Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Clothes," from HOME IS WHERE...

         We weren't rich, but we had everything we wanted; we were the Blake girls, and people thought we were rich. I remember being in homeroom and a boy sitting behind me said, "You must be rich. All your clothes match."

         Shopping for school clothes in August, we bought winter and fall things: sweaters, wool skirts, long-sleeve blouses, and wool jumpers. We didn't plan on its perhaps being hot,  and even if it was, we didn't care. We wore these clothes anyway. It amazes me when I think that we wore high heels all day in high school.

         One year, Doreen had this sleeveless dress with matching heels and a pocketbook. I couldn't wait to wear it. When I did, I felt as if everyone was looking at me. Doreen had a friend, Pat Kimbler, who told me once, "you are the prettiest of you three sisters." I thought of that often.

         We got new clothes for school and for summer. We got at least three outfits to start school, and as Doreen and I grew up being close to the same size, we would match our clothes up, getting more outfits by doing this. The first one up in the morning got the first pick of our clothes, along with many an argument when Doreen arrived at the morning bus stop to see me wearing what she was going to wear. I think I invented the phrase, "you snooze, you lose."

         Dad had a brother, Uncle Wes, who had two girls: Cheree, who was three years older than Doreen, and Pat, who was two years older than Cheree. Every so often, Uncle Wes would bring boxes of clothes they had grown out of, and we would dig in to find something new to wear. We looked forward to these boxes.

         Back when we went to school, you couldn't wear pants, only dresses and skirts…in only the latest fashion. We were hot stuff.

         As we became teenagers, we each had our own style. Doreen would sit in the chair in the living room every morning spraying and teasing her hair until it was huge. This was the style of the 1960s.

         My hair was short, a little teased into the style known as “the artichoke.” I wore it this way all through high school. We also had eye shadow---the bluer, the better---and of course, lipstick, in pink and almost white.

         I remember when we were allowed to wear straight skirts. That was a big event. I was in the eighth grade when I got my first straight skirt, gray. I loved it.

         When we started to baby-sit and earn our own money, we started to shop without Mom. Doreen and I would go to Newburgh when she got her driver’s license.

         I had three families I baby-sat for on a regular basis. Doreen didn't do baby-sitting much, because at 16 she got a part-time job as a cashier in the same local store, Chaffee’s, our mom worked at. In years to come, so did Nancy and I.

         Doreen and I went shopping for our prom dresses. It was her Junior Prom, and my date, Kenny, was a junior, too. Our dresses came from Hollywood Togs on Water Street. This was the shop to go to.

         The day of the Prom, Doreen and I went to Newburgh to Fred and George's Salon. Everyone went there---and the bigger, the better for your hair-do. It was so stiff!

         Nancy and I would watch on television in the morning Miss Frances and Ding Dong School. She would show us how to care for our babies---our dolls---bathing, powdering, and changing them. We did a great job caring for them, except when I left mine in the basement; when I found it, some of the fingers had been chewed off by a mouse. I felt terrible for Tiny Tears. I had left her alone with this creature.

         Thinking of clothes for our dolls reminded me of, I believe it was the winter, of first grade: I wore a corduroy skirt, with a crinoline and a slip under it. This was a very cold and windy day, and my legs were frozen, and that slip scratched the inside of my legs so badly that by the end of the day I was in tears, vowing never again to wear that slip on a cold day.

         The material of this slip was like a netting, and it reminds me that many years later Nancy became friends with a girl across the street from her in Walden; we call her “FiFi,” but her name is really Claudette.  We have all gone out to eat together or she has been invited to a party at Nancy's house or at Claudine‘s. She is a dear soul, funny and very easy to get to know, but a real fashion designer in her own right. Many times she has been in some outfit wrapped in the same kind of netting material as my slip, but she has many colors of it.

         In my mother's bedroom, there was a cabinet in the corner and there were two brown corduroy jackets and matching hats. I remember wearing this jacket and hat. I love that outfit. It looked so cute!


                 We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's heart-warming book, Home is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood.  Published last fall, it is available from Outskirts Press and from online booksellers like and I'm proud to have coached Kathy and edited her book. My web site is


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