Monday, June 30, 2014

A Dress Called Wagon Wheel

Every family has their own legends; the stories that won't die. My sister and I love to rehash the tale of the Wagon Wheel dress.

My mother is the dearest person in the world.  That said, she always went full out mental the night before school pictures were taken. Not mental in the bad way, but definitely much too fixated on school picture preparations. Heck, it IS mental in a bad way, but delivered with blind mom love.

For example, one of her favorite "night before pictures" activities was perming our hair. In the sixties and seventies, perms ruled, so it wasn't an unusual thing to get a perm - it was, however, ill-timed. If you've never experienced a home perm, it is really something grand. Hours of rolling tiny rods, applying incredibly stinky chemicals, prayers, checking the curls, praying some more, checking the curls again and finally rinsing it out. Christmas had less surprises, believe me. But then, Mom would sometimes take it a step further and roll up my hair so it would look really good (in theory).

"Oh, you can sleep in those curlers - that way, you're hair won't be flat in the morning," she'd suggest. 

Next morning, I'd pull the curlers out - at least, I think that was what I was doing because I didn't sleep a wink. Sleeping in curlers is like filling your pillow case with rocks. Combing out my hair brought new wonders. As I looked in the mirror, I noticed that these big, two inch curls that covered my noggin were going nowhere. Frantically, I'm brushing my head like Cinderella scrubbing the floor. Loosen up, loosen up! I can't go to school like this! 

On the school bus, I was secretly spitting on my finger tips, dampening my hair and pulling at the curls in an effort make the mess straighten - but it never did, and I have the pictures to prove it.

In 8th grade, picture time arrived right around the phase of the moon where my mom was on a sewing bender.  Mom decided to make me a dress for my school picture. My mom is a wonderful, talented seamstress who has made unbelievable things. She would tackle any tough sewing project without batting an eye. She had a new sewing machine and it was getting a workout. She seemed quite pleased with the final result.  The final product was a short, brown and black leopard print dress with a slit neckline and three-quarter juliet sleeves. The darker colors made the print a bit more understated, which I loved. Although I've never been much interested in the animal print stuff, she did a great job. My picture fears were actually fading.

Equally comforting was the fact that I had abandoned longer hair for a short pixie cut - totally straight (read between the lines: no possible perms that year!). 

The dress was pressed and hanging on a closet door when I went to sleep with the steady hum of the sewing machine in the background. Mom was trying out all the new stitches and really enjoying her new "toy." 

Nowadays, we have different stitches on machines that can be easily dialed up. Back in the day, my mom's new machine had "cams."  Cams were plastic discs that you dropped into the machine to do decorative stitching. Thinking back, it was pretty fascinating to go from two choices - straight stitch or zig zag - to stitches that looked like waves or hearts or even ducks. Understandably, Mom loved it. 

When I woke the next morning, I went to the sewing room to grab the dress. Frozen in place, I observed all the new changes to the dress that had occurred after I went to bed. With white thread, she had created her sewing opus through the wonders of cam madness. She had sewn decorative stitches all around the cuffs of the sleeves - three or four different stitches. The neckline received the same treatment with a little something else: she had created some pattern that looked like a necklace to her. My sister and I thought it looked like a ridiculous wagon wheel that would embarrass the wearer into an early grave (if they were lucky).

All the while, I'm thinking, "I'm going to have to wear this today. There's no way I can get out of it." 

It's the classic parent-teen conundrum, in fact. I'd rather die than wear it, and Mom had worked on it too long to allow me to dis her masterpiece.  But, once again, I'd feel the full burden of the teenage condition and fantasize that I looked like a dweeb in a duck suit. Only now, the duck suit was covered with a leopard print wagon wheel dress.

And so I wore the dreaded wagon wheel dress and got my school picture. To firm up my opposition stance, I didn't take a shower. Wishing my displeasure would be wildly apparent, but not wanting to hurt my mom's feelings, put me at a distinct disadvantage as far as social indignity symbolic options were concerned.

When I got to school, the line for pictures was so long. I made the mistake of telling a friend how horrified I was at the dress "modifications."  As I sat for the picture, my thought was that I'd try to look forlorn and displeased, thus memorializing my angst. 

