65: A Ragged Nightgown

65: A Ragged Nightgown

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

A Ragged Nightgown

My mother gave me life and never asked for anything in return. That is her secret, you know, always giving without any expectations.

~Author Unknown

Near the end of my ninth-grade school year, my twin sister and I were invited to a party at the home of a high-school classmate. We were new kids at the local school, and the party was to be at the home of a rather affluent family, so it was an exciting event for us.

I will never forget the party or the evening—not because of any extraordinary social setting or the fun with new friends, but because of what transpired when we returned home.

My sister, Eleanor, and I had both worn beautiful dresses that were certainly fit for a late spring evening in the Deep South. Mother had worked for several days making them. I still remember how pretty those dresses were, and the amount of time that went into making them. Mine was a rosy pink patterned with tiny flowers, while Eleanor’s dress was identical in design, only greenish-hued in color. We knew we looked great, and we were quietly confident as one of our aunts dropped us off at the party.

Another aunt drove us home after the party and we hurried in to tell Mother all about it.

The image is still vivid to me . . . . I was standing in the hallway beside my parents’ bedroom. Mother was standing near the foot of her bed, dressed for sleep but without her bathrobe. Her flimsy nightgown had torn at the shoulder and been mended; from about the knees down, the gown had gaps, tears and pulls. I realized that I had never seen that nightgown before, as it was always hidden beneath the old robe that she wore.

I looked at my lovely dress and then at her ragged nightgown. We all said goodnight, and the party was over—in more ways than one.

Lying in bed that night, I revisited all the times my mother had sacrificed for us. I remembered the beach party at the end of seventh grade. We couldn’t go because we didn’t have swimsuits. Eleanor and I had accepted the fact and told the teacher we would not be able to go. “Of course, you are going!” Mother had insisted.

The night before the beach trip, she sat up all night long making swimsuits! She found a pattern, bought material for the suit and lining, and by the next morning she had two swimsuits lying on the sofa in the front room. Mother did not have her own swimsuit, yet she had produced suits for my sister and me.

Then there was the slumber party when we were twelve. Out came the trusty old sewing machine, and within two days we were sporting brand-new pajamas that would fit right in at the party.

As I lay in bed that night, more and more scenes from the past flooded my mind. I recalled time after time when Mother sacrificed for us, never thinking of herself and her own needs. I recalled how she went to work at a neighborhood launderette to earn a few dollars a week—not for her own personal use, but for us.

I remembered The Bike.

Our brother, Alan, was two years younger than us. We lived in a neighborhood teeming with children about our age, and all of his friends had bicycles. Occasionally, they would let him ride, but more often than not he would sit on the front steps and stare wistfully at the other boys as they rode up and down the street. Then came that Saturday morning.

As was her custom, Mother walked to town to do the grocery shopping. (Daddy had the car, of course, and “had things to do” in his life that rarely included us.) And, as was her custom, she returned from the local A&P in a taxi. We were sitting out on the front steps waiting for her. (That was our custom—we knew she would bring us each one piece of candy!)

This time, something was different—the trunk of the taxi was not shut all the way. The cabdriver got out and removed a shiny new red-and-white bicycle! Alan’s eyes were like saucers, and we were deliriously happy for him. While our little brother soared down the street to join his friends, we learned that Mother had taken her pay from the launderette and gone to Western Auto, made a down payment, and signed a note to pay five dollars a week until the bike was paid off.

My mother never said the words, “I love you” out loud. But she showed us her love through a life of personal sacrifice. We got new shoes while she re-soled her own and re-tapped her heels; we got coats and jackets while she wore the same coat year after year.

My only regret is that it took seeing that ragged nightgown for me to fully understand my mother’s love.

~Elaine Herrin Onley

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