Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: On Making America Great Again.

Me and Ma Walking in Duluth

I grew up in a border town, which meant that in a mere half-hour we could be in Minnesota. Taking a drive to “The States” was something we did on a regular basis. The Old Man, Ma and I would take many a Sunday afternoon drive down to the US border just to wander around the Border Store with it’s creaky wooden floors, endless aisles of trinkets ‘n trash, and all kinds of cheap crap made of plastic.

There was also all the absolutely stupendous candy that you could only get in America. It wasn’t like today where you can get anything from anywhere no matter how far out in the boonies you live. Back then, you had to travel 40 miles south on highway 61 and cross the Pigeon River Bridge to sink you teeth into a wondrous and unforgettable Sugar Daddy, Chocolate BB Bat, Big Cherry Bar, Turkish Taffy, and the oh-so exotic wax bottle mini drinks. Good God they were good.

By the time I was a teenager we had many trips to Duluth, or even as far south as Minneapolis. Most trips were shopping excursions, which often included my older sister and at least one of her ubiquitous girlfriends. I have fond memories of the lions and tigers at the Duluth Zoo. Once the Dag Hammarskjold High School Band did a disastrous tour of Duluth High Schools. I played second clarinet. Enough said. I also made at least one trip to Duluth with my girlfriends Terry and Suzy, where we stayed in a cheap old hotel that stank of stale cigarettes and fried onions, and met two man-boys, one of which wore a toupee. I still blush when I think of it.

I loved American small towns, American boys, American music, American movie stars, American baseball, American shoes, American clothes, American potato chips, American candy and even the American flag because it had stars, which I also loved. Yes, I grew up coveting all things American. Everything about it seemed just a little bit better than what we had. I was proud to be a Canadian girl who loved America.

I remember where I was the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Mr. Ward made the announcement that fateful Friday afternoon just before our class was dismissed for the weekend. I remember how stunned and sad I was walking home from school that miserable overcast November day. I remember the excitement of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in the sultry summer of 1969. Decades later I would fictionalize the memory in my first novel, Summer in a Red Mustang with Cookies. I remember where I was the morning of September 11 when the twin towers were brought down. The Today Show’s Katie Couric delivered the devastating news in real-time as we watched in horror as they crumbled to the ground in a cloud of smoke and ash. But like the Phoenix rising, I remember how deliriously happy I was when Barack Obama became President. The Americans had a great leader again, one worthy of our respect and admiration, like Kennedy.

And then I remember how bewildered I was almost a year ago when Donald Trump announced that he was officially running for president of the United States and that he was going to make America great again. How was that even possible? First of all, I thought America was already pretty great. I thought this had to be some kind of joke, another publicity stunt, and that he didn’t stand a chance. But now, like most of us, I know that this isn’t a joke. This is seriously scary shit. Come November, it is quite possible that we could all be saying President Trump. I choke on the words.

When I look back on the America of my youth, the America I loved to visit, the America I admired, and the America I thought would be such a cool place to live, I’m sad and overwhelmed with grief by what is unfolding on the other side of the border. Over the past few months, I’ve found myself angry, frustrated, dismayed, disturbed, troubled, worried, offended, frightened and quite frankly, disappointed, ashamed and embarrassed by all the bad behavior and empty rhetoric taking place in a country I so admired. It’s like finding out your favorite uncle wasn’t at all what you thought he was, that he actually deserved to be behind bars and not held in your high esteem.

But I haven’t lost all hope. There’s still a part of me that has faith in the wisdom and intelligence of the American people; that there are more who are good, kind and equitable than ignorant, hateful and prejudiced. There is still a part of me that believes that when the rubber hits the road, the America that I loved as a young Canadian girl is still there; that these great Americans will show the world that they are too smart to listen to the reprehensible rants of a carnival barker, to be influenced by fear mongering, and most importantly, to be duped by a spoiled charlatan with deep pockets, bad hair and a shallow devious mind.

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glo + ma sitting on a rail (1)

boo and Lorraine in a Duluth hotel room.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Everything I Know About Fashion I Learned from my Father.

Looking handsome in his army uniform.

I like fashion.  Part of me blushes with embarrassment at confessing such a thing. For three reasons.  One. It seems superficial and frivolous, especially when there are so many serious and tragic things going on in the world.  Two. I thought that by now I’d be past caring about what I wore, much less if my butt looked good in skinny jeans.  Three.  I’ve never been much of a girly girl so having a passion for fashion and being a tracker of tony trends, that includes knowing the hottest color of lipstick, seems out of character.  This is one of those loves I’ve kept in the closet.  Under wraps.  Shawls.  Sweaters and other lovely things. Until now.

