Growing up, I wasn’t blessed with many material things. Although my Daddy worked long, hard hours, my Mama stayed home taking care of the house, my sister, brother, and I. By all standards, we were poor but my siblings and I didn’t realize it. We had food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over our heads. But one day, when I was about six or seven, I can’t recall the exact age now, I found out the truth. I learned that the little amount of money my father brought home was never enough and no matter how my mother tried to stretch it, we always needed more. That need caused my mother to become very resourceful but even with all of her effort, most of our needs were met as God blessed us abundantly through the generosity of others.
One day, not too long after we’d moved to Clarkston from Atlanta, I met our new neighbors. There were two boys and a girl. Their only girl was a few years older than I. We became fast friends and soon played together every afternoon after school. One day, as we were playing, she pulled out a large case from her closet and asked if I’d like to see her Barbies. I had no idea what Barbies were but they sounded interesting, so I said yes. As she removed each doll from the case, I marveled at their beauty. Though they were only dolls made of plastic, they looked very lifelike. They had real looking hair, perfectly painted on makeup, tiny jewelry, and beautiful clothes. Oh, how I wanted one of those dolls!
When I got home, I remember telling my mother how desperately I wanted and needed a Barbie doll. As Mama stood over a hot iron skillet cooking our dinner, she listened and every few minutes replied, “Uh huh.” I must have talked incessantly, I had a habit of doing that and although the memory isn’t quite as sharp now, I’m sure, as I got ready for bed that evening and waited for her to tuck me in, I was still talking about how much I needed that doll.
Not too many days after our conversation, Mama gave me a gift. It wasn’t a Barbie doll, but it was a doll that was very similar. The doll I received was named Tressy. Mama had picked her up at our local Sears store. Tressy looked very much like a Barbie doll but had one major difference. She had a button on her belly that when pushed would allow her hair to magically grow.
I was so excited to have my very own doll! It didn’t matter that she wasn’t a real Barbie doll. She had tiny black shoes and a bright red dress. She even came with a miniscule plastic brush to help style her beautiful, blonde hair. I could barely wait to show my friend my treasured possession.
After months of playing with Tressy, her bright red dress began to show wear. Unlike my friend, I didn’t have extra clothes for Tressy. As I brought that fact to my mother’s attention, I’m sure my desire for more material things weighed heavily on her. I had no idea how my wants impacted her, but would soon find out.
Mama was a seamstress. She often took in sewing jobs in an effort to supplement our meager income. Many a night my siblings and I would fall asleep to the gentle hum of her sewing machine as she worked diligently to complete a paying job. Sometimes, if there was an approaching deadline for one of her clients, she’d work into the wee hours of the morning, but Mama always did her sewing while we were at school or after she’d fed us and tucked us into bed for the evening.
One night, as I lay in bed listening to the whirring sound of her sewing machine, I was unable to sleep. Quietly, I crawled out of bed and wandered into Mama’s sewing room. Her sewing room wasn’t really a room. It was a tiny closet that had been converted. It had just enough space for her sewing machine, a few shelves on the wall above it, and a file cabinet tucked into the corner where she stored all of her patterns.
When I entered the small space, Mama looked up. “What are you doing awake?” she said. I replied that I couldn’t sleep. As I stood next to her, I glanced down to see what she was working on and was surprised to see a tiny black and white houndstooth coat. It took a few minutes for me to realize that coat she was making was for me. It was a miniature piece of clothing for my Tressy doll.
Mama seemed flustered that I’d caught her by surprise and hurriedly shooed me out of the room and back to bed.
The next morning, I pestered her about the little coat I’d seen her making. She told me it wasn’t finished yet and said she had some details to add before it would be complete. I was so excited knowing that in a few days, Tressy would have another piece of clothing, a gorgeous black and white coat.
Mama found some teeny, tiny, black buttons at a cloth shop in Scottdale where she purchased all of her sewing supplies. While watching TV she’d often do her hand sewing for projects and in my mind’s eye, I can still see her fingers working swiftly to sew on those little buttons. Thimble on her middle right finger and needle gripped tightly between thumb and forefinger, the threaded needle moved in and out as she guided it to accomplish the task.
When the coat was complete, Mama handed it to me. I was so proud of that tiny work of art. As I leaned in to kiss her cheek, she smiled a great, big smile. I told her I loved her and ran off to play.
That was the first of many handmade doll clothes I possessed. Mama continued making those clothing items for my doll and soon was making them for my sister’s Tammy doll, too.
At Christmas, we each received a storage case for our dolls and their clothes. Only the suitcase had been purchased, the clothing had all been handmade. Tiny buttons, ribbons, and belts adorned each item of clothing and those gifts of love soon became the envy of my neighbor.
There’s not a price you can put on the gift of love. Those little coats and dresses that Mama made were her way of showing me that she wanted to meet my needs. Even though we didn’t have money for store bought items, she did what she could to make me happy.
As an adult, I can’t help but tear up when I remember how hard she worked to make those little doll clothes. It wasn’t until I began to sew that I realized how difficult it must have been for Mama to make those little clothes. The side seams of the garments weren’t more than 5 or 6 inches long and were less than half an inch wide. It took great skill and precision to maneuver the sewing machine needle without piercing a finger or two.
Every year, when Mother’s Day approaches, I remember those little doll clothes and the sacrifice Mama made in buying the extra materials to make them for me. I remember how she worked hunched over her sewing machine late into the evenings and how tirelessly she added the detailed embellishments to make them look professionally made.
Those little clothes are still around. I’m pretty sure my sister has them packed in her little doll suitcase stored somewhere safe in her home. And although I don’t have any of them in my possession, I have every single one of them etched into my memory.
My mother was a remarkable person and was truly a Proverbs 31 woman. She was very resourceful and talented. She was giving and kind. She loved others and loved God. I am thankful for her and though she’s not with us any longer, I’ll always celebrate Mother’s Day remembering her fondly.
Two years ago, my oldest granddaughter wanted a Barbie doll but her mommy didn’t like the worldliness of the dolls. The elaborate makeup and revealing clothing weren’t appropriate for a little girl, she’d said. So, I bought a handful of Barbie dolls at our local Goodwill and brought them home to revamp. With acetone, I gently scrubbed off their makeup and repainted their faces with kinder, gentler eyes and smiles. I removed their clothing and replaced them with some handmade pieces. As I was working, it almost felt like my Mama was peering over my shoulder whispering, “Add a button there.”
My gift of love was presented to my granddaughter on her birthday. The blessing I received, as she opened the dolls, was priceless. That love that Mama had shared with me had come full circle and hopefully, in the future, will be passed down from generation to generation.
This Mother’s Day, as you celebrate your own Mom, try to think about something she said or did to show her love for you. It may not have been through a material gift. Perhaps it was only a look or a word but if you think about it long enough, I’m sure you’ll understand that a mother’s love for her child is a special kind of love and one that can’t be taken for granted. It’s a love that should be celebrated and cherished for now and for always.