Jean Honeycutt McCormick was just 10 years old when she discovered what she calls her blessing. It was a talent for sewing that stitched together a special Christmas she remembers, some 67 years ago. And it was giving, not receiving, that made it memorable.
A Martinez resident since 1954 on McCormick Road - which, like her, carries her late husbands last name - Jean came to Columbia County to pursue Johns post-World War II dream of running a dairy farm.
That was before five struggling years of drought and another of flood. The McCormicks sold off the cows and milking equipment, and later sold much of their farmland. South Columbia Elementary School sits in a former pasture, across the street from the home the McCormicks built, now shared by Mrs. McCormick and her youngest daughters family.
It was common for extended families to live under one roof when McCormick was young. Times were hard on the road they dubbed Rut "n Ridge, a rough dirt track on the outskirts of Charlotte, N.C.
The Depression left little tolerance for nonsense, and school often meant practical education - especially for girls. We had had a wonderful teacher, and she was teaching us girls of 10 or 11 to sew, to do things we ordinarily wouldnt do until we got into high school, McCormicks recalls.
McCormick decided to use her new skills to make Christmas presents for her mother and grandmother. Her grandmother, especially, had always sewn for the family; McCormick wanted to return the favor - and she wanted it to be something special.
She wanted to make nightgowns.
Her idea seemed frivolous in a time of financial hardship, when neighbors and jobless vagabonds often came to their North Carolina farmhouse for meals. The nightgowns she envisioned werent the practical, plain cotton nightgowns of summer or the warm flannels of winter. She wanted to sew something entirly inappropriate: frilly, pretty nightgowns to privately dress up the ladies she saw inside the hardworking matriarchs.
The task first meant an hour-and-a-half round-trip - on foot - to Belks bargain basement in Charlotte to search for the right cloth. McCormick found just what she was looking for: peach-colored, heavy, satiny, shiny, satin, 25 cents a yard. It had a flaw on one side, but to McCormick it was the perfect raw material for a dream. There was no money. I guess I must have saved up my quarters and dimes and pennies for months to get enough for all that material, McCormick says. I splurged my last few pennies and bought some blue ribbon, too.
McCormick had to sneak the material into the room where her grandmothers treadle sewing machine sat. Every afternoon when I got home from school, I did my homework first, and then my night chores, and then I bundled up in a warm old sweater and locked myself in the front room, McCormick says. There was no heat in that front room, so I couldnt sew for very long. My hands would get to freezing and I couldnt handle the materials. Id just stay as long as I could and sew as much as I could.
Her handiwork made it under the tree in time for a Christmas unveiling by the two women she admired most. Their delighted reaction more than repaid her hard work.
My mama was never a person who would gush or giggle or carry on about something. She was very sweet and kind, especially when you gave her something that meant as much as that did to me, McCormick says. But my grandmama was just the kind to make you feel like you conquered the world. She oohed and ahhed and held it up and looked at it and bragged on it.
She was a beautiful seamstress, Mc-Cormick says. I know she must have seen many flaws in that old gown. But they were everything I hoped for.
Merry Christmas. May your giving be as joyous.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
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