Your grandfather has gotten you a sewing machine after you almost failed Home Economics because you had to do that zipper over and over again. The teacher wanted you to be a perfect seamstress.
Your best friend has a vintage Singer. You get a brand new one fresh from the store as a present.
“You should be a fashion designer, ” says your mother. She is prepping you for a career in her favorite industry. Or maybe it’s a lost dream of hers as she tells you of all her favorites.
You flip through Vogue for inspiration. You choose Butterick for yourself, and Betsy. Betsy of the fabulous 1970’s. You are fleshing out your own style. You are choosing patterns.
This will be the last summer of your childhood. The last summer of sleepovers and girl talk because your best friend’s parents are getting a divorce.
The two of you shop for fabrics for the street dances that are held downtown. Everyone wears costumes for Fiesta.
Everyone heads downtown to places like Casa Blanca for the chicken tacos and mariachi music.
“What are you going to wear? ” you ask her.
“It’s a surprise.”
“I’m going as a gypsy, ” you say. It is what you usually go as, draped in Spanish shawls and ruffles. The skirt you are making will work with the Danskins you usually wear for modern dance. And your tap shoes. Yards of fabric ruched into sambas.
The two of you sneak into her brother’s room to play Abraxis when you can. He listens to it all the time and he seems to know everything about what is going to come next for the two of you. He’s only seventeen but to you that seems like an incredible gap. He knows everything. Everything.
Your friend’s house has the spare modernism of teak. This is the last year her family will tease you, and the last year you can have blueberry pancakes and what had seemed like childhood.
You don’t realize this as you are sewing your costume.
Hers seems too adult when you first see it. A long slinky column of black satin. Spaghetti straps.
In August it’s hot under the full moon. People congregate and sway underneath it to the sounds of low guitars.
At the street dance she says, “I’m going to give him the eye.”
All of a sudden she is dancing, she is in the middle of the crowd, her long straight blonde hair glimmering against the satin.
She seems to know something you don’t about dancing partners.
She knows how to make things happen.
You watch her, fiercely protective. It will be the summer of parties. Parties where the kids go and the parents don’t really know or really care what they are up to. You’re shy, having not grown up near the Drive, like she has.
Up in the mountains it’s all just a big party — all the time. Bohemians making wine in vats, living close to the land. She tells you about the Castle and the plays and her mother acts out roles.
What they have is an artist’s colony, and your mother has her own version of this, too.
Her friends from Pasadena arrive for her parties.
Painters, musicians, all of them crowd her house for days.
The two of you escape your mothers and their wildness.
You spend hours in your room designing and sketching just to get away.
Years later you will recall that summer as the one where you lost innocence. This is the summer you realized that girls were going to be on their own. You contemplate her brother’s girlfriend embroidering quietly in the corner. She rarely says anything. Docile.
Your fall fashion edition of Seventeen has arrived. You look at the midis and the plaid and the berets and you want to go east for college. You want to get away from the coastal haze and be serious like Judith is. These are the early roots of your writing. Poems Judith has published.
That was you.
Ready for the ivy covered walls and the academic fortresses.
You realize that this summer marks the turning point because your best friend is dating. It’s not a place you are ready for yet. There isn’t a daddy to guide you or establish any formality at all.
None of your friends have daddies like that.
You know that you are going to have to find out everything all by yourself because your mother says nothing. She only complements you on your designs, proudly displaying them so her artist friends can see.
Your friend disappears into the crowd in her black satin and you stand on the sidelines trying to gauge whether she is going to be safe. You pull your Spanish shawl around you like a cloak. Your black felt hat is trimmed with little black balls that move every time you do.
Your hand holds a fan that you have artfully practiced flipping open.
You are learning the art of fluttering, by degrees.
Your uncle tells you nothing when you try and ask him questions. He hides behind his newspapers with a raised eyebrow and cigar.
“You’ll understand when the time comes, ” he says.
They approach in those years one by one as if coming out of the woodwork.
They approach in droves one by one.
You’re the one who says “no.”
Your grandparents drive you to her house after her parents get divoriced. She had forgotten you were having a sleepover because she had a date. It’s just after August and the long nights under the full moon and the dresses and the parades and the dancing.
Years later you ask her how the two of you became best friends back then.
She told you she was with her mother in that Volkswagon Bug she drove then. She saw you on the first day of school wearing that plaid midi and she said, “I’m going to know that girl.”
You ask her what was it about yourself that she had liked.
“Was it the clothes?”
“No, it was the way you looked like you were walking on clouds.”
* * *
“fiestas@fourteen” — copyright 2009 by Valentine Bonnaire — all rights reserved.
*authors note: This is an incredible little youtube of Stevie Nicks who had a profound stylistic impact on my gen. Also, so did Carlos Santana, and my mother was always listening to Bossa Nova in those years. Here are videos that go with this piece. The Nicks one made me cry — that is how much of a voice she had for us in the 70’s. Like Joni Mitchell, we grew up listening to Stevie on the West Coast. The memoir is tough territory but I want to get it right. So, tears are okay…