Remembering Doris

Steve got the news this morning that his mother, Doris, who would have turned 90 this year, had finally slipped away. She had suffered for many years from Parkinson’s-related dementia so although her passing was not a shock, it’s still sad when it actually happens.

I really didn’t know my mother-in-law well. Around the time our kids were elementary school age, Doris started having memory issues so Steve’s sister moved their mom from Southern California to be closer to where she lived in Washington State. As an aside, I think there must be a special place in heaven for the child who takes on the responsibility of caring for an increasingly infirm parent. As I saw with my older sister who moved, cared and advocated for our mother, Steve’s sister sacrificed countless hours and emotional energy to make sure that Doris felt loved and attended to throughout her decade-long battle with Parkinson’s.

What I will remember most about Doris is her talent and skill as a seamstress. Had she been of a different generation, she would have been a star competitor on “Project Runway.” She totally understood three-dimensional design and had perfected her pattern-making skills working for a designer in Los Angeles. And she was a student of fashion; until the magazines had to be given away prior to moving from Los Angeles, I think she owned and archived every issue of Vogue magazine.

Because I liked to sew, this was a way that she and I could connect during her occasional visits. Although she was very gracious and complimented me on a couple of maternity outfits I made for myself, I was really a sewing dilettante compared to her. Her skills were amazing; I remember helping her wash a plaid jacket that she had made. Not only were the horizontal stripes in perfect alignment, but the entire plaid pattern was sewed in such a way that the seams became invisible.

Doris wanted to help me create a “sloper” which is a basic pattern for a fitted, scoop neck bodice and narrow skirt that would be made to my measurements. From that I would make a muslin, which in turn I could use to make patterns of my own design. While this was all way over my head, it would have just been in a day’s work for her.

I admired the confident fashion sense that she expressed in the way she presented herself. Although she never had a lot of money – I know she scrimped and saved for a pair of Cole Haans from Nordstrom’s, she never left the house without looking totally pulled together. A petite lady of the “matching shoes and handbag generation,” she understood proportion and color and always looked classically fashionable. Stacy and Clinton of “What Not to Wear” would have approved.

The ability to design in three dimensions, a love of style, good taste – these are all qualities that I see in my daughter that I can trace back to her grandmother. Thank you for sharing that. We honor your memory.

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