Geez - totally denied! The friend ruined my great acting opportunity when he taunted me with the words, "Wagon. Wheel."  I laughed. Snap, flash and I'm smiling in the picture - which puts me on film, in the wagon wheel dress and looking like I'm happy about it. Epic, epic fail.

My sister, who claims to like me, posted the wagon wheel picture on Facebook. People who live in glass houses, shouldn't throw stones. One day, you'll think the wagon wheel picture betrayal is far behind you and you'll go on to live a relatively stress free existence, forgetting that I lie in wait of the perfect moment to post some of my favorite sister pictures from my hidden archives.  

Remember, I'm not the only one Mom talked into something crazy. 

I have two words for you, sis:  GLAMOUR SHOTS.  Of course, Mom gave me some of those fine photos. Why aren't they hanging in your office? Wouldn't work friends enjoy them? A picture is necessary - I can't believe your hair could be that big. And rhinestoned denim was a surprising fashion choice...but let's just wait for the picture and discuss it then.


  1. Good Monday morning, dear Cherdo! I've sharpened my pencil and my wit and I'm ready to write my first entertaining (?) reply of the week.

    The first Mrs. Shady used to go to bed at night and sleep with those large frozen orange juice cans in her hair - a sight reminiscent of Bride of Frankenstein. On more than once occasion I was knocked senseless when she rolled over and clobbered me in the face with that medieval war helmet. (I begged her to take the cans out of the freezer and drain the contents before using them as curlers, but to no avail. :)

    I used to dread having school pictures taken. One year Mommy Dearest insisted I wear a cute little Buster Brown uniform she bought for me. I was humiliated and to this day worry that an old foe will exploit my shame by posting that senior portrait on Facebook! :)

    Dear friend, while I thoroughly enjoy your cartoon illustrations, I think it would have been a much better idea to post the actual picture of you in your dear little wagon wheel dress. If you are taking requests I ask that you publish it in your very next post along with your sister's glamour shots.

    Deal?..... or NO deal?

  2. Hmmmm.....humiliating, greasy hair wagon wheel shot of yours truly versus mock glamour madness? I'm usually the sister who would ever do such a thing. But really, how is that working for me, I must ask...perhaps, if I look at the Girl Scout camp photo she posted of geek me in standard unflattering bermudas long enough, I will be able to decide...

  3. Oops....I meant to say NEVER, not ever...

    1. Your Freudian slip is showing, dear friend! :)

    2. I, too, want to see the real deal. Post that photo, lady. And Sir Shady, you made me laugh with the orange juice curlers that hadn't been emptied.

  4. Cherdo, please prepare yourself for some news: I think we're related. Our mothers must have been part of the same family. My sisters and I hated our frizzy home perms. My mother also forced me to "sleep" with those bristly black curlers in my hair--the kind that bored a hole in one's head mere seconds after lying down in bed. Mother was furious when I was in the second grade and my newly permed hair was a mess in my school picture. We had just been out for recess. She demanded to know over and over why the teacher hadn't brushed my hair. Even at that tender age, I knew it wasn't the teacher's job to brush my hair. Plus, that poor teacher couldn't have gotten a brush through my hair. As for sewing . . . well, we had the five matching white dresses with big red polka dots. Mother was a pretty good seamstress when I was young, though we often protested her choice of material. As I grew older, though, she was not particularly fussy about sewing. Since I was the youngest, I had to wear the results of her "Here, I made this for you, now wear it" fits. I'll never forget the pants that had one leg bigger than the other leg. I'm sure we could exchange "Mother" stories for months.


  5. Maybe we will have to do those mom story exchanges!

    When you mentioned "we often often protested her choice of material," I was reminded of year that palazzo pants were all the rage. She made a beautiful pair of palazzo pants; her sewing was perfect. But the material was pink and the pattern/texture strongly resembled a chenille bedspread my grandma might have pined over. And it was 100% polyester.

    Can I just call you "sis"?

    Love, Cherdo


Thanks for your personal yada, yada, yada,
Love, Cherdo