A little girl, about 8, danced up to me, fiddling with the satin sash on her dress of organza. She twisted her mouth as she tugged, pulled and tied the bow.
As Mama would say, “She tied it haphazardly.”
There is an art to tying a bow. I knelt down and said, “Here, let me show you how to tie a bow. A pretty dress like that needs a pretty bow.”
As I did it, I explained and when I got to a critical part, I said, “Now, watch this real careful because this is the important part.” That’s what Mama said to me when I was 7 and she taught me to tie the bow on my dress of lace and ruffles.
“Pull this piece over the top,” she said. “That’s what makes the pretty loop. Then you pull it through like this. Look what a pretty bow this is!”
I remember that the dress was a pale mint green with lace of beige, and I never forgot what she taught me that day. From that moment forward, I could tie the prettiest bows even though I still put my petticoat on backwards as often as not. This little girl, though, wasn’t interested. She shrugged her shoulders and ran off to play.
“You just wait,” I called after her. “One day you’ll wish you knew how to tie a pretty bow.”
At least once a day, I think of something Mama taught me — like how to match checks and stripes when I sewed. There’s an art to that, too. The pattern has to be positioned with the notches on the tissue lined up in the same spot on every check, plaid, or stripe. Then, when it’s stitched up, it will align perfectly. I will not wear anything that doesn’t not have the plaids or stripes that match. My mama taught me better than that.
Once, I decided to have some chair cushions re-covered in cheerful gingham. It would have been cheaper to buy new cushions but they had belonged to Tink’s father so I was maudlin and sentimental about them. I wanted the very cushions that Grant Tinker had sat on every day of his later life. The first person I took them to quit me after doing one cushion because, as was pointed out, I kept “insisting that I do them right.” When I saw that the checks on that one cushion did not line up, I was glad I got quit.
So, I packed them up and sent them to my friend, Kim Watson, in Lexington, North Carolina. I have never met a more talented seamstress in my life. She has designed and made every bed covering and window treatment in our house. True to my experience, she sent back the most beautiful, perfectly done cushions. Each check aligned even though she had used rich red piping so it wouldn’t have been much noticeable if they didn’t match. And, she added big, wide ties.
“You need to have big, beautiful bows on these,” she said. “It will make it gorgeous.”
I unpacked the box, took the cushions out and put them on the heavy captain chairs. Then, I sat in the floor and spent thirty minutes tying the bow. I pulled. I tugged. I fluffed. While I tied, I thought of Mama and how grateful I am for her instruction on things like bows, checks, cornbread, “poke salad” that has to be washed repeatedly so it won’t poison, and the necessity of backstitching a seam so it won’t unravel.
When, at last, I finished, I admired the cushions for both the job that Kim had done in matching the checks and the beauty of the perfectly tied bows.
I could hear Mama saying, “Now, look how good that looks. Nothin’ looks better than a pretty bow tied right.”
Nothing that is except for checks that match.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.