Sprucing Up a Brown Cotton Dress

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A normal teenager in the early 1940s.
A normal teenager in the early 1940s.

It was the beginning of the 1940s, and we were still in recovery from Oklahoma’s worst economic hard times, which was compounded by drought and dust storms. My forever-frugal mother, knowing brown wasn’t my best color, found the brown dress I’m wearing in the picture on the right on a clearance rack. But to her credit, she splurged a little and bought a piece of white lace to trim the collar and a strip of white taffeta ribbon for a matching hair bow. I had just learned how to coax my very soft hair into the then-trendy high pompadour style, which was not an easy feat in that pre-hairspray era.

A large bow anchored with bobby pins behind the pompadour and wearing a blob of red lipstick were the mark of teen fashion consciousness that linked us in those days to the big world. Just being a part of local teen look-a-likes also may have given us a healthy feeling of a cohesiveness that subsequently quelled a bit of the gloom of WWII.

The Queen and I: We’re Not So Very Different

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british flag

Here are two links to some wonderful photographs of the Queen that I think you will enjoy:



Although she lived in a palace and I lived in a shabby farmhouse in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, Queen Elizabeth II and I really aren’t so very different. She was born less than a year after my birth. I took notice of the media photos and stories of her through the years, feeling almost like we were growing up together. She was quiet and reserved as a child and I appeared quiet and reserved because I was basically shy.

During WWII the future queen donned a uniform and served a stint in a British women’s auxiliary military as a non-combat trained mechanic and first-aid truck driver. During the same war I served my country working as an assembly-line riveter on US military planes for two years.

Finally, here is the clincher. Several years ago I was watching an old video on TV or possibly the computer of some sort of British jubilee parade with numerous horse-drawn, ornate golden carriages moving along on a street near Buckingham Palace. The queen was not standing on the palace balcony as usual. She, husband Philip and Prince Harry at about age three and a half (or possibly Prince William at that age) were standing in the front row of a crowd that lined the street.

Suddenly, no one but the queen noticed little Harry taking off toward a set of horses pulling a carriage; and in a nano-second the Queen sprinted the two or three steps after him and ushered him back to safety. She didn’t shout out to a guard or to anyone else, “Go, run after Harry!” She, like any normal, loving grandparent, instinctively ran after her young grandson in an automatic response to protect him.

No one seemed to notice or comment on what she did, but I saw it and I understood the moment. And that’s when I, also a grandmother, knew the Queen and I weren’t all that different. We are both devoted to our countries, and we love and protect our families.

THE DIRTY DAYS–How Growing Up in the Dust Bowl Impacted My Life

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Almost eighty years ago!  A rare picture of me when I was 8.  We didn’t have the money to afford very much photography when I was growing up.
Almost eighty years ago! A rare picture of me when I was 8. We didn’t have the money to afford very much photography when I was growing up.

I’ve often been asked “How did your experiences growing up in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression impact your life?  What lasting effects did your growing up during that difficult time and place have on you?  And, how much of what’s described in your book, THE DIRTY DAYS, really happened?”

Here’s my answer to all three questions:  I had so little growing up, and I believe that fact made me appreciate the better times I experienced later in my life.  When I was a child, a store-bought dress, bakery bread sandwiches, shoes that weren’t two sizes too big, a bathroom inside the house, and electricity were luxuries we didn’t have.  But for many decades since then, I’ve enjoyed having such luxuries, plus many more, and because acquiring them was such a long, hard struggle, I’ve never taken them for granted.

As I was growing up, I often dreamed of wearing pretty clothes, like the “children” did in my old, battered-up Sears catalog.  And going to school with well-dressed girls who came from wealthier families could make me feel like my clothes appeared too small or too big and tacky.  To this day, I cherish store-bought clothing—although I usually buy only clothing on sale and then I alter whatever I buy to make it fit—larger, smaller, wider, shorter.  I guess what I’m saying is—I’m very frugal to this day, but I still do relish dressing up.

Due to the short supply of water for personal cleanliness and other uses during my growing-up years in the Dust Bowl, I’ve always been somewhat of a need-to-be-clean kind of person. And because I learned to be so very frugal then, I still oftentimes get by without some luxuries I actually could afford, or I renovate what I have instead of buying new things or conveniences.

For example, I once found an old wood headboard at a farm sale and removed its worn-down varnish and refinished the beautiful wood.  Then I “commissioned” my husband to build a bookcase with the wood for our daughter’s bedroom.  Another time I bought an adult coat at a rummage sale, and from its good-as-new material, I made a winter jacket and cap for our then six-year-old son.

Growing up in the country without a telephone or an automobile readily available, I often felt isolated and friendless.  It seemed like my best friends in my early years were the “children” in the old beat-up Sears catalog that I brought with me when we moved from Arkansas to Oklahoma.  Today I still cherish friends and reach out to support or help anyone in need.  I’m also very loyal and patriotic as a result of my entering adulthood during WWII.

A Smartphone image of me at one of my signings at age 87. What a difference 80 years can make!
A Smartphone image of me at one of my signings at age 87. What a difference 80 years can make!

So basically, I’m saying my experiences growing up made me what I am today, the best part of me anyway.  Growing up in southwest Oklahoma during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl has served me well. I’m resilient, determined and full of hope—even at the ripe old age of 87.

Finally:  How much of my story, THE DIRTY DAYS, is fiction and how much really happened?  Of course, the names of people and locations and even the chronology of some events have been changed.  But I have to say most of the events and stories in my novel really happened.  As it states on the cover of my book, “A novel based on her life.” And it is.