What we left behind.

What we left behind.

So often when I am trying to understand myself I go back to my childhood. Memory is an important part of reflection. In conversations with people I see they do it too. People often tell me about their childhood and how it connects to their story now. We all have stories from before, and we all carry "our story now".

The other day I was buying an expensive summer dress and I told the woman helping me that I was twelve before I ever got a new dress. Then I remembered I had a new gold suit when I started kindergarten, and a little white communion dress that my sister made. When I was twelve I got a new paisley skirt and a cream blouse that had a bow you could tie in the front. I had six older sisters and a cousin who provided me with all the clothes I needed. There were probably other dresses that I do not remember. I just distinctly remember not having new clothes until I was a teenager, before that my clothes were all hand me downs. It never felt anything other than normal. I was not pining for new clothes. I just wore what my mother gave me to wear.

Most of my life I never bothered much with clothes. I would have a few nice things always but mostly I lived in jeans and leggings while I raised my children. For years I wore denim overalls. Sometimes I would just get a couple of sweaters from my husbands mens wear store and wear those for a few years.

My husband dresses in a suit and tie everyday. It took a long while to rub off on me. I moved my studio to town and one day I was walking in there in my overalls and my husband said, "Deanne, you look like you are part of Jonathan Ettingers (local house painter) painting crew. Maybe you should look like you own the place." I laughed. He laughed. 

It stuck with me. He was not being mean, he was just telling me what he thought. In a long marriage we get used to this. We compromise for each other all the time. So I started buying a few jackets and scarves to wear with my jeans. It was the beginning. I began taking time before I went to town to dress up a bit and I liked it. I liked it quite a bit. I liked that preparation time. It actually became a time for myself to reflect. Taking a few minutes to look in the mirror, not to judge yourself but to appreciate yourself, whatever it was. I had not done that since I was very young.

I remember that between fifteen and twenty five I liked clothes a lot, and then I let that go for twenty years but I came back to it and I enjoy it. It is an indulgence for sure. And I know that some might think it shallow. I think of it as a chance for self expression, and as a chance to be kind to myself. So often we look at ourselves harshly and with judgement. For me that time before I head out the door is a time to shower myself with a bit of kindness. That's not to say I don't see myself critically at times because I do. But I always remind myself that I have two good eyes to see, two legs to carry me, two hands to make and to get over the fact that my eyebrows sometimes look like my Uncle Donalds in the morning.

When I am trying to understand my love for dressing, I sometimes go back to my childhood and wonder if it was because I never had new clothes much as a child. But the more I think about it, I think it was watching my mother and the way she carried herself. Even if she was wearing one of my fathers old shirts it was pressed and clean and crisp. Most days she went around the house with her hair in rollers because she was going out to bingo in the evening. She got herself a new top and pants most every spring. Every fall she'd have a new bandana to wear with her camel hair coat. She always put a bit of cream on her face and before she went out the door she put on her lipstick.

So when I think about it, it was not what I did without that brought me to loving clothes. I think it is what I had that brought me to it. So often we think about what we missed, but when we miss one thing, another thing takes it place. There is always something.

I can still see my mother smoking a cigarette and taking her hair out of curlers, I remember being there waiting to see the transformation. I liked watching it. Later I'd watch her gently tie the bandana under her chin so as not to crush her hair do. She taught me that looking after yourself is worth it, even if you are just going out to the bingo game. For years I forgot this lesson, but around the age I was when my mother had me, 43, I came back to it again.

Sometimes in life we find things that we have left behind have more value than we knew. And sometimes we are reminded that it is not what we missed but what we had instead that makes us who we are.

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  • Deanne Fitzpatrick
Comments 1
  • Patricia E.P. Simon
    Patricia E.P. Simon

    This is a sweet remembrance of your unique childhood. Your mother set a nice example for her children and you, in the fact she valued her appearance. And I must say her example of having 7 children is example enough for me to admire. Large families are very rare nowadays, but a blessing I believe in an overly narcistic society.

    Thank you for encouraging us to appreciate our appearance, for after all we are made in God’s image and do reflect His magnificence!

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