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Memories of a perfect dress

When Nita was a child in the 1940s, her single mother made her a dress from the inside of her Aunt's coat.

Nita's school picture

The dress worn by the author in this colorized class photo was made possible by Aunt Clovis Kornegay.

Today I heard Dolly Parton’s beautiful song Coat of Many Colors, and once again it brought back a cherished memory of my childhood.

My mother was the single parent of three girls and a boy. We lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Mama worked as a waitress. I was the youngest, just 3 years old when she got a divorce from our abusive, alcoholic father.

Mama found it so hard to keep a roof over our heads that in 1945 she moved us out to the country, where she had two brothers to help her make ends meet. We lived near Jonesboro in shotgun houses on the Tulot and Judd Hill plantations. In the winter, howling winds and snow crept through the cracks of our houses; in the summer, Mama had to shoo flies away from the food.

Mama and my teenage siblings, Alice and Jim, did all they could to plant, hoe, pick and pull cotton bolls from the hard, unyielding ground. Of course, the only clothes we had were hand-me-downs, or maybe a pretty handmade flour sack dress and panties.

When I was 8 years old, my wonderful aunt from Little Rock came to visit. She was very small and gave me an old coat of hers with a lovely wine-colored satin lining. Mama took the lining from the coat and, by hand, sewed me a beautiful little dress with two rows of lace down the front.

I was so proud of that dress—and when the teacher of our two-room schoolhouse said it was the prettiest dress she had ever seen, I was even more thrilled.

When we had school pictures taken that year, Mama pulled my hair back and dressed me in my satin dress. To this day, I don’t know where the money came from to buy the pictures. But I still smile and occasionally shed a tear when I look at that picture and remember how I loved that dress made from a coat lining.

By Nita Lynn-Zahn, Shreveport, Louisiana

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

terry cook September 9, 2011 at 1:15 pm

What a great story. So heartfelt…had a tear in my eye.

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CARLA September 13, 2011 at 1:17 am

Very nice story.

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Larry Oldfield September 14, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Nita.. i have a friend who is a singer..she has performed all over the country..including Las Vegas.. her name is Logan Wells.. she has cd that she recorded . one has the song coat of many colors on it.. she is orobably best known for her tribute to Patsy Cline. she has also recorded that.. you can check her out on her web site. http://www.loganwells.com

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Sam October 16, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Beautiful story. I got teary-eyed.

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Flora Hammell Lyons November 22, 2011 at 7:49 pm

I just read the story, Silver Lining. I can relate to the story for I wore hand me downs and I know what shotgun houses are. I grew up in Tulot (see my email address) and would like to get in touch with Nita Lynn Zahn. You may forward my comment to her. I am also on FB.

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Tracey January 24, 2012 at 9:00 am

Great story. While reading about the work in the cotton fields had me thinking about my mom and her mom that sometimes worked on their farm. Kids’ today could really learn something about hard work spending a good day picking cotton. Thanks for sharing.

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Katrina @ Edelweiss Patterns July 14, 2012 at 5:45 pm

How touching! I love to hear stories of seamstresses back then. I’ve heard lots of women say that though they grew up poor they were the best-dressed girls in school since their moms sewed for them.

Nowadays I like recreating dresses from the 40s and 50s just for fun!

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Carol Covey March 12, 2013 at 8:48 pm

I really enjoyed this story.

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