Back To School
By Jeanne Robertson

Merchants are smiling. The rush to buy back-to-school clothes has to 
be second only to the rush for bread and milk when Doppler shows an approaching snow storm. It's probably always been that way but when I was growing up, I didn't notice it. My older sister Katherine and I grew up in the fifties and Mother made all of our back-to-school clothes. She had her work cut out for her.

Katherine was around 5'5", the same height of our mother. I was two years younger and already 6'2." The third sister was still a baby in the crib, so we didn't know about her yet. Fortunately, Mother could sew, and she worked hard to keep up with the latest trends. The main goal was to save money and look "store bought," not homemade. Unfortunately, multiple outfits out of the same material gave us away.

One day Mama read in a fashion magazine that she could change our 
size by the way she dressed us. This was exciting news for a woman
with daughters at each end of the size spectrum. For example, according to one of the articles, wearing a black belt would cut a person's height. After that, I would be walking out of the house in a swimsuit, and Mother would say, "I think a black belt would look good with that."

Then it was as if the heavens opened up and sent a message. The word came down on stripes. According to the fashion experts, if a person wore stripes that were going up and down, it made her look taller. If she wore stripes going around, it made her look shorter.

But Mother could never pass up a good buy. Soon after reading this fashion information, she came upon a bolt of red and white striped material that was on sale. She bought the whole thing. Back home, she laid out that material with the stripes going north to south on the kitchen table. Then she got out her good size pair of clunker pinking shears that would have broken her foot if she had dropped them, and cut out dresses for herself and my sister Katherine with the stripes going up and down. They put them on and in front of my very eyes appeared to shoot up to over six feet. I remember thinking that if she kept cutting in that direction, I was going to look over nine feet tall.

Then, she turned that material and cut out a dress for me with the stripes going around. From below my neck to below my knees, I looked like one of those gigantic spinning tops. If someone could have placed a flat hand on the top of my head and pumped up and down, I would have spun up the street.

The next Sunday, the three of us put on those striped dresses and headed as usual to the Graham Presbyterian Church. When we walked toward people hanging around outside the vestibule, they got dizzy and groped for the sides of the building.

I heard that an elderly parishioner with failing eyesight went downtown the next day and passed the local barbershop. Rumor was that she looked up at the striped pole and nodded, "Good morning, Jeanne."

Jeanne Robertson, professional speaker and author, can be reached through
Photo by Kleeberg Studio.