My Blog

November 7, 2015

Elderly Mothers and Their Clothing

I thought, surely, that the outing to Houston with all its trauma (okay, my trauma, not hers), the walking, the serenading, the excitement would be enough to last at least the rest of the week. But when I offered her an opportunity to attend a Holiday Open House put on by my delightful Mary Kay consultant, Carol Martin, Mom was ready in an instant. Or as close to instant as it is possible for a 96 year-old to get.


Lovely Carol Martin, my Mary Kay consultant.

Lovely Carol Martin, my Mary Kay consultant.

I told her the party started at 1 o’clock but that we would go at 2 since this was a come-and-go reception. She called at 1:15 to find out where I was and when we were going. Ten minutes later, I arrived to load her up and take her to the party. She was ready to go, but not in what I thought was an appropriate outfit.

Mom was wearing a polyester, moss green, sleeveless sack dress, sagged out at the back and looking frumpy in the front, (no, you DON’T get a picture of that) without doubt acquired at some second-hand store.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with second-hand stores. Sister Sara, who volunteers at one, says you can find some nice things there, if you look hard enough. This particular outfit looked like it had come out of the 1950s—or maybe the 1970s. Vintage may be in, but that period produced some pretty awful stuff. This was one of them.

Mom has been living “on the road” for so long with Al that she has lost all sense of fashion or style or proper attire. As a girl, her parents took her to the nicest stores in Miami. And in Mexico, as a member of the American community, she always dressed very stylishly in the nicest clothes. What has happened since then, I’m not sure.

Dumpster-diving Al doesn't care what she wears.

Dumpster-diving Al doesn’t care what she wears.

As her sight lessens, and her pocketbook flattens, she has stopped shopping for nice things. She can’t afford it, or says she can’t. She doesn’t see the stains, tears or wrinkles in her outfits. I’m embarrassed to admit that she usually looks like a rag-picker—a happy rag picker admittedly,—but a ragged, ratty, poverty-stricken rag-picker nevertheless. Can you say ‘mortifying’?

Last summer, my poor, ever-suffering sister-in-law tried to buy her some nice clothes. She needed something (we thought) to attend Mom’s grandson’s wedding in North Dakota. Hard-working Cindy brought home an arm-load of clothes. And they weren’t expensive, which Mom would have objected to big time, just nice, low-cost Wal-Mart dresses and blouses. Nope. Mom would not have any part of any of them. Take them back. She had plenty of clothes, thank you very much. She did finally accept a long skirt in a black and white pattern, and a pair of pants.

Mom has not had any new clothing in probably twenty years. A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but mostly true. She insists on wearing one of two of her hand-made dresses that are so stained and worn that they truly look like rags. But she made them herself. And when I say hand-made, I mean cut out (without a pattern) from a piece of cloth (usually colored sheets) she found somewhere and sewn with a needle and thread BY HAND! She’s very proud of them and will tell anyone she passes that she made them. And they look it.

The other day we were at Wal-mart and she wanted a pair of white pants. Not sure what she wanted them for, but white pants are not usually available during the late fall. However, Wal-Mart can sometimes come through. We were in luck. She found one pair of white cotton pants on the sale rack for $9. But they were size 3XL. Didn’t matter. She bought them. And she has spent hours and hours and hours fixing them to fit. With a needle and thread, by hand. She says they’ll work fine.

Mary Kay party. Yes real antique family tools.

Mary Kay party. Yes real antique family tools.

When I saw her in her green sack dress, very gently (she is sensitive under her stoic exterior) I suggested that she might try something else. Black is always good, she decided. She pulled out a black blouse and Cindy’s long black and white skirt. It wasn’t Nordstrom’s or Macy’s, but it was good enough to appear in public.

Fortunately, Huntsville doesn’t require elegant attire.

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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