All dressed up to pull a sleigh through the neighborhood.

Here’s the paradox. In actuality, I don’t like shopping. I just like clothes and shoes and accessories and make-up.  If I was rich I’d have them brought to me.  Like the Queen.  Although I must admit I’ve been known to engage in a little retail therapy with my youngest daughter, from time to time.  Truth is, it feels wonderful, especially doing it with her.  She is my fashion consultant and barometer.  She has a keen eye for all things fashionably hip yet balanced by age appropriateness.  It’s absolutely fabulous Darling.  I highly recommend it.  In small doses of course.

Every now and then, I wonder if this trivial pursuit is really necessary.  The Old Man would say an emphatic YES.  So it is he who sowed the sartorial seed, and in this case, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Summer time and the living is easy. So are the fashions.

Ma was a natural Italian beauty.  She always looked lovely when she went out, even if it was just to the grocery store.  A splash of lipstick was all she needed and she was good to go.  Her personal style was a combination of things that were fittingly fashionably for the time and casually comfortable.  She preferred slacks and long-sleeved bright colored tops that coordinated. Her fav top was a hot pink check.  When it came to shoes, hers were always made for walking.  Grace and natural beauty aside, Ma would never have made it to the cover of any of the ladies’ magazines she so enjoyed reading.

His flair for fashion started young.

The Old Man on the other hand was the sharp dresser.   This was something I stumbled upon while curating hundreds of family photos.  It was in the faded pages of old family albums and in the musty cardboard boxes stuffed with cracked and gnarled black and white images that I discovered this other side to my father.  He was a Beau Brummell.  A Dapper Dan.  Snazzy and spiffy.  A downright trendy dude.  Where Ma’s fashion sense leaned towards the conservative and a touch predictable, The Old Man was stylish and clearly hip to current trends.  His polish and flair could be seen across the decades.  It was there in every precious detail.  Topdown.  Hats to shoes.  Everything in between.  This was all the more extraordinary given the geographic distance between our unsophisticated northwestern town and the fashion meccas. When I was young there weren’t many places to shop for clothes.  Nor did we have the financial resources to do so. We were a family of modest means.  Yet like Ma, he made much from little.  Where he got this flair for fashion I’ll never know.

The kilt-wearing band of brothers.

A large part of The Old Man’s adult life was spent in a uniform.    First there was the kaki colored army uniform that he wore in the early forties.  He is dashing in his official portrait.  His side cap tilted towards his right ear with brass buttons front and centre.  Black tie smartly snapped to attention.  Regulation trousers.  Two of the ancient photographs reveal an homage to the Canadian Scottish Regiment that he was part of.  The tartan kilt.  This provocative and valiant man-skirt showcased his strong legs adorned with traditional woolen knee-high hose.  Head gear was a Scottish beret with a fetching pompom on top.  A leather sporran hung on a strap around his waist.  And sturdy leather brogues were issued with marching orders.

The working man’s uniform.

He wore a uniform to work every day.  Blue twill pants and matching jacket complete with embroidered company name badge.  Shaw’s Holusm.  A basic ballpoint pen clipped into the single-button pocket always in the ready.  His name Bill embroidered in simple readable script across the lapel of the other pocket. He dressed this up with a crisply ironed shirt in pale blue or white and minimalist dark tie in navy or black.  Comfortable solid leather walking shoes were a must-have.  Easy smile and eager-to-please attitude complemented this working man’s ensemble.

Mr Cool with his family.

His summer attire was casual, designed for comfort and easy living.  Basic cotton or polyester trousers in neutral colors.  Beige, gray, navy or white.  With or without cuffs, side pockets and always belted.  Golf shirts were an essential.  Stripes, both horizontal and vertical, abstract patterns or plain versions in fashionable colors that coordinated with his pants.  This particular proclivity had nothing to do with the sport because he never golfed.  It was all about fashion. Pure and simple.  In the spring, or for breezy summer evenings, he layered this look with beautifully lined windbreakers that zippered to a close.  My personal favorite was from the early sixties. This little number was a cream colored short jacket cut from a toothy fabric with a wide ribbed elastic waistband that hugged the top of his hips.  The easy-going turned down color revealed a bolo tie anchored to a pale colored buttoned up shirt.  A study in contrasts.  Aviator sunglasses and ever-present cigarette were the definition of Rat Pack cool.

Mad for plaid and his new baby girl.

