Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
Hidden in a Showcase
‘Ding’; a text message appeared on my smartphone. My fingers tapped to open it. Three of my great-grandchildren with their mom were standing in front of a large showcase in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s ‘Girlhood, it’s complicated’ exhibit. A blown up photo, and some costume sketches were shown: me, and my designs... circa 1950's. My actual skirt, in the snapshot, was in its own enclosure; my maiden name appeared.
“Did you know?” the text asked. “You’re representing all teens in the 1950's.”
Well, how would I know! What curator can contact people whose items were accessioned. That skirt had a Deed of Gift signed in 1974 and was part of “Suiting Exeryone” exhibit in the Smithsonian’s Division of Costume. Well, it’s 2022 and the item might have just been stored. Oh my gosh!
“Of course, who’d believe ‘that’s my grandma’,” text continued.
During high school, I often sat in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s costume wing sketching the clothing; then I’d draw my modernized version of the design. Staring, holding thin charcoal strips ready to fill blank white pages, I wondered how the women felt as people rather than costumes. Did they love, hurt, have unfilled dreams, satisfied lives? Were shoes too tight, dresses too confining? Was it difficult to launder many layers, rush to outhouses in storms, had any pedaled bicycles or just giggled if rain fell on their faces outdoors?
My mother taught me to sew, make personal patterns, also to do most anything by hand. Did she like dirndl skirts I made with wide belts circling my tiny waist? She looked elegant sophisticated and I found ‘me’ in pastels with gentle flowers. When she entered our living room in black silk velvet glamour, guests hadn’t seen her in a Swirl wrap garment spending the day preparing meals she’d serve them in our dining room. None saw fatigue, stove burners simmering food she’d chopped, beans she’d strung. None would see, hours later, her hand washed and dried dishes/glasses/silver, nor tedious job laundering/ starching/ ironing cloths and napkins. Was that possibly why I wondered about mannequins as ‘people’ whose costumes were shown but not thoughts or feelings as humans?
A month after I turned twenty, during my junior year in college, my forty-five years old father died of a heart attack. My mother, alone, made people around her comfortable, being there for them without guilt if her advice was shunned, and kept her grief private so others could reach for life-oriented joys. I commuted to grad school at night; she even kept to herself the fears for my safety standing alone at the 116th Street subway station to begin the trip back to Queens County. Under her ‘garments’, she was courageous, determined to give her daughters opportunities she didn’t have, creative, intelligent, and camouflaged a void so huge from my father’s death that she never even dated another man but was always cheerful around people and encouraging for their wishes and dreams.
In 1974, when the Smithsonian’s Division of Costume accessioned and displayed that skirt plus a pair of socks I hand-knit, I didn’t attend that opening due to a leg injury, and I knew about that one. Now that one of my grandchildren has told me that I am the face of the 1950's American teen, distance and aging will prevent me from seeing this in person. I told that granddaughter how I hand-made the top, in that photo, from a pink silk remnant material my mother had, I also wore that skirt in college with its Merry Go Round appliques, and that it would still fit me today fifteen grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren (so far) later. My enduring marriage isn’t noticed by viewers looking at my sketches or me. Does any wonder about the girl who danced in such a skirt, and how her life turned out? Think where she’s sitting posing (an undergrad dorm room before a Homecoming party) or even realize there were no hair dryers, curling irons, perma press clothing, one phone shared by sixty-six girls? I lived on the 4th floor and no elevators, dress codes meant skirts only even in severe winter weather, hand written lecture notes, non-electric typewriters.....
Why was I chosen to represent all teen girls from the 1950's? I don’t know, but I so like that a skirt, my dad’s fingers touched, and a top I made from my mother’s fabric drawer material is in my memory. “That’s my grandma” allowed me to find out that this exhibit opened in October 2020 and will actually tour beginning 2023. Will anyone wonder about ‘me’, the person, as I did long ago when sitting before the costumes in the Met?