The White Lily Blog


Fashion and Faith

“I really love that dress,” one handsome senior citizen comments to another as they sit, sorting baby clothes at the local crisis pregnancy center. “It looks so comfortable!” She herself could hardly have been dressed more comfortably, in grey sweats, but still she looked with admiration at her companion, as did the four other ladies sitting and working with them. They also were dressed in various degrees of informality– loose jeans, loose tee shirts, even a pair of pajama bottoms!

The woman in the dress stood and twirled around and said she’d made it. She called attention to the roomy pockets that peeked out of the inseams (bright green, contrasting nicely with the soft navy blue of the main dress fabric–a thoughtful touch you couldn’t buy, not cheap anyway). She called attention to the construction of the dress, the ‘disappearing princess seams’ that slimmed the bust and shoulders and, opening into graceful pleats, skimmed over the parts that needed skimmed over. That’s what made the dress as comfortable as sweats–in fact, even more comfortable, with nothing binding the waist. The sleeves, a forgiving three-quarter length hiding tattle-tale elbow aging and upper arm flab, were partially lined with the same green as the pockets, and revealed, upon inspection, tiny purple flowers around the interior edge which the woman explained had been an experiment with free-hand machine embroidery, and didn’t it work!? and wasn’t it easy! She had, in fact, aided by pattern-drafting software on the computer, designed from scratch and sewn the dress, and the clincher, the coup de grace in women’s fashion olympics, for less than fifteen dollars. It was so fun!

The other seniors sighed. They could not fathom anyone putting so much time into clothing when one could buy a serviceable pair of sweats for about the same, and save all that bother. Besides, where did they go to wear a dress?

If you think this is a tale of creativity versus capitulation, of energy versus sloth, you are only partly right. It is also a tale about religious faith. Five of the six ladies in the conversation are either liberal protestant or novus ordo Catholics–liberal Catholics. The woman in the dress is a traditional Catholic. Each these general groups of religious women follow a dress code, more or less consciously, that can be as different as the differences among dress-observant Muslim women, and just as intense. It’s just not talked about.

The novus ordo fashion statement is familiar, if seldom noted as ‘fashion’. Why would it be? One comes to church dressed in anything one wishes except a dress. One comes in jeans or shorts, ready to hit the beach or the trail immediately following mass. One comes in a halter top and combat boots–those are the fashionable ones! Most come in the same sweats or jeans they wore yesterday, and will wear tomorrow, as they declare themselves liberated of the whole fashion thing. Or either, just too tired, worked to death under the New Feminism. One of the two.

That’s the faithful in the novus ordo pews. If one is among the “extraordinary ministers” in the sacristy actually celebrating mass, one will be in tailored trousers and blazer–the ubiquitous Hillary Clinton look you can pay a little or a lot for and still look like hell. Consecrated women religious, if any, will likely be in the same outfit. Most will have severe uni-sex hair styles (“easy to care for” and ugly as sin). As far as dresses go, you can count them on one hand.

The thing is, unless they are covered by a tunic, pants unfortunately show it all, front and rear, and seem to require a contrary and perhaps balancing masculinization of the women wearers in terms of other fashion indicators, like make-up, hair couture or lack thereof, and shoe choice. In fact, most wear tennis shoes.

The woman in the dress goes to traditional mass. That’s the old Latin mass, retained in its fullness in outposts like the SSPX communities, or the incredibly rare tradition-minded novus ordo community, where you will find many instances of the old fashion ways. Traditionalists evidently believe that women should dress like women, men like men. There, to take just one example, women (even little girls), cover their heads. But you