On cold wintery days in the fifties and sixties, he sported a knee-length dark wool overcoat with matching fedora.  No matter where he went. Even if it was a mere stroll through the neighborhood pulling me on a sleigh. He also owned a smashing mid-thigh single-breasted charcoal gray car coat with big roomy pockets.  And parkas with zip-out linings that extended their wear.  Sometimes function did take precedence over form.  He was also mad for plaid in winter.  Especially when it came to soft flannel shirts.  Either tucked tidily into his trousers or worn over like a jacket.  Still always buttoned to the top.  He wore this lumberjack garb on the weekends or in the evenings.  To hockey games with one of his brothers or while making a backyard rink for me.  If there is such a thing as primal memory than somewhere deep inside my soul is the comforting feeling of the flannel shirt he wore in our very first photograph together.  The one he carried in his wallet from my infancy to his death.  I can’t think of a better fashion statement than that.

He loved suits and music.

He loved suits.  And dressing up from head to toe.  He had many over the years.  Always stylish.  Not Brooks Brothers nor European hand-stitched expensive jobs.  Yet always the perfect cut and fit.  Sometimes he donned a natty vest that came with the suit.  Other times it was a v-necked knitted vest or sweater.  He went to church every Sunday dressed to the nines.  Shirt crisp and snappy.  Cuff links in place.  Tie full Windsor knot.  Shoes polished to a spit-shine.  Sunday mornings aside, The Old Man welcomed opportunities to put on a suit and tie.  Weddings.  Funerals.  Graduations.  Union conferences.  Any function with even a dash of formality would do.

Cool and casual.

He also had a collection of sport coats for more casual outings.  He relaxed his attire when wearing one of these.  Loosened his shirt at the neck leaving one button undone and the collar on the outside of the jacket.  No tie.  While I loved his rogue edition from the sixties my absolute favorite was classic eighties.  Deep burgundy velvet.  He wore it proudly to an Awards Ceremony in 1984.  It went beautifully with the striped Community Service medal draped around his neck that evening.  I also loved his navy blazer with the gold buttons and the extra wide white tie he wore with it.  A classic.

To say The Old Man loved shoes would be an understatement.  He called them “kicks” and there was always a reason to buy a new pair. The name was apt since he got such a big kick out of them.  His collection covered the cobbler’s gamut.  Pristine white sneakers.  Heavy black brogues.  Brown penny loafers.  White patten leather loafers.  Simple unembellished slip-ons.  Leather dress boots with zippers or laces.  Rubber galoshes.  And rubber slip-ons that covered the soles of his dress shoes to protect them from the harsh northern winters.  He loved them all.  He loved shopping for them.  Caring for them.  And most importantly, wearing them.

He also loved hats.  In his later years, he had a collection of baseball caps with various logos.  Teams.  Companies.  Places.  It didn’t matter.  He always wore them peak forward to shield his face.  They were often embellished with a quirky lapel pin or two from his collection of hundreds.  These caps were his standard summer headgear and he rarely went outdoors without one.  In winter practicality reined, especially as he aged.  The fedoras were put aside for more sensible woolen toques pulled snuggly over his ears.  Aside from the fedoras, which were so irresistibly dashing, I loved him best hatless. Until the day he died he had a magnificent head of hair.  He was an original Mop Top.

On the steps at 204 with his youngest grand daughter and Big Bird.

The Old Man cared about the way he looked even when he was elderly and walking was a struggle.  One of my favorite pictures of him was taken on the front steps at 204.  He’s sitting with my youngest daughter and her Big Bird knapsack.  A faint shadow of Ma can be seen standing behind the screen door bearing witness to the scene.  I was behind the camera.  It’s summer and true to form he’s dressed in his summer casuals.  Short-sleeved button-down plaid shirt, soft grey trousers, grey and black tweed socks, polished white leather sneakers and a red and black Reno baseball cap, peak forward.  He and Ma would be gone a few short years after that picture was taken.  Our time together had slipped away in a heartbeat.  In a fashionable New York minute.

My father taught me many things over the years.  Everything from riding a bike to driving a car.  Yet it wasn’t until this past year that I realized he also taught me everything I know about fashion.  Imagine that.

I love you Dad.  Happy Father’s Day.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Cut From the Same Cloth.

The Crazy Quilt and the lifetime of memories it holds.

I love fabric.  Everything about it.  The look.  The feel.  The smell.  Nothing puts me in a bright-hearted mood like walking the labyrinth aisles of a fabric store.  There’s just something about the colorful categorized chaos that inspires me.  It’s the playful paradox of cloth. And my life.

