Madrigal Dinners and Upholstery Dresses

Newspaper will make the sleeves puffy

Photo by Matheus Frade on Unsplash

My poor mother. Sometimes when I hear the words, tone, or attitude pour forth from my kids’ mouths that I know I used many times with her, I wonder how in the world she still loves me. She did tell me often when I was growing up that one day I would be “payin’ for my raisin’.” And, I do sometimes hear her giggle just a bit when I’m sharing some of my own parenting woes. Only sometimes will she remind me that it sounds just like me, what I put her through.

When I was in ninth grade drama class, we put on a “Madrigal Dinner.” It was one of two big productions that year. The other was The Hobbit. I was either Nori or Dori in that play. I never can remember which. We basically shared all of the four lines we had and just followed Bilbo (played by a red-head name Katrina) wherever he went.

Each of us had to make our own costumes for the Madrigal Dinner. This was supposedly part of the educational portion of the drama class. It was really because we lived in a state that had no money for public education at the time. The teachers had to get really creative and I never did have to disect anything in science because there were no funds. I imagine they don’t even do disections any more, but leading up to that particular biology class, I was terrified by the notion of it — usually back then it would be a baby pig. Anyway, I got lucky and never even had to carve into an earthworm, much less a mammal.

Our drama teacher was wonderful. Aren’t all drama teachers wonderful? She gave all of the girls in the class a pattern for a renaissance dress. We spent a good deal of time in conversation about these dresses, about wanting them to be as authentic as possible, about the ways in which the dresses of that time period were made of heavy materials — like our upholstery material.

So, I went with my mother to the fabric store and she had such wonderful ideas. If I had trusted her, I would have had the most beautiful dress of the pageant. But, I HAD TO GET IT RIGHT. I wanted it to be what the teacher had said. I can remember standing in Hancock Fabrics saying,

“No MOTHER! It HAS to be heavy. It is supposed to be upholstery fabric!”

She told me it would be difficult to sew. I said there must be a way because that is what the teacher had said. She told me it would be hot to wear. I assured her I would be fine. She told me that it may be too heavy to wear. I rolled my eyes and begged her to stop making things so difficult.

So, my poor mother purchased enough upholstery fabric to make a medieval gown. It would have made a great chair for a reading room. I looked like an idiot next to all the other girls. She broke needles and cursed under her breath and blistered her hands, but she did just as I demanded. I was the only one with a gown made of upholstery material.

It was hot. It was heavy. We had to stuff the puffy sleeves (at the shoulders) with newspaper in order to make them stand out and not just fall under their own weight. My BFF had the most beautiful, flowing, shiny gown. She looked like a princess. And, the teacher loved it.

I don’t know what this need to DO IT RIGHT is. Almost every time in my life that I have insisted on trying to be perfect, it has turned out badly. I also don’t know what makes us unable to trust our own parents. Maybe it is just me and my own kids. I didn’t trust my mother to know how to get it done and my kids clearly think I’m the dumbest person on the planet.

If either of my kids were in the same spot needing a Madrigal Dinner gown, they would have the exact same conversation with me that I did with Mom. One of them would give up and let me do it MY WAY after I said, “But, I’ve done this. Believe me. I know.” That would only happen because Kid #2 has Hubby’s knack for avoiding conflict at all costs. Kid #1 would have me (or more likely Hubby) blistering our hands to make “an authentic” medieval dress from upholstery fabric and then be so disappointed when they had the worse dress of all the dresses.

That dress hung in a closet in Mom’s house for years after the one night it was worn. All those hours of work for that two hour event! Eventually it disappeared — probably when my parents moved from that house to another.

I should have kept that dress. It would have made such a nice ottoman.




In no particular order: Writer, pastor, Mama Bear, LGBTQ+ ally, wife, preacher, watcher of TV, seeker, mystic want-to-be

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T. H. McClung, she/her(s)

T. H. McClung, she/her(s)

In no particular order: Writer, pastor, Mama Bear, LGBTQ+ ally, wife, preacher, watcher of TV, seeker, mystic want-to-be

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