Friday, 18 April 2014

Passion Play Tunics

Blogging from A - Z about clothes...

My husband Andy is Peter. He is wearing a plain brown tunic that reaches just past his knees. A long twisted cord is tied around his waist.  He has an old pair of sandals on his feet and there is a woven cloak around his shoulders. He doesn’t need to apply a false beard. He has one of his own.

Our daughters are wailing women, even Gemma-Rose who is only 2. The girls are wearing tunics and mantles. I made them myself from oddments of brown and grey and beige fabric, using a made-up pattern. They look okay, not too bad at all for some trial and error sewing.

One of our sons is dressed in an alb borrowed from the church. He is Pontius Pilate’s water boy. The other son is dressed in a very short red tunic. (He has his shorts underneath.) He has a helmet on his head, and lace-up-the-leg sandals on his feet. He is the standard bearer for the Roman army.

Streams of cars, and bus after bus, are coming through the gates. Thousands of people are arriving to watch the Good Friday Passion Play. Soon Andy and the children, together with the rest of the cast, will act out the story of Jesus’ Passion.

We will watch Jesus institute the first Mass at the Last Supper. We will see that betraying kiss. We will feel all churned up as we witness Jesus being beaten and whipped and jeered at. Will we be able to utter the words, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” with the rest of the crowd? We will follow along slowly behind Jesus as he struggles beneath the cross on his way to Calvary. And as mournful and stirring hymns are sung, tears will glisten at eyes. We will see Jesus fall into the dust three times. The women will hide their faces into their mantles and wail with sorrow. Jesus will be ‘nailed’ to the cross. He will die. 

And for a moment, we will forget this is only a play, and our hearts will ache with love and compassion and regret. Then as Jesus is taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb, we will think, “This isn’t just a play. This really happened. Jesus did die for us on the cross.”

It has been a few years since my family last acted in the Good Friday Passion play. The girls’ tunics haven’t been worn for a long time. They have been tossed into the dress-up box. The girls have swapped those tunics for black skirts and white shirts: their choir uniforms. 

This afternoon, on this Good Friday, they'll be singing…

 I raised you to the height of majesty,
but you have raised me high on a cross.

My people, what have I done to you
How have I offended you? Answer me!

There is no answer. You know what? I think when I hear those words I'm going to cry.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Offering to Iron His Shirts

Blogging from A - Z about clothes...

A few years ago…

My husband Andy slips his foot out of his untied shoe. He peels his sock off and wriggles his toes. It is Holy Thursday, and we are at Mass. 

My youngest daughter Gemma-Rose sees our priest coming towards Andy. He is flanked by two altar servers. Quickly she buries her face into my lap. “It’s okay,” I reassure her. “Father is only going to wash Dad’s foot, just like Jesus washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.” But Gemma-Rose refuses to watch. For some reason she is afraid.

Father kneels down in front of Andy. One altar boy hands him a bowl. The other has a jug of warm water. Father pours water over the bare foot. He then takes a soft clean towel and very gently and carefully dries it.

The other day I said, "Gemma-Rose, do you remember when you were younger and refused to watch the Washing of the Feet?"  She did remember but she couldn’t explain why she was so afraid. Perhaps it had something to do with seeing Father in an unfamiliar situation. What could he possibly be doing, kneeling at someone's feet?

There might seem, at first glance, to be something very wrong in seeing a priest kneeling down before a parishioner, his hands gently handling a foot that has just emerged from a probably sweaty sock. Father should be up at the altar. That’s where he belongs, turning bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord. He has a role like no other. He stands in the place of Jesus.

But Jesus knelt before the disciples. He washed their feet, despite Peter's protests. So our priest repeats this act of humility, reminding us that we must all love, we must all serve. I think deep down we know this is what we are called to do. Why else would Pope Francis' acts of humility, love and service affect our hearts so much?

When I married Andy I certainly had no intention of serving. I had very definite ideas about what our life together would be like. We were going to be equal partners (with me in charge). I was prickly and defensive and very opinionated. There was no way Andy was going to take advantage of me (he didn't intend to) just because I was now his wife. I decided I was going to do no more for my husband than what an equal partnership demanded.

I certainly wasn’t going to iron my husband's shirts. 

Why did I marry Andy? I married him because I love him. It took me a very long time to see that love is all about giving freely. That means being willing to serve. Marriage is not about taking from a spouse, or remaining stubbornly independent. It’s not a mutually agreed upon partnership, where every give and take is noted, added up and balanced equally. 

I was afraid to serve the man I love. I wonder why. Maybe I was afraid I’d end up doing all the giving and my husband would just lap it up without reciprocating. But that's not what happened. The more I give, the more Andy gives to me.

I love. And I am loved. 

