Second-Hand Rose


Clothes and toys, recipes and jokes, advice and prejudice: we all have to handle all sorts of hand-me-downs every day. Tell us about some of the meaningful hand-me-downs in your life.


Right up front, let me clarify that none of what I’m about to say is by way of complaining.

We were poor. We didn’t suffer. There was always enough food, although quite a bit of it was rationed. You got one glass of milk for lunch or supper. You got one piece of dessert. You didn’t take whatever you wanted out of the fridge. After-school snack was bread and peanut butter and jelly.  I truly figured everyone lived the way we did. I didn’t know how scarce money was, except for the occasional conversation my folks had in our hearing about making the car payment that month. I was never worried.

One of the features of growing up with very little money and an older sister was that I was gifted with whatever she outgrew.  That meant that getting something new was rare. Getting something I had actually chosen or that was meant just for me was a major event. Mom was an outstanding seamstress, although I was too young to realize how gifted she was at this point in my life. She was also a gifted bargain shopper, and would come home with pieces of fabric she’d bought for a song. From this material, she could make shorts, tops, skirts and dresses that looked better than store-bought.

However, in those years, most of the sewing for new things was for my sister. I wore what she had outgrown. Sometimes I liked it.  Often, I didn’t.  We were very different in our personalities and interests. She was a tomboy. I was a girlie girl. I could run and play outdoors with the best of them, but she lived for sports–still does–and I couldn’t have cared less.  Still don’t. Our tastes were reflected in the kinds of clothes we liked.

One of the happiest periods in my life was when I stopped growing taller and she didn’t.  Her clothes no longer fit me.  Oh joy, oh delight!  I loved feminine, pretty things; finally, I thought, I could choose my own clothes.

Or not.  Dad was a pastor, and there were some people in the churches he pastored who would give us bags and boxes of used clothing.  Again, some of it was nice, and I enjoyed wearing it. Other stuff, not so much.

I remember one box in particular that came down from someone’s grandma’s attic. It was full of vintage World War II clothing. This would have been around 1962.  The clothing was frumpy, ugly, and very tired. I remember collapsing in hysterical laughter as we went through the box.

We never had to wear any of it.

There was a woman who sewed beautifully for her own daughter, and in my early and middle teens, I was gifted with a whole wardrobe of second-hand clothing that I loved. The outfits were stylish, up-to-date, and in colors I loved.  That set of hand-me-downs got me through my high school years and even into college. Back then, only the wealthy went out and bought whole new wardrobes for each new school year. For me, getting a new wardrobe was pushing the summer things to the back of the closet and bringing the fall and winter things to the front. And I never felt bad about that.  It was fun to look forward to wearing things I hadn’t used in several months.

We met a missionary lady once, when I was about 11 or 12.  She was a single lady, and her mission work was in China. She had a fabulous sense of humor. She told us about a box that had come to her from the States. When she opened it, on top of everything else was an old-fashioned, used, saggy woman’s girdle with garters for holding up stockings. As she unrolled the girdle, a whole bunch of used teabags fell out onto the box.

Used. Teabags.  Shipped from America to China in a Used. Girdle. Some kind soul must have really felt virtuous about sending that box 🙂

Now, that’s a hand-me-down, and that’s funny!