Simplicity Pattern


In the days when mothers sewed their daughters’ clothes,

a woman still lovely, weary now

but willing still to dream

of pretty party frocks and patent leather pumps,

sends her girls to bed.

It is late April,

when gold-flecked forsythia and tender-lipped forest violets

dress the spring earth.

As the sisters sleep, she lays out on the kitchen table

the Simplicity pattern’s tissue promise of carefully stitched shirtwaists.

Her hands hold the pinking shears

and with each cut a third-grader’s surprise

becomes delight as she tries on

the white-and-yellow checked dress,

full-skirted, matching belt,

rickrack at the neck and trim for the cap sleeves.

The older sister steps into the violet dress,

fashioned as a fifth-grader’s princess raiment

and down the road they walk,

almost too elated to notice

the fast-flowing brook tumbling over rocks,

the robins and finches whistling to them

as Newfield Road merges with Main Street

and they see the red brick school

and the children on the playground

and the yellow and purple of their full skirts

swirl with the fresh new air of May.

Did we tell her we cherished her hands

that cut and fit and stitched the colors of spring;

her pride, that sent us off in new dresses

to dance around the Maypole;

her gifts, more than I can count

or even remember?

It was in the days when love was spoken

in the tissue rustle of a Simplicity pattern,

in the careful choice of purple cotton and yellow and white checks,

the unnecessary expense of rickrack to make the dress special,

the matching fabric-covered belt to cinch the small waists

and add an extra flare

to the dancing skirts of the daughters’ new dresses.

A Father Takes His Daughter Fishing

Only once,

but it was enough.

He rowed out onto the blue-gray lake.

It was good to push off from the dock.

His arms were strong

that Saturday morning

but tired from the night shift

at the mill.

He rowed to the spot

where the fish were biting.

She sat in the bow

and told him stories.

Because he was listening,

she unraveled Anne of Green Gables

from the knotted skeins of her heart

and stretched out the swashbuckling

sword-brandishing of The Three Musketeers,

filling the small boat

till there was hardly room for the fish

that weren’t biting after all.

He listened to this daughter

and wondered where the fish had gone.

The sun is too high in the sky, he thought,

the fish are resting in the cool water

at the bottom of the lake.

You have quite an imagination, he said.

I worry about her, he was thinking.

How will she ever learn to catch a fish?

. . . just as she hooked a trout

and jerked the pole

and the obliging fish

flew through the summer air

and flopped at their feet in the skiff.

And she never forgot

that he smiled,

held the slippery prize,

gently drew the hook from its lip

. . . and threw it back in the water.

So small, he told her.

We should let it live.