I don’t really love ironing shirts though. I don’t like ironing full stop. It’s a fiddly time-consuming job. I look at the overflowing ironing basket. It will take an awful lot of love to turn all those wrinkled clothes into crisp smooth shirts.

I sigh. I really don't want to iron those shirts. But a bit of ironing won't kill me, will it? My act of love is really only minor.

Unlike Jesus'.

I love. I am loved. Does it get any better than that?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Not What We Expected

Blogging from A - Z about clothes...

“When I was a boy,” says my husband Andy, “I really wanted a pair of flares.”

“Flares?” The girls gather round. Dad is about to tell another of his clothes stories, and they are all ears.

“Trousers, wide ones,” grins Andy. “They were all the fashion. Everyone at school had flares, except for me. So I nagged and nagged my mother..."

“Did you get some, Dad?”

“Yes, my mother gave in and bought me a pair. You should have seen those pants. They were so flared they were way out there.” Andy holds his arms apart. Yes, those were some flares.

“And I hated them!”

“Why, Dad, why?”

“Well, my mother didn’t buy the trendy brand name ones. She bought me the cheap version. They were so long I couldn’t see my feet when I wore them, even though my mother had chopped miles off the ends of the legs. They had a very wide waistband with three buttons and they rose almost to my chest.”

We all giggle as we imagine Andy in his high waisted, wide, wide flares.

“I was a real style-master,” continues Andy. “No one cut a dash like your dad. It’s just as well your mother was short sighted otherwise she’d never have come anywhere near me.”

“So those flares were not as good as you expected?” I ask.

Andy shakes his head. “They were awful!”

“I’ve got an unexpected clothes story too,” I say. “I was invited to a birthday party. It was an evening affair. All the other girls told me they’d be wearing long skirts. I didn’t have one so I went to my mother and asked if she could buy me one. Well, she didn’t buy me a skirt. She got out her sewing machine and spent hours sewing me one. My mother finished the skirt and handed it to me and I think she expected me to get very excited but I didn’t.”

“Why not, Mum?”

“It was the wrong sort of skirt. All the other girls were going to wear bright, hippie-style, flowing skirts. My skirt was made of some rich, deep red fabric, and it was close fitting, very formal. Oh it was very beautiful but it wasn't what I expected. I imagined all the girls making fun of me if I wore it. But if I didn’t wear it, my mother’s feelings would be hurt. I felt all churned up inside. I no longer wanted to go to the party.”

“Did you go, Mum? Did you wear the skirt?”

“I went to the party but I didn’t wear the skirt.”

“You didn’t tell us whether you wore your flares, Dad.”

“Yes, I wore them. I’d nagged and nagged my mother for them. I didn’t have a choice. They were my new school trousers and I had to wear them." Then he adds with a twinkle in his eye, "It's not a good idea to upset your mother!"

I think of my own mother. I suddenly I wish I'd worn that skirt.

Then my thoughts are interrupted by a chuckle. “Those flares refused to die. I don’t know what they were made of but I couldn’t wear them out whatever I did to them.” Andy chuckles again. “Oh but those flares were nothing compared to the pink tie-dye trousers I inherited from my older brother!”

Pink tie-dye trousers?

“Wait a minute!” I order. “I’ll be right back. I need my notebook. Pink tie-dye trousers will make a wonderful blog post story! Tell me all the details!”

What would I do without my up-to-the-minute, with-it, trendy, style-master husband with all his clothes stories?

So Andy tells his story. “What? Never!” I say, as I'm jotting down notes. 

What am I talking about? Post T, I think. Yes, definitely post T.

Image: What has the horse got to do with my story? Nothing at all. He's just having a good laugh.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Memories: I Remember What I Was Wearing...

Blogging from A - Z about clothes...

I remember what I was wearing when I saw my son Thomas for the first time…

… a pair of navy blue leggings and a matching blue and brown striped maternity dress. The two halves of my outfit parted nicely and modestly for the ultrasound. A dollop of gel was squished onto my skin. It felt deliciously warm. A probe circled through it and the technician said, “Look! There’s your baby!”

I remember what I was wearing at the moment of Thomas’ birth…

… an ordinary white hospital gown with three ineffective fabric ties at the back.  Regulation issue, one size fits all, worn by a hundred others. A hundred stories; one gown. A plastic bracelet encircled my wrist: a name, a number.

I remember what I was wearing on the second morning of Thomas' life.

… blue pyjamas. A nurse appeared at my bedside at 6 in the morning. “Come,” she whispered. So I swung my legs over the side of my hospital bed and slid to the floor. I crept past the sleeping mothers and their babies and followed her to the NICU.

I remember what I was wearing later that day…

… a pair of tartan maternity leggings teamed with an oversized navy blue T shirt. I showered, I dressed and then dried my hair. I barely looked into the mirror.