The inherent tactile nature of textiles is also intoxicating.  With fabric, no matter how beautiful, getting an eyeful is never enough.  It must be touched to be fully appreciated.  For it is in the feel of the fabric that our emotions are thoroughly engaged.  I am never in neutral when I’m around cloth.  And the more senses involved, the happier I am.  The richer the experience.

I love to run my fingers across deep luxurious smooth velvet.  Or get lost in the grooves of the gorgeous cut versions.  I’ve got a major crush on the crinkled kind.  And don’t even get me started on my vibe for velour.  I love the ridges of corduroy, whether barely-there baby wale or the chunky heavyweights.  In the summer nothing says “the living is easy” like cotton.  Bold and brilliant simplicity.  Delicious ice cream colored pastels.  Solid blocks of confident color.  Or whimsical patterns drawn from nature.  Sophisticated. Silly.  Cosmopolitan.  Or country.  I love it all.  And in the winter, my world is a wooly wonderland.  I also love fabrics in the raw.  Natural nubby silk, with its fusty scent, is quite simply divine.  I could drown in a sea of unwashed denim. Even burlap is beautiful to me.

When it comes to fabric I am cut from the same cloth as Ma.

Little back story. Ma loved to sew.  Her sewing machine, a chrome blue Kenmore beauty that The Old Man bought for her at Sears, was set up in our spare room upstairs next to “the boys” room.  It sat on a table in front of the window, that stared directly into our neighbor’s identical window less than twenty feet away.  In winter it was frigid wool-sweater-wearing cold in that room.  In summer it was hotter than a baked potato fresh off the fire. But regardless of the temperature, the sewing machine hummed happily.  The Kenmore came contained in it’s own case but because of its frequent use, the lid was rarely on.  It was a wonder of modern post war technology.  In fact, the basic design of that old lovely hasn’t changed all that much from the one I use today.  I was in awe of Ma’s ability to thread the machine so quickly and efficiently.  Expertly, her nimble fingers drew the thread through the various miniature levers and around the slits in the tension knob.  Up and down.  And all around.  Through the eye of the needle with ease.  And filling the circular silver bobbin.  Pure magic.  Connecting all of that mechanical mumbo-jumbo to turn fabric into something fashionable or functional.  Nothing short of miraculous.

I loved all the brightly colored threads that Ma collected in her fabric covered sewing box.  They were sweeter than candy and enough to make a rainbow envious.  I loved their little barrel shapes. The hole punched through the paper top from their turn on the spool pin.  The notch in the wood that held the end of the thread in place.  Perfection all of it.  The large-sized spools, with the basic black and white threads, were pragmatic and useful but not quite as interesting.  It was the collection of small ones that grabbed my attention and set my imagination wandering.  Even used-up naked spools had a purpose.  I entertained myself for hours with these little squatty wooden people.  I was the kid who had more fun with the cardboard box.

Ma used to make most of my clothes.  What began as a necessity, became a passion.  She had a flair for fashion and an artist’s eye for design.  Fortunately for me, I was one of the main benefactors of this talent.  One of the beautiful things about making your own clothes is their uniqueness.  The one-of-a-kind distinction.  There’s not another one quite like you walking down the street.  This is universally appealing.  Sometimes we want to blend in, be like everyone else.  Feel like we belong.  But we also want to stand out.  Be special.  Bask in our individual singularity.    That’s what Ma’s designs did for me.  I especially appreciated this once I became a teenager and my need to be “different” trounced my need to be just another cog in the wheel.  Of course, for the most part I was just like everyone else but try telling that to a sixteen year old.

One of my fondest and proudest memories of childhood is that of wearing a different “outfit” to school each day.  My favorite was the corduroy jumper.  It pleased me to receive compliments on Ma’s handy-work, in particular from my teachers, whom I held in high esteem.  I couldn’t wait to get home to tell Ma what the teachers said, watch her eyes light up to hear such honored praise for her sewing skills.

I don’t know if the ability to sew is in my genes exactly, but the love for it was definitely passed on to me from Ma.

By the time I got to grade seven, Ma started to teach me everything she knew about sewing.  In Home Ec class, which was mandatory back then, the first thing we had to make was an apron.  Without Ma’s guidance I would have failed that class. As it was I was challenged to knit a perfect pair of baby pink slippers and my macaroni cheese casserole was abysmal.  But my apron was good and got me the passing grade.  Once I was in high school, Home Ec was an elective.  I gave it a pass in favor of music.  I was much more interested in playing an instrument than playing with a measuring cup.  Besides, by then Ma was the best Home Ec teacher a girl could ever have.

