Yesterday's Magazette

12 – A Bonding Experience

A Bonding Experience

By Carrillee Collins Burke

In 1944, ten-year-old girls were expected to be ladies at all times and not mimic boys. Except for school, there wasn’t much to do in a rural environment but help around the house. And that bored me. So my mother encouraged me to join the 4-H Club at my school. I remember Dad built a chicken coop and, with Mom’s help, I raised two bantam-sized fowl from baby chicks to adults for my club project.

The projects were judged just before school was dismissed for summer, and I won first place. The prize was $4.00 off the $7.00 fee to attend the County 4-H Camp for one week in July. I wanted to go, but this was during World War II and money was scarce.

I wondered where the extra three dollars and money for new clothes would come from. I owned only one pair of shorts and no swimsuit and my brother’s hand-me-down bib overalls was considered my long pants. So I was puzzled why my mother was excited about me winning an opportunity of which I couldn’t take advantage.

When I explained my lack of enthusiasm to her, she simply said, “Oh, honey, where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

“What way?” I whined.

“We still have a month,” she said, and scooted me outdoors to play.

Mother always took in ironing jobs to help with family finances and, sometimes, she was paid with rationed items like sugar.

Suddenly, she began taking in ironing and mending strangers’ clothes more than usual. Also, as a wonderful baker, she started selling her cinnamon rolls at the nearby country store. I knew she was doing it for me.

A few cents here and a few cents there ended up in a Mason jar for my camp fund. Finally, one evening , while helping my mother wash dishes, she whispered that the fee was earned.

When I complained I still didn’t have proper camp clothes, she just smiled and took me on a mile-long walk to a turkey farm where she purchased printed feed sacks for three cents each. I loved purple; so I chose sacks with purple flowers and green leaves on a white background. We talked all the way home about the clothes she would make for me.

That same day, Mother cut the sacks into flat yardage, then washed and ironed them. She measured me and cut patterns from a newspaper.

The next day, she began the ordeal of sewing my new clothes.

A week later, I had a pair of slacks, a pair of shorts, a long-sleeve and two short-sleeve blouses, a one-piece swimsuit, and a pair of pajamas—all in the same purple-flowered print.

Mother’s excitement over my trip finally spread to me. I was eager to meet the new friends she said I’d encounter and to take swimming lessons.

I was a proud little girl on that Monday morning when I boarded the camp bus carrying my clothes in Grandfather’s canvas satchel. I had 25-cents in my pocket, enough to buy an ice cream bar each day at the refreshment stand.

Yes, life was good!

After a fun-filled week, I returned home around noon on Saturday.

While my three siblings didn’t care one iota about my experience, my mother was anxious to hear all about it. She placed me at the kitchen table before a huge slice of cherry pie and a glass of milk then quizzed me about my camp life.

“I had a great time,” I said. “But I didn’t learn how to swim.”

“That’s okay,” she said, and smiled. “Daddy will teach you. Now, what tribe did you join?”

I told her I joined the Delaware tribe. But I wondered how she knew about them? I didn’t know about them and the week-long competition between tribes until I was there. She must have read my surprised expression because that’s when she opened the old black photograph album she had placed on the table earlier.

Inside was a large, black-and-white photo of young girls wearing long dark dresses. She ran her finger over the faces, stopped on one and said, “I was a Delaware member, too.”

“You went to 4-H Camp?” I asked, thinking that I’d never known my mother to go anywhere or do anything that wasn’t with or for her children. I pulled the book closer to take a good look at my mother as a young girl. She was very petite and beautiful.

“Yes, I did,” she said. “In 1918, when I was thirteen, I attended the very first 4-H Camp in the county where I lived.”

I knew then why she was so enthusiastic about me going to camp. She wanted me to have the same experience she had. It bonded us.

Then I remembered the handkerchief I’d made in the craft class from a square of white cotton material. I hemmed the edges and in one corner painted a blue flower with a yellow center. Underneath the flower, I printed my mother’s initials, MAL, with red paint. I opened my satchel of dirty clothes and found the wrinkled material.

“I made this for you,” I said, and whispered, “I love you, Mama.”

She placed it on the table and smoothed it flat with her open palm. She traced the flower and her initials with a fingertip. Then my mother, who was not accustomed to receiving gifts from anyone, especially from her children, wept softly. She pulled me close and kissed me on the cheek and told me she loved me too and that she would keep the gift forever.

And she did.

I know, because after she passed away I discovered that fifty-nine-year-old handkerchief in a bag of linen and pieces of lace that had belonged to her.

It was just a cheap little handkerchief, yellowed with age, but the bond of love it created between me and my mother years ago is priceless to me.

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