By Laura Jean Bhadra
My grandma, Anna Malinauskas, an US immigrant from Poland in the early 1900’s, sewed me little dresses on her black, pedal operated Singer machine. Christmas, Easter, First Communion…my childhood pictures invariably show me in these little dresses. Her daughters, Violet Johnson and Caroline Kostant, learned to sew their own clothes growing up on a small dairy farm in Seymour, Connecticut. My aunts passed this homespun legacy on to us in the form of little dresses sewn for my daughter, Sara Anne Bhadra. Aunt Carol buys the material, and Aunt Violet sews the dress, complete with matching bonnet.
Our year of dresses began with sunflowers. The occasion was the beginning of fall. The little green dress with the pattern of deep yellow flowers arrived in September, accompanied by a bonnet and a note from Sara’s great aunt. The next dress was Halloween black, with a pattern of orange and yellow pumpkins. Sara wore it with black tights and a big smile.
Thanksgiving was a little harder. They had to search and search for an appropriate fabric, but Sara ate her turkey drumstick wearing a pilgrim dress covered by a pilgrim bib. Christmas was stamped with Santa Claus, on a background of blue, and accompanied by red tights. I teased them because they couldn’t find a New Year’s pattern.
Valentine’s Day was cream with red hearts, and pockets cut in the shape of hearts. The St. Patrick’s Day outfit was my favorite, not the expected white and green, but black covered with, of course, tiny green shamrocks. Easter was a hot pink and royal riot of eggs, baby chicks and flowers.
A red, blue and sparkly white American flag pattern with flag shaped buttons did quadruple duty for Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fourth of July and Election Day. Two “any day” dresses round out the collection, a farm dress with buttons in the shape of chickens, and a long sleeved calico which we call her “Little House on the Prairie” dress. These hand sewed treasures are a gift from the past.
Sara’s Raggedy Ann doll, handmade by Aunt Violet, watches over her from the little rocking chair in her room. This past Halloween, Aunt Violet made her a Raggedy Ann costume complete with apron, bonnet, and knickers and of course, a calico dress. As little Raggedy Ann doll with red checks, carrying her little Raggedy Ann doll, she was a vision from the past trick or treating against a background of trendy cartoon characters.
As Sara wore these dresses in her year’s journey from an adorable infant to a sometimes terrible two, I realized more and more how blessed we were. Sara never had a grandma, since my mother passed away while I was pregnant. No one can replace the unique love my mother would have had for her first granddaughter. But her great aunts do their best to ensure that she has the kind of love that can only come from an older generation. It’s a love from the days when everyone sewed their own dresses, baked homemade cakes and grew their own vegetables. When things take time to make, they have a value that far exceeds their price. This old fashioned love is a different kind of love than my husband and I have for her. It’s a love that’s slower, less harried, less focused on schedules and car pooling and soccer practice and getting things “done”. Her great aunts’ love carries the flavor of the past in it like a sweet scent of vanilla, like the softness of yarn. It’s a love that connects me with my own childhood, and the little dresses my grandma made for me.
U S Legacies March 2005