Poems & Essays

27 May

How My Daughters Learned to Curse

General/Column No Response

As a newlywed teacher, I’d admired a colleague’s dresses—
miniskirts, puffed sleeves, Peter Pan collars, fabrics so lively
that rainy Virginia days didn’t matter. How, I asked her, do you
find such beautiful clothes? Where do you shop? I sew them, she
told me. Sew—not in my vocabulary. Sure, an occasional button,
but a whole dress?

By then I was pregnant, the heartbeat, said the doctor, no
ultrasound photo then, it’s fast, you have a girl. A girl! Out I
went to purchase a Kenmore, six lessons included, at the local
Sears. Obsessed, I sewed everything—maternity tents,
bubble-belly bathing suits, baby blankets.

Matched dresses for my toddler and me, Raggedy Ann replicas,
piqué and calico ensembles, stretch pants of polyester double
knit (couldn’t tell right side from wrong). A second girl, sister
dresses of kettlecloth, no wrinkles. Hats from remnants.
Their father tolerated my homemade Holly Hobbie ties.

The girls avoided me, sure to be called into the sewing room,
stuck with pins. My husband chose to be shod full-time after he
stepped on the upside-down pincushion, hidden in the shag
carpet. I still can recall his howls.

As they approached teen years, they begged me to stop, to visit
stores where peers found au courant attire. When foul language
erupted from them, I asked why, received a simple explanation:
learned it from you, Ma, whenever you made a mistake at the

The machine, now a Viking, sits silent most days, an occasional
repair for grandsons’ chinos. The attempt to craft a dress for my
granddaughter’s American Girl doll? Abandoned before I could
teach her my seamy words.



Gail Fishman Gerwin (www.gailfgerwin.com) wrote three poetry collections. Sugar and Sand was a Paterson Poetry Prize finalist; Dear Kinfolk, (ChayaCairn Press) earned a Paterson Award for Literary Excellence. Aldrich Press (Kelsay Books) published Crowns (2016). Associate poetry editor of the literary journal Tiferet, Gail, also a playwright, poetry reviewer, and published fiction writer, is a writing-workshop facilitator.

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