The Autumn Leaves of Summer

The Autumn Leaves of Summer

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

The Autumn Leaves of Summer

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Trouble began brewing right at the start of summer vacation, precisely when my grandmother gave Mom that hideous bolt of fabric. My mother couldn’t sew a stitch, and my grandmother spent the bulk of her retirement in a fruitless effort to reverse this quirk of fate. While my grandmother could turn a flour sack into a party frock in an afternoon, and fashion a lace-trimmed hanky out of the scraps, the most my mother could do with the same flour sack is turn it into a decorative trash can liner—maybe.

Though creating a fashion statement consistently eluded Mom’s skill, it never once escaped her desire. From that ugly bolt of fabric scattered with autumn leaves sprang the grandiose idea that Mom would whip up matching summer tops for my three sisters and me.

Undaunted by the absence of talent, Mom once again forged ahead with boundless enthusiasm. Her energy grew in direct proportion to my paranoia as I imagined us venturing down the street in leafy looking halter-tops, pitching apples at passersby like the grumpy trees in the Wizard of Oz.

So I suggested a tablecloth might be just the perfect idea. “Mom, can’t you just see our dining room table come Thanksgiving? Picture that plump juicy turkey with all the trimmings, arranged just so on a spray of autumn leaves. If word of this gets out, Better Homes and Gardens will be beating down your door for a photo shoot.”

Who was I kidding? This was one hopeless situation. Or was it? My mom’s projects usually rode a one-way ticket from the sewing machine to the rag sack with no stops in-between, and that was no secret. Her unbroken string of sewing catastrophes fostered strong hope in me. It was a tentative smile I wore, but ever so smug just the same.

With fabric in hand, mother disappeared into the basement and headed down those same steps every night thereafter. The muffled hum of the Singer motor rising up through the floorboards slowly wiped the smug smile from my face and replaced it with the trembling lip of an obsessive adolescent helplessly drowning in a pool of self-inflicted fear of embarrassment. I just knew those autumn leaves, bathed in my mother’s best intentions, were waiting in the wings . . . and not in the form of any Thanksgiving tablecloth.

True to my prediction, Mom emerged from the basement one evening with outstretched arms draped in yards, and yards, and yards of autumn leaves. Forget the trembling lip. By now I was picking out the bridge from which I intended to fling myself into everlasting eternity.

“Eeewww, Mom. What are they? Awnings?” my charming brother asked.

“They’re summer tops,” she said. “I made them for your sisters. Pretty good, huh? I didn’t even have a pattern!”

One glance brought that harsh reality to life with a vengeance. Imagine, if you will, two bandanna handkerchiefs placed on top of each other—that’s what my mother did with two squares of fabric. She stitched straight across the top of each “garment,” leaving a huge gaping hole in the center for our heads to fit through without the aid of a single button, snap, or zipper. Mom didn’t have a clue about sewing notions. In the same wide-open style, two giant armholes flanked either side of the neckline. And, she accomplished all of this without the use of darts, pleats, tucks, or so much as a trace amount of elastic.

“Oh boy! Mom. They’re terrific!” I said, desperately trying to sound sincere. I don’t think I had ever seen her look so proud. To make matters worse, she bought us matching brown shorts and labeled these atrocities our “special occasion outfits.”

Day after blissful day passed without a single special occasion in sight, until the day of doom when the invitation to our cousin’s wedding shower arrived. Shrouded in a cloud of “special occasion” gloom, my three sisters and I prepared for the worst.

As expected, Mom insisted we break out the tree suits and inflict on an unsuspecting world, the most unhappy group of sisters you ever saw, sporting a wardrobe of fall foliage in the middle of a record breaking heat wave.

After dressing on the day of the shower, my sisters and I formed a small circle between two matching sets of bunk beds in the room we all shared. We stood there, staring at each other in disbelief. Clad in shades of Irish-setter red and butterscotch yellow, set off by remarkably ugly brown shorts, we looked like poster children for Arbor Day.

At the height of our pity party, my oldest sister started laughing uncontrollably, which set off a chain reaction. In the throws of our laughter, Mom’s love had penetrated that scratchy old fabric and snuggled softly around us.

I can still see her proud smile as she watched us pile out of the car and line up on the sidewalk, wearing her handmade works of art. We proudly escorted our mother up the front path and joined in the fun. Whether the other party guests were laughing with us, or at us, remains a mystery I have no desire to solve.

It’s true; Mom never did create a fashion statement, unless you consider the countless memories she lovingly stitched into our hearts with unyielding joy. That alone qualifies my mom as a most remarkable seamstress.

Annmarie B. Tait

More stories from our partners