Hand Me Downs

Hand Me Downs

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Hand Me Downs

Nothing makes you like other human beings so much as doing things for them.

Zora Neale Hurston

My hand-me-down wardrobe was threadbare by the time it got to me—the fourth girl out of a family of five. How I envied Ken, the only boy, for he always managed to get new clothing. No faded undershirts or pants with the knees out for him, no siree. He got brand-new. It was so unfair to be one of four girls.

The only good clothing I ever got were those that were the “ugly” clothes—the ones my siblings had received as gifts and were too awful to wear, that had been stuffed into a drawer until they were deemed too tight. That lovely yellow sweater Aunt Martha had sent Cathy, the one with the ducks on it. Pants that were wide-legged when the style was slim. These were my “new” clothes. Luckily, until I was ten, I had the fashion sense of a wart hog, and as long as it fit, I wore it. But one day, something changed.

My friend Rena lived next door. She was older than me, pretty, and fun, and she came from a Ukrainian family. I loved the clothes she wore, full of color and tradition. One day when I was at her house learning how to make perogies, her mother brought out a bag of clothes bound for Goodwill. “Would you like to go through these first?” Mrs. B. asked. I eagerly dropped my dough and went for the bag. At the top of the pile of hand-me-downs was the most beautiful shirt I had ever seen.

It was red, bright red, and silky. There were no tears, no sweat marks, no runs, and it had seven gold buttons on the front, and one on each silky sleeve. I was in love. I crushed it to my stained T-shirt, and saying “thank you,” I quickly ran home to show my mom my new shirt.

The new shirt had a magic to it. For the first time I started to look in the mirror before I left for school. I combed my hair more than once a day and brushed my teeth more than twice. Dirty clothes were put in the laundry pile before they walked there by themselves. I started to notice what other people wore and even sneaked looks at my sister’s fashion magazine. I showed an interest in sewing and soon was making my own clothes out of castoffs.

They were not always successes, and some my mother wouldn’t let me wear out of the house, but eventually I did learn to create a passable wardrobe for myself.

I wore the beautiful, red shirt at least three times a week. I wore it on special occasions, and to school on the days we had assembly. I polished the gold buttons to a shine, and I hung it up after every washing. At twelve, I had blossomed into a young lady with style, all because of that wonderful red shirt.

One day my mother watched as I struggled to button the shirt. I had grown, and unfortunately my shirt had not grown with me. I cried and tried to figure out a way to make it bigger without hurting it, but I could not bring myself to change it. It was perfect, and could not be altered to fit who I was becoming.

Mother had just prepared a basket of things to take over to a new family. They were Portuguese and had recently moved into our small town. They did not have much money to go round, especially after their move. The father had just begun a new job, and the mother did not know much English, so she could not find work in any of the shops. I remembered seeing their youngest girl in school with her threadbare clothes and worn shoes, mussed-up hair, and dirty face. It hurt to remember how much she looked like me two years ago, as I had sat in Rena’s house.

I placed the red shirt on the top of the basket. My mom nodded and said, “Now you have grown in more ways than one.” I smiled and took one last look at my favorite red shirt. It had brought me luck and I hoped it would do the same for her, too.

The next week in school, I saw the little girl, whose name was Marta. She was busy making friends and playing games. Her smile was a little brighter, her hair combed and tied with a scarlet ribbon to match her new red shirt with the shiny gold buttons that someone had handed down.

Nancy Bennett

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