I remember what Thomas was wearing when he died…

… a nappy and a blanket. I held him within my arms, on my tartan lap.

I remember what I was wearing when Thomas was laid into the ground…

… a navy blue dress covered with tiny white polka dots, not a maternity one, not a dress that Thomas and I had shared. The sun disappeared behind a cloud as his coffin was lowered. Goosebumps appeared on my arms and I shivered. I didn't have a jacket.

I remember what I was wearing on Thomas’ first birthday…

… a T shirt and skirt that was getting a little too tight. I stood at the side of Thomas’ grave. I cried. I smiled.

Navy blue leggings, striped maternity dress, sterile hospital gown, blue pyjamas, tartan leggings, over-sized T shirt, polka dot dress, a skirt that was a little too tight... and over the top of everything... an invisible mantle of Love.

I remember...

Can you remember what you were wearing on a significant day of your life?

Monday, 14 April 2014

Laundry: Hanging Out the Undies

Blogging from A - Z about clothes

I tiptoe into the laundry and begin transferring the wet clean clothes from the washing machine into a basket. A minute later, I hoist the basket onto my hip, slide the door open and step out into the back garden. I drop the heavy clothes under the washing line and then, just as I am about to pick up a few pegs from the bucket, I am discovered.

“Mum! We heard the door slide open. Why didn’t you tell us you were hanging out the washing? We want to help!” Four indignant bossy girls have appeared. They want to join my hanging-out-the-washing party.

So we take turns bending over the basket. We shake clothes and peg them to the line. Every now and then we close our eyes and face the sun. Red light shines down upon us. We savour the warm sun soaking into our skin. We listen to the chubby kookaburra chuckling on our fence. We chat. We smile. We enjoy some mother-daughter time as we hang out the clothes.

Soon the basket is empty and the line is full. Shirts and towels and skirts and undies are flapping in the breeze. The hanging-out-the-washing party is over: The team have finished their work. We race each other up the hill, back to the house: "Hey! Wait for me!"

When my husband Andy arrives home from work, piles of neatly folded clean clothes greet him.

“We washed all your clothes, Dad. You’ve got plenty of clean underwear.”

Andy grins. What would he do without us? He is grateful for all those clean undies.

The next day, Andy gets out of bed, showers and then selects some of those clean clothes to wear. They smell of sunshine and flowers. He inhales deeply. He smiles. There’s nothing quite like clothes that have been dried outside in the fresh air.

That evening when Andy arrives home from work, he says, "I felt very uncomfortable all morning. It hurt to sit down. It was painful." We rush forward. A pain? Muscular? Bruising? Not shingles, surely?

"What was wrong, Dad?"

Andy looks at our serious faces and then he giggles. We look back at him. He is snorting with laughter. We look at each other and raise our eyebrows.

"You won’t guess what the problem was!” Andy manages to say at last.

“What, Dad, what?”

He bends over double as a wave of laughter consumes him. He tries to speak but the words won’t form. Finally he splutters, “Peg!”

“Peg?” we echo.

“Yes, peg! Someone left a peg attached to my undies. It kept digging into me every time I sat down.”

“Didn’t you notice the peg when you got dressed, Dad?”


We think about the pain Andy suffered. We think about the peg attached to his undies. We forget the pain. We think about the peg again. Then we giggle and snort and bellow with laughter.

Why do we find this story so funny? I have no idea. Perhaps we’re weird. 

PS: Pegs might be known as pins in some parts of the world.

Image: Pegs on the line by Leon Wilson(CC BY 2.0)

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Kilts: Written by Merida the Older

Blogging from A - Z about clothes

Once upon a time we lived in an old back-to-front cottage on the edge of a paddock of cows. We only had one neighbour, which was just as well because my older children were learning to play the bagpipes…

Every afternoon mouths fasten around blowpipes. Bags fill with air. Arms wing. Fingers feel for holes. And loud droning sounds float mournfully away over the fields.

Once a week my husband Andy drives the kids into town for their bagpipe lessons. Lessons, practise, lessons, practise… And then one day they are invited to join the local pipe band. They learn a new skill: marching. And they acquire a new item of clothing: a kilt.

Then April rolls around, the month of the Highland gathering where clans meet to toss the caber and throw the hammer, where crafty folks set up stalls to sell shortbread and tartan dressed dolls on sticks, and where pipe bands, from across the state, assemble to fill the air with droning stirring music that can be heard from miles away.

The boys thrust their arms into freshly ironed white shirts. They wind their tartan kilts around their waists. They buckle their belts and attach their sporrans and fix their ties. They pull up long white socks and tie their polished black shoes. They place black caps on their heads. They are ready to march. They are ready to play their pipes with the band.

