It seemed like a good idea at the time. I sold myself to the American Christmas pyjama trend but sold my mother in law "short." As I watch her freeze and shrivel in the cold nights, I decide that a new nightgown might be just the right "gift" under the circumstances.
I steal myself off to the store to buy a pattern and material. I dither over designs, dull, old ladyish or neon radiant, nothing in-between. I plump for a neutral floral and hope to jazz it up a little. I scour through other choices, what are referred to in the trade as ‘notions.’ It’s a curious collective noun that means all the bits and bobs you need to finish a garment. Things like zips, cotton, lace, bias binding, buttons and snaps. In the olden days these items were purchased from a Haberdashers, singly: three buttons for the neck and one for each cuff. Today we buy them in sets, 6 buttons where you need one, five buttons to a pack when you need twelve. It’s all designed to send the shabby shopper shaky. It soon becomes apparent that I will effectively spend more money on this one gown that I would if I bought 5 garments from any high street shop. The store assistant is reassuring, “but it’s so much more fun to make your own.” I am in desperate need of a little fun as I dash back to the car with my unmarked bag all ready to secret in the depths of my home, far away from prying eyes.
I make a start on the birthday cake, leave the eggs out to gain room temperature, check that my spring form pans aren’t sprung. I make a start on supper before the deluge of play date victims arrive and check that the diabetic is pilled and eaten. I phone the party guests that have not replied 24 hours prior to the date in question, and leave what I hope are polite, if somewhat breathy messages. I try to think of a way to remind myself to remember to phone my own father on his birthday. It has to be between the hours of 8 and ten in the morning here. To phone later will induce a heart attack, as phone calls after the designated hour indicate a dire emergency or sudden death, only. This thought reminds me to hang up the seventh stocking, an extravagant purchase as I’ve no time to make an additional one for Nonna, not that she minds such things.
So much for frugality.
Shortly thereafter I find that I do not have the time to complete the project, or rather, start the project. The problem with the project is that I need to make it a surprise. A surprise must be assembled in private. I opt for upstairs as the climb is beyond Nonna’s capabilities.
I lay out the fabric on the carpet and resist the urge to curl up next to it, foetal, for a quick nap. I avoid beginner mistakes such as pinning the pattern and the material to the carpet or cutting through the material and the carpet at the same time. One cat watches me, or rather, watches the yards of flimsy, attractive and crackly paper pattern.
I divide my time between two or three snips with the scissors and then two or three dashes back downstairs to administer to a wide variety of malfunctioning domestic appliances that fail to co-operate with Nonna. The cat waits patiently for each departure so as to take full advantage of the opportunity to shred the tissue with razor sharp claws.
I attempt rationale thought. I need an etiquette guru, preferably an American one. What is the correct response to the child who requests a play date at our house? Friday afternoon play dates are now fully booked, or rather just full. 6 children at once is my preferred limit. The seventh child on two consecutive weeks is a stretch. How can I avoid a third visit politely? Is it possible for me to say it out loud: ‘maybe next time, he could come to your house?’ I suspect that such outspoken foreigners are subject to instant deportation. I wonder when I became so spineless?
I pick up the phone to speak to the man with no preliminaries and even fewer social skills but my expectations of typical, normal, people are low these days.
On completion I have what appears to be a mound of fabric shapes that could amount to anything, as long as I remember to hide the pattern picture which give size details. I leave the bedroom in chaos, as it is impractical to sew upstairs even after I attempt to heave the 35 lb sewing machine to a new destination, one without a handy power outlet.
I nip downstairs to make a start, confident that I can maintain a secret or two, whip off the sewing machine cover and power up.
I finish two seams before making a dive for the car and the school run, “are you going to collect dah children?”
“It is time…….already?”
“Wait a minute……..I come with you.”
I hop from foot to foot in the garage, waiting and watching the second hand. She appears at the door only to disappear again. We repeat the glimpse a few times more as she gathers sunglasses, a bag, a jacket, her hearing aides and new batteries. I practice breathing exercises.
The school collection is a success. I return home with seven children, 3 of my own and four additions, so more of a limited success depending upon the parameters. Small people flood into the house with Nonna bringing up the rear.
I decide to attempt a couple more seams whilst the children snack and regroup. Nonna wanders over clutching a bottle, “wot it means?”
I peer through dirty bifocals, “er…..kills 99% of germs.”
“I bet it’s the other 1% that kills us,” she beams. I attempt a return beam. “Wot you got der den?”
“I can see dat. Wot you sew. Wot’s it going to be?”
“A winter nightgown for her, keep her toasty and warm,” I bellow.
“Why it is so…..raggy?”
“I was in a hurry to cut it out.”
“Short cuts won’t be short cuts in the long run you know?”
“I know, believe me I know.”
“It’s a bit……”
Later, I notice the traffic of 9 people through the kitchen during the afternoon. Each of one swipes a whip of chocolate ganache frosting from the counter as I wait for it to cool, as I wait for people to collect their children.
When the last child has departed I assemble supper, lay the table, ignore the piles of devastation and tackle the cake. I finish the last slick of ganache whilst Nonna observes, “is dat for dessert tonight den?”
“No it’s for her birthday party tomorrow.”
I look at her face as there’s a catch in her voice.
“Well I just eard er say dat she wanted white buttercream.”
“Oh dear. Did she say that recently?”
“Breakfast. Today. I tink.”
“Do you think you have time……to make another one?”
“Might as well……all those fingers in the frosting more or less guarantees a plague of contamination.”
4 hours ago