"Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has observed that 'there is no such thing as an apolitical food problem.'"
We were talking about food security, and it was an argument I was losing.
"No one knows how to grow their own food anymore," laughed a mutual friend. "When they try, most of them do it wrong, and the ones who do it right do not get purchased by the grocery store because they can't grow enough fast enough for cheap enough."
"Allison is obsessed with apocalypse and 'what ifs,'" Luke explained, prodding me playfully with his foot. I shirked away a little bit to push my copies of World War Z and The Chrysalids* further away on the bookshelf.
I have no greater intellectual respect than that which I have for Krum & Luke. However, I have no greater respect of another kind, a rather indescribable kind, than what I have for my one of my bosses, Maria.
Maria is every bit as glamorous as you would expect her to be, which is very and not really at the same time. I feel guilty describing her as 'elderly' when she is so kind and spirited, but based on how frequently she complained of cancer and her foot and her grey hair, I feel safe doing so. Growing up in a small town, she moved to Halifax and sold couture on Gottingen street. Long after the street went from haute and trendy to a place many will not show their face in after dark, she still lives on that street, half hoping that it will return to its glory days but becoming enraged when condominiums start to rear their heads. Maria gets half priced exotic fruit at the city's fanciest fruit boutique because she goes in early on Sunday mornings. Maria wears more jewellery every day than I actually own. Maria is everything over the top fantastic yet downright sensible about generations gone by.
"I am never going to be any skinnier," she sighs to me as I am cleaning the floor, "so I don't go to stores any more When you reach this age, you know your body won't change until you start to die."
I am saddened, both by the thought of her departure and the ginormous clumps of lint I am picking up.
"So I make my own clothes," she continues after I say something comforting & polite.
My ears perk up.
Maria explains how department stores want to look young & modern while mall stores are where young people shop. Maria sighs that no one is making clothing for her anymore because she is not thin and plus sized stores aren't elegant. Maria says that mid priced clothing made nowadays is garish and is made to be sold, not made for people. I think of the countless see through skirts I own, skirts that I end up sewing my own slips into. Maria, swishing around in floor length black silk with ruffles around her neck, cannot go shopping. Maria made what she is wearing.
I used to sew quite a bit when I was 8 & 9. When my mother was more of a hippie, she taught me that the only things that were really beautiful were the things you made yourself. Now, I look at a sewing machine and I am confused. What a silly thing to lose the ability to do!
Food security & clothing security instill similar emotions in my soul. As someone who loves to lounge about in crepe dresses and polka dot stockings whilst eating anything filled with chocolate or carbs, the thought going without either makes me shiver. Although the things that might take either away are very different (apocalypse vs. old age), I am doing my best to protect both. I cannot decide which will be harder; going to the market early in the morning when there is a large corporate grocery store to either side of me, or having the motivating to actually acknowledge my true shape and sew a garment based around it. Both must be done.
I am not against capitalism. I am not going to fix the economy. However, it is a painful truth that capitalism can fail us when we are no longer considered affluent or important enough. There are numerous social issues associated with this idea, but something as basic as finding clothing that is appealing can be as well. I am not talking about "plus size" clothing stores; this is not a matter of size. This is a matter of body type, of age, and of aesthetic. I am not going to spend my whole life becoming an extraordinary person to be forced to resort to a beige muumuu or an ill fitting suit with bad plastic buttons when I am finally of an age where others might consider me dignified. I'm picking up my sewing machine and starting to do simple things. I am making room in my new house to leave my machine out, and easily accessible. I will turn something flat into something that will wrap around curves.
I have heard the metaphor about good clothing being like a warm embrace many a time. I wish I could say I felt perfect & familiar every time I slipped on every dress I owned, but those moments are far and few between. But really, it makes sense, because what kind of multi-made and manufactured hug could possibly feel good? The best hugs do not come from BP Oil or The Gap.
The closest hugs, the ones you remember, the ones you long for, are the ones that just for you.
*The Chrysalids is published as Re-Birth in America, which explains why this rare copy I have linked you to is over $170. You can buy it from Penguin with excellent cover art for under $12 Canadian, and I strongly recommend you do.
** That lovely 1950s/early 60s fabric is a beautiful gift from my boss & friend Maureen, who purchased it at an estate sale.