Dorothy Graham Gast
As the holiday season approached in 1955 my less than a year old daughter and I lived with my parents and siblings in their two bedroom frame house on the family farm where I was raised. My husband and his girlfriend had left the state and us without any support. My pregnancy and baby prevented my getting a job to help with our support.
Mama got a job working in the nearby school lunchroom and I took over the laundry, care of the house and cooking for the seven of us. My family was concerned that my grief over a failed marriage and deep emotional distress might harm the child I was carrying.
This was the first cash I’d had in my hands in three months
Other family members tried to help out. An aunt gave me a ride to my obstetrician’s office as she went to do errands and I had a couple of hours free to walk around town looking at holiday displays. Another aunt who was working in a department store said, “I’ve been saving for a Christmas offering at church and I feel that the LORD wants me to give it to you instead.” She handed me a $10 bill and gave me an encouraging hug. This was the first cash I’d had in my hands in three months.
Maybe I could take this money and buy fabric to make some new clothes for my fast growing baby. I went to the basement area where cloth was sold looking for something special.
She put a sign $2 for every brown paper bag
As I was feeling fabric and checking out baby dress patterns, the store manager came in and said, “I need these tables cleared for the new merchandise that came in this morning. Put a sign $2 for every brown paper bag the customer can fill with cloth. And those tail ends of tweeds and other wools sell for 10 cents each.”
I hurried across the room and asked for some bags. I packed summer fabrics, ginghams and eyelets, calicoes and solids, tight as possible in the squared off brown grocery like bags she handed me. Three bags held the remnants that were from half a yard to five yards and cleared the tables for new displays.
No sales tax
A nearby table had short lengths of winter materials, nubby tweeds, radiant plaids, and luxuriant solids. The saleslady, caught up in my enthusiasm, helped me squeeze the folded pieces into a bag. Another customer held the bag open while we packed.
I had spent the full $10 and suddenly realized I had no money for the sales tax. I began pulling out fabric and discovered that since the deal was by the bag I would have to give up a bag of my precious bounty. The sympathetic customer rummaged in the bottom of her purse for the necessary coins to pay tax. We were both crying with relief. She gave me a big hug and helped me carry the five overstuffed bags to the street corner where my aunt would pick me up.
We matched pieces of calico and plain cloth
That night my mother, sisters and I spread the contents of the bags on two beds. Out of the bags the piles grew much larger than I remembered from the store. A younger sister wrapped a 12 inch length around her neck. Its 54 inch width made a Christmassy scarf dressy enough for anyone. The inventory became festive as we sorted and matched to see what could be done with our treasure. We matched small pieces of calico and plain cloth for an apron. Past experience with feed sack sewing had taught ways to be resourceful in using every scrap.
In the weeks that followed, we made dozens of aprons, style and type determined by the amount of material available. Some woolen lengths had nearly a yard and made three scarves, neatly finished and fringed. Some were made into slippers or fold over purses. During the evenings after supper dishes, were washed up the women of the house matched, designed, and sewed. We made more than 200 gifts for our household, extended family, and friends.
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