teenager, and therefore a young lady, this was simply unacceptable.  She pulled out her ironing board and iron, and gave me a thorough lesson in proper pressing.

  "My grandmother is dabbing her eyes at my parents' wedding and looks perfectly put-together. She may as well have been crying about my future lack of ironing skills."

"My grandmother is dabbing her eyes at my parents' wedding and looks perfectly put-together. She may as well have been crying about my future lack of ironing skills."

1.     Start with the collar. Use plenty of elbow grease. She didn’t have starch when she learned to iron, so I didn’t need it, either.

2.     Iron the collar flat, then fold it down on its crease and iron that.

3.     Next the back.

4.     Then the sleeves.

5.     Finally, the front. This is what people will see first. Saving it for last makes it less likely to get wrinkled before you hang it up or put it on.

I put my freshly pressed shirt back on. She told me I had done a good job. My arm was stiffening up from all of that elbow grease.

Then she added a final step.

6.      When you get married, do not iron your husband’s shirts. If you start, you will be ironing his shirts forever. Take his shirts to the dry cleaner.

My husband irons his own shirts. I’ve watched, and he does it wrong.

- Jacqueline Bryant Campbell