Ever hear the old expression, “your mamma dresses you funny”? My mother seemed to tried her best to live up to those words. I won’t say it was deliberate, but I can imagine my parents laughing in their bedroom after dressing me in one of my mom’s famous homemade outfits.
Mom decided to buy a sewing machine and try her hand at making creations for my sister and me. She would buy fabrics and patterns, and armed with much more determination than skill she would whip out outfits that she’d insist we wear.
As Catholic school students, we were already known as the nerd chicks on the block since we wore UGLY plaid uniforms to school every day. Now we had UGLY weekend uniforms to wear, courtesy of “House of Estella”.
Imagine an ugly blue plaid skirt. Really. Ugly. Plaid. Now imagine a matching vest cut in the “bolero” style to wear with a contrasting mystery material turtleneck blouse. Add a pair of thick white tights and then multiply it all by two.
Yes. Mom made ugly matching outfits for her girls to wear outside to play. She would stand there beaming as she’d ask us to “turn aroud, let me see” and then while grinning like a lottery winner, she’d walk us to the door and watch us walk s l o w l y down the block to where our friends were playing.
I wish I could say that our friends on the block were sensitive understanding and kind. Sharon, David, and Georgette Dent (we always spoke of them as a collective), and the rest of the gang would point and laugh and generally have a good time at our expense.
After hours of play, the kids would finally forget the joke of the day and we would all settle into whatever made up game we couldn’t get enough of. The “they might be having a good time vibe” would eventually reach my grandmother, who had a full time job stopping fun at any cost.
200 Street in Hollis, Queens is a pretty long block. We lived at 111-39 and the number next door was 4 digits higher or lower than ours, depending on the direction walked.
We would play way “down the block” at an address like 111-11 or 111-07.
Distance was NEVER a problem for Grandma Lambe in her quest to rob of us the joy of the moment.
She would yell out the window from her bedroom. The whole gang would freeze when the sound of her angry howl slammed down the block to reached us. For some reason, my sister, Lynda was safe – it was me she wanted. Me.
My friends became a Greek Chorus, “Ooooooooooooooh.”
As I would slowly made my way back up the block, the list of my possible transgressions seemed to grow. I was scared to go home yet afraid to ignore my grandmother’s call.
I’d go to my grandmother’s bedroom door, listening to her fussing to herself as she bustled around her room. trying to gather the courage to knock.
“Come in!” she’d snap in response to my very weak tap on her door.
“Let me see your new outfit. Come here, girl.”
I shuffled into her bedroom, eyes down, awaiting her judgement.
“Hmmmph.” And then under her breath, “she still thinks she can sew I don’t see why she makes those gals up like little monkeys dressing up to go outside to play.”
I’d freeze in place – inner turmoil. Defend my sweet misguided mother and risk the wrath of Geneva or just take it and live to see another day?
Well folks, I’m still here so it’s obvious that my moms went undefended that Saturday morning.