In high school I became fashion conscious.  I was awakened.  Had an epiphany.  A sudden revelation.  For the first time, I realized that clothes actually said something about who you were.  They were a way to express yourself.  Make a statement.

I loved to comb through magazines picking out fashions that I thought were cool and reflected my inner being.  Styles that spoke to me.  I would show Ma little dresses that I liked and ask, “Can you make something like that Ma?”  I remember so vividly one little dress in particular.  It was a “baby doll.”  All the models in the magazines were wearing them.  Twiggy, the doe-eyed waif, looked especially smashing in her little number.   I had to have one.  Despite the fact that I was half Twiggy’s height and twice her weight, I knew I could look just as groovy.

Ma and I went straight to the fabric department situated on the top floor of Eaton’s.  The Mecca for sewers in our small northwestern town.  It was awash in bright sunlight and cheerful colors. First we scoured the pattern books for dresses that looked like the ones we saw in the fashion magazines.  There were no exact matches but Ma was a wizard at adapting patterns and adding her unique touch to achieve my voguish vision.  It was Spring and the seasonal cottons were in abundance.  We combed through the sundry bolts of fabric until we found the perfect motif.  Navy blue background adorned with tiny hot pink flowers with little viny green stems.  Just like in all the magazines.  Perfect for my baby doll dress.  Ma had this idea to add some pink cotton lace around the bottom edge of the bodice and tiny pink buttons as accents on the sleeves and neck front.   A Navy zipper, thread and seam binding completed our purchase.  I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation.  Step aside Twiggy.

Although I was learning my way around the Kenmore by this point, making a baby doll dress was not in my wheel house.  I had managed to avoid making anything that required zippers or button holes and wasn’t about to start with something of this magnitude.  Ma would be flying solo as the seamstress on this project.  And I trusted her unconditionally to do an impeccable job.  And she did not disappoint.  In addition to being a wizard on the Kenmore, she was a bit like an elf in her industriousness.  I went to school in the morning and came home to find a brand new baby doll dress waiting for me.  It was perfect.  Beyond my wildest expectations.  Better than the one Twiggy wore in the magazine.  It fit perfectly.  I felt fantabulous wearing it.  I wore it to school with navy tights and navy Mary Jane shoes.  It was the best outfit I ever wore.  And in many ways, nothing has made me feel that good since.

The Old Man and Ma in the powder blue gown I made for her.

Over the years Ma made me many dresses.  And I have made myself many as well, including my first wedding dress.  I even made one for her.  A soft powder blue floor length gown that she wore to some function with The Old Man.  She looked beautiful.  It was a labor of love.  Payback for the baby doll dress and all the other marvelous clothes she so tirelessly made for me.

People who sew tend not to throw away fabric. It’s all so precious and dear.  There are always scraps, bits and pieces left over from each project.  Ma saved all these little bits from her sewing history.  Then she gave them all to me.

Early in my first marriage, shortly after my oldest daughter was born, I began a project.  It was ambitious, and as I look back on it now, I was probably suffering from post-baby hormones. The ones that make you do cuckoo things.  What else could have made me embark on such an enormous undertaking?  It was in this frame of mind that the crazy quilt began.  It took about a year to hand embroider all the random pieces from a lifetime of sewing and stitching into a six foot by six foot masterpiece of psychedelic irregularity.  Asymmetrical.  Crooked.  Uneven.  The story of my life.

I used brightly colored cotton embroidery thread to hold all the individual pieces together.  The delicate stitches were all the ones Ma taught me.  Blanket, cross and chain.  The occasional french knot just for fun.

As the crazy quilt grew bigger and bigger, it was like I could see my entire life unfurl before me. The bright pink checkered dance costume.  The turquoise, teal and red baby wale corduroy jumper.  The long multi-colored hippy peasant gown.  The short lime green mini dress with the purple flowers.  The white eyelet skirt.  The embroidered dashiki top.  The wedding dress. Assorted kitchen table cloths and placemat sets.  They were all there.  And when it was all done, I carefully spread it out on the bed I shared with my husband.  It took my breath away.  My heart and mind drifted back to that little room at the top of the stairs where Ma sat with her beautiful elegant piano fingers.  Guiding the fabric along the steel plate of the blue Kenmore.  Her foot steady on the speed pedal.  The rhythm of the needle keeping pace.  By day’s end a baby doll dress for her much loved daughter.