We never had much, on our small Tennessee farm, tucked away in almost Alabama. But the crepe paper dress is a reminder that there was no needle my mother would not try to thread for me.
The second grade school play was coming up, and I was cast as Little Bo-Peep. Excited as I was to have the part, I am sure now that when my mother read the note from school, what I saw in her eyes was worry. Worry that we couldn’t afford the material to make the costume. No velvet. No satin. Not even cotton for a dress I’d wear just once.
But after a while, we went to town and bought crepe paper.
My mother made all of my clothes. Homemade was the best she could afford. She’d see a dress in the Sears catalog or in a store window in Florence, Alabama, and say, “I can make it.” From school clothes to formals, my mother had a gift for making something out of nothing. I was much older before I understood what a luxury it was to have my own personal seamstress through all my growing-up years.
All those creations exist only in memory now, except for one. The crepe paper dress.
I could not imagine how she would ever turn paper—the kind used for wrapping a present or decorating for a party—into a dream I could wear.
But my mother was an artist.
I can see it all, still. With pinking shears in hand, she cut crisp patterns out of newspaper and spread them on the dining room table. Leaning forward, she guided the crepe paper under the Singer’s clacking needle, treadle whirring softly, like a song. Late into the night, she bent over her needlework, straight pins clamped between her teeth, her fingers slip-stitching the hem of the nearly-finished costume. All of it, fashioning from thread and paper and love, not just a dress for the play, but a crepe paper memory that has endured for decades.
Every woman has had forgettable dresses, expensive brand names that have come and gone. My mother is gone now, too. But I can still remember the feel of the crepe paper on my little girl shoulders. Sometimes I still get the urge to look at the dress, just to marvel at my mother’s imagination and her exquisite handiwork.
I keep it close in a corner of an old bureau. And I keep it closer in a corner of my heart.
Crepe paper is fragile. But this most delicate work of art, a reminder of my mother’s love, has survived for all these years. So has my love for her.
Some things are one of a kind. This dress. And my mother.