by Sherry Cassells
My name is Judy which isn’t ironic yet.
Grade six we had home-ec. We learned weaner wind-ups and chicken divan before the teacher finally let us into the dimmed side of the room, the neat rows of sewing machines, and flicked on the light.
We got to choose our rectangles – I picked peacock blue – and we starting sewing fairly straight, fairly parallel decorative lines in white and for the economy part, the teacher called them placemats and let us take them home.
I only needed two and when she said take a third you never know I declined. I knew.
I showed my mother the white lines and said the way it felt to make them and the whirr and clunk and how careful you had to be but also how wonderful and I don’t know how she did it but the next afternoon there was a sewing machine on our kitchen table, a heavy beast that stayed there all through my childhood, shoved to the helm like a stern father during meals, homework, monopoly.
Under my moving finger she snaked the thread to the needle. I lifted the silver plate, unearthed the bobbin and expertly blew on it, plunked it back in, and with miraculous smoothness the up and down threads met in a loop.
She sewed her lines over mine the other way, blew me an illuminated kiss when I went to bed.
In the morning the roosters on our kitchen curtains were caged in fine black pinstripes and over the next few days stripes appeared everywhere, the j-cloths were hemmed, my gym romper extra puffy in the shoulders. She aimed neatly pointed barely visible stitches on the collars of her blouses, and on mine she did them in gloriously fat zig-zag colours.
I don’t now what it is, she laughed, I just can’t help myself.
We gave up the movies, forgot about chocolate, and bought our groceries on the cusp of expiration, but at the fabric store, we splurged.
My mother never got the hang of my father’s standard car and she jerked the little blue egg into the parking lot in front of Fabricland, we flew in, collected bolts of colour under our arms like wings and chose the one spool out of the rainbow that melted right into each bolt when you twirled it over.
At home we poured the beautiful colours onto the kitchen table where we looked at them as we scarfed dinner from plates balanced on our knees, and then we got to work.
I was the same height as my mother, and with the necessary padding I became her Judy, temporarily voluptuous.
Turn, walk, bend, twist, walk, point, walk, stop, twirl, reach, walk, turn, spin, bend, perfect!
She let me wear whatever I wanted to school.
Next thing you know my old grade two teacher Miss O’Kell was in my living room cleavage and all and my mother made her wedding dress while I stood earnestly by, nurse to doctor, scalpel in hand.
We went to the wedding. I sewed an apron as a gift, so beautiful as if she might be cooking in heaven.
Miss O’Kell’s new husband’s sister flew in from California. She was glamorous like we’d never seen and couldn’t stop marvelling at the dress and when Miss O’Kell pointed our way, she darted over and said please, I need you to sew for me. But California was out of our realm and my mother just laughed until the lady said you can sew from anywhere in the world, that’s what the mail is for and right away she started sending mimeographed bodies covered in measurements and notations like math problems, pencil-crayoned hair and eye colour, a few personal preferences, and the rest she left up to my mother.
We tried to guess who the women were. Sophia Loren, Catherine Deneuve, Ann-Margaret we joked and then we saw Barbra Streisand sing her heart out in the mauve chiffon, we saw Shirley MacLean accept an award in the emerald satin, we saw Elizabeth Taylor dressed in the beaded grey like a galaxy. Also a glimpse of Emma Peel in the black jumpsuit I loved more than anything. (Its duplicate was under the tree that Christmas and I’ll never ever forget it.)
We went to New York – my mother had a driver by then – and ordered bolts of whatever we wanted that made swift and elegant landings on the doorstep of our new house, where our machines whirred under the soft gaze of the other Judys we named Sophia, Raquel, Catherine, Brigitte, Jayne and Gina.
Even now, with those days so long past, I look out at the ocean, the velvet sky above, and marvel at the impeccable seam of the horizon, the way the water falls like charmeuse to the shoreline.