Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Village of Many Hats: Second Excerpt

Wonder of wonders, there is a new store in Silverado! This is always a hopeful sign in any town or village or city block which has fallen on hard times. It's especially exciting for children like Gina, who love to make costumes and whose fingers are drawn to fabrics the way others are drawn to wood or books or horses or ______________ (your choice here.)

(Chapter 4
        Have a look around, Gina,” said Madame D’Oiseaux.
          “Oh,” I said. “You know me?”
          “I know your Mama quite well,” she said. “I used to work in our Silverado Seniors Lodge too, in the kitchen, but I am now retired. I opened my shop here yesterday. So don’t be shy, have a look around.”
          “Thank you, Madame D’Oiseaux,” I said, feeling very grown-up. “You came to our class last year and showed us how to make apple dolls. So I sort of know you, too.”
          Madame D’Oiseaux bobbed her head and smiled at me. She had one of those tanned, smiley faces, with bright brown eyes, a little nose and round, red cheeks. Her hair was the shiniest bright silver, with curls around her face and that thick, silver braid down her back all the way to her waist. She wore a yellow blouse, a patterned blue vest and a dark brown velvety skirt and button-up brown boots. Her feet looked the same size as mine! If she was a bird, she would be a quick, bright hummingbird, not a wren, although brown wrens are cute in their own way too.
          The shop smelled like lavender and roses. I went to a dark red sofa piled high with cushions. Up close, each one looked like a small Persian carpet from Aladdin. The back of each cushion was a different shade of colour: dark chocolate brown, coppery brown, dark green, mint green, pale sky blue, dark navy blue, rose pink and deep burgundy red, like the sofa. The fancy carpet fronts were made of firmer fabric and filled with embroidered flowers and birds.
          “You like them?”
          I drew my hand back quickly.
“Sorry,” I said.
          “Don’t be sorry, not in the slightest! Go ahead and touch them! That is what they are made for, to give comfort as well as pleasure, especially to touch.”
          “I really like those,” I said and pointed at four cushions with robins and bluebirds sitting in tree branches.
          “Thank you!” she said. “Those took a lot of work but I am quite happy with the results.”
          I patted each one very carefully. The burgundy material on the back of the cushions was so soft and thick that my hand almost sank into it. It felt like Grandpa’s shaggy horses in the middle of a cold Cranbrook winter.
          “This is all so nice. My mom would like every single thing in this store,” I said. “And Sara would look so cute in this hat.” I pointed to a dark chocolate and light brown velvet hat with a brass button on top.
          “Bien!” she said, smiling again. “Jackie Woods, someone very brave belonged to that brass button and Beverly Sandon, my dear friend, Bev, a quiet but very courageous lady once wore the dark brown velvet robe with the pockets in light brown. That would be a very good hat for your Sara, yes, indeed. Does your Mama like hats?” 
           “I’ve never seen her wear one except for baseball caps in the summer and a wool tuque when it gets really cold in the winter. But she doesn’t have any hat like these hats,” I said.
I hadn’t seen one that was exactly right for me yet but there was one I looked at more closely with dark pink and green stripes, and bright pink velour earflaps. Thick green ribbon hung from the bottom of each earflap, to tie them up. A shiny pink button sat at the very top of the hat. I could see my mom cross-country skiing in it, in her pink winter coat and green snow pants. Perfect! I tried to find the price tag without making it too obvious.
          “That pink and green hat is from the fall jacket of Ms. Flurry,” said Madame D’Oiseaux. “She is always in a hurry, our bright Ms. Flurry. The velour is from a housecoat Heather Fox donated to the St. Stephen’s Rummage Sale, a kind and cheerful lady. I make a point of going to St. Stephen’s to find good fabrics.”
          “My mom goes there, too,” I said. “That’s where she found this coat for me last year. What do you call good fabrics?”
“I mean 100% wool, linen, cotton, or silk… quite difficult to find these days. Oh, that pink button on top is from Mrs. Kamegaya’s button collection. Such a creative, inspiring person, she was.”
          I wondered if I could ever learn how to make hats like these. Every single one was different! My fingers itched to feel each one, to turn it over and look at the inside as well as the outside. I knew that I wanted to learn how to make hats, with a feeling that was very strong and certain. I drew pictures of clothes and hats all the time, mostly thinking of outfits J. Lee and I might wear for our song and dance routines. I’ve sewed little bags by hand and filled them with dried lavender for putting in clothes drawers. I made them as Christmas and birthday presents for Mom and my grandmas last year. But we don’t have a sewing machine at home and Mom said she was too busy to sew any more, anyway.
          “How much are your hats, Madame? Hats like this one?”
          “Winter hats are sixty-five dollars and summer hats are around fifty dollars, usually. The baby bonnets are ten only, because, well, they are for babies. A little price for a little one.”
          My hopes wafted down to earth like maple leaves from a tree. A real hat would cost me more than a full year’s allowance at one dollar a week. I had the lowest allowance of any kid I knew. Callie got five dollars a week but she had to do real farm chores so that’s understandable. But still…all I ever did was save up enough to buy presents for everybody else in the family with my allowance! Maybe if I had a real job…
          “If you need any help, with your store or your yard, I would be happy to work, Madame D’Oiseaux! I’m nine years old. And a half. I’ll be ten in March. I don’t have a job that pays money, just an allowance, I mean. I do my homework and keep my room clean.” My mouth was up and running before I could stop myself. “I do the supper dishes and I empty the compost, stuff like that. I read to my little sister every day as well, after supper for half an hour at least. She’s really sick,” I blurted out in a big rush.
          “Yes, I know. I remember your Mama having to leave work a lot. It’s very difficult for your family, I’m sure,” said Madame quietly, looking down at her hands.
She was quiet, thinking I guess, while a wooden clock made an old bell kind of sound that echoed around the store. It calmed me down somehow and I looked up at the framed cloth on the wall. It looked really old, not bright white anymore but more like the ivory of piano keys.  The words were embroidered in different colours. They looked like wide blossoms on a tall tree with wide-spreading roots and with more flowers below it and around it.

Patience                Kindness                    Fairness                Cheerfulness
Courage                Gratitude                    Diligence             Tolerance
I wasn’t sure about diligence but everything else was a positive thing to think about so it likely was a good idea as well. Whoever spent hours and hours embroidering those words would have plenty of time to think about each one. Maybe that was the point, sort of an old-fashioned way of making you think about stuff as you carefully made it. Sometimes I wanted to live in Silverado’s olden times when kids worked in the stables and rode horses everywhere. They had lots of time to learn how to carve wood and build real things and make clothes way more interesting than T-shirts and jeans.
“Gina, could you work a couple of afternoons a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays? And do little chores like shoveling the sidewalk in the winter on snowy days? Perhaps you could take parcels to the post office for me? I would teach you any kind of sewing you’d like to learn when we weren’t busy with customers. I could pay you eight dollars for two hours. Does that suit you?”
          “Yes!” I nearly yelled. “I would love that, oh, I would!”
“Well, then, I will talk with your Mama about it.”  
          “Au revoir, Madame,” I sang out. “Merci beaucoup!”
          I ran as fast as I could to get home. The streetlights were buzzing and flickering to life because it was nearly dark. But I decided my good news would be worth any scolding for being late.
When I got home, the porch light was on but our truck was gone. I opened the front door.
          “Hello? Anybody home?” I yelled into our dark house.
          Nobody answered me.

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