Band after band marches through the streets of the village. Pipers piping. Drummers drumming. Scotland the Brave fills the air. Tears prick at my eyes. Why does the music of bagpipes stir up our emotions?

The boys march by, stepping in time, cheeks billowing, bags thrust under their arms.

And then afterwards, I can’t find them. “Where were you?” I ask later, and my son Callum replies, “I had to lie down. I felt faint.” Despite legs poking out from the bottom of short kilts, traditional Scottish dress is heavy, not designed for a warm Australian day. I wonder how the men wearing the tall feathered headgear feel.

 “I’m writing a post about kilts,” I tell my children. “Did you know I once lived in Scotland?” My girls gather around.  They like to hear stories of my childhood. “I was only young, perhaps 4 or 5.”

“Did you have a kilt, Mum?”

“Oh yes! And a Scottish accent too. People used to say, ‘Say something for us!’”

“What did you say, Mum?”

“Anything. They just wanted to listen to my voice.”

“You had a kilt. You had a Scottish accent. You have red hair! Was your hair long, Mum?”


“You are Merida!”

I smile. I am Merida, the star of Pixar’s animated movie Brave. You didn’t know that, did you?

The bagpipes are no longer played. The kilts are no longer worn. The cows have disappeared. Merida is much older.

But the music echoes mournfully on and on…

Friday, 11 April 2014

Jumper: How Much Do I Love?

Blogging from A - Z about clothes.

A story about a sweater or pullover or jersey or - as we call it in Australia - a jumper...

How much do I love my soon-to-be husband? Enough to knit him a thick Aran jumper? Yes!

I have never knitted anything so big or complicated before but that’s okay. I have determination. I have time. I have confidence. I have love.

So I buy lots of balls of pale grey thick Aran wool, a cable needle, a pair of knitting needles and a pattern.

“I’m going to knit you this jumper,” I say, thrusting the pattern under Andy’s nose. He smiles. He is impressed. I hope he feels loved.

Days go by. Weeks go by. Andy and I get married. We board an aeroplane bound for Sydney. Andy’s jumper is not on his back. It’s in my suitcase: a little bit of knitting, hanging from a needle, and lots of balls of wool.

Months go by. Andy has stopped asking about his jumper. He's stopped imagining himself wearing it. But I have a secret plan. I’m going to finish it for his birthday.

So I knit and I knit (whenever Andy isn’t around) and the jumper grows and grows.

At last it is finished. Every last cable has been twisted into the design. Every last seam has been stitched up. The jumper is thick and soft and absolutely perfect.  I smile with delight, thinking of the moment when I give it to Andy.

Andy’s birthday arrives. I give him a large parcel. He tears off the brightly coloured wrappings and his jaw hits the floor. His eyes open wide and he looks and looks and looks. "Wow! Wow!"

“Go on, try it on!” I grin.

So he wriggles inside my masterpiece, pulling it down over his body. His smiling face appears out of the head hole. He runs his hands down the sleeves, his fingers bumping over the cables. He twists and turns trying to see how it looks.

"Go look at yourself in the mirror," I urge.

The jumper fits perfectly. It looks just like the photo in the pattern. 

“You must love me a lot,” Andy says, giving me a hug. I think of all the hours of work and I agree.

Days go by. I can’t separate Andy from his jumper. More days go by. It’s starting to look a little grubby around the edges. “I’ll wash it for you,” I offer. “You’ll be able to wear it again tomorrow.”

So Andy peels off the jumper and reluctantly hands it over to me. I read the care instructions on the labels that came with the wool. I read them twice. Then I wash the jumper oh so carefully. I treat it like a newborn baby. When it is clean, I carefully place the precious damp garment on the table and begin to tweak it into shape.

Then I step back. My mouth drops open. My hands fly to my face. I look at the jumper with wide opened eyes. And then I scream. 

Later, Andy thrusts his head into the newly washed and dried jumper and pulls it down over his body. His face appears but his hands don’t. The jumper stretches unevenly down to his knees.

“I followed all the wash instructions very carefully,” I assure him.

Andy grins. “We could both fit in here," he says, lifting his arms out to the side. A great snort of laughter escapes from his mouth.

“It’s not funny! All that hard work. I am never going to knit such a big jumper ever again.”

And I don’t. I knit baby bonnets, and toddler dresses. I knit vests and scarves. I knit little girl cardigans and big girl jackets. I knit everything except a man-sized jumper.

One day Andy says, “You knit for everyone but me." Then he adds, “When are you going to knit me something? I’m feeling unloved.”

It’s been nearly 31 years since that knitting disaster. Should I try again? If I knitted my husband a warm Aran jumper, a complicated pattern with cables, he would feel very loved. 

How much do I love?

He already knows how much he's loved. I could just give him a great big hug and say, “Andy, I really love you.” 

What do you think?