I barely knew my grandparents. I grew up in Hawaii, and my surviving grandparents lived in California, so my memories of them are limited to a few trips to the Mainland, and their few trips to Hawaii.
I last saw my grandfather when I was in university, six months before he passed away. My grandmother had been gone for five years, my grandfather had just moved into a nursing home, and my aunts were clearing out the house.
I was about to head off to New Zealand to study abroad, and knew I might never have another chance to see my grandfather.
While I was visiting my aunts showed me a few pieces of Grandma’s clothes, and her enormous hat collection. We had the loveliest time looking at all the hats, laughing at the flower-covered 1960s beehives, and cooing over little veiled ’40s numbers. My aunts insisted I try on Grandma’s dresses. They fit like a glove, and thus, as the only grandchild the right size (and the only one with any interest in old stuff), they became mine.
For the last visit with Grandpa, just before I went back to university, the aunts suggested I wear one of Grandma’s dresses — a fabulous blue number, wonderfully vintage, but also timeless. I paired it with my favourite of all of Grandma’s hats, a charming, crazy little item in dark blue with diamantes and wings.
Grandpa loved that I had dressed up. And he had a story about the hat.
When he and Grandma were courting in Joliet Illinois at the end of the Great Depression he took her to the movies. On the way home they walked slowly, enjoying the evening and the date. They stopped in front of the fanciest department store in town, and Grandpa noticed Grandma looking at a hat in the window. He asked if she liked it, and she said yes, but that at $4.50 it was ridiculously expensive, far too much to spend on a hat.
The next day, Grandpa turned up at Grandma’s house with a parcel, which unwrapped to reveal the $4.50 hat.
And that was the hat I had picked to wear.
In addition to her hats and dresses, I own all of Grandma’s patterns, each neatly marked with her name. The earliest of them Butterick 8044, which she must have bought and made up when they were courting, or in the earliest days of their marriage.
From the moment I owned the pattern I’ve loved it, and I’ve imagined it made up in blue wool, paired with the $4.50 hat.
Blue must have been Grandma’s favourite colour, blue was the commonest colour among her hats, and three of the four dresses of hers that I own are in shades of blue (the fourth is her debutant dress, in white).
Sewing up the pattern was a dream. Felicity helped.
Tomorrow I’ll show you pictures of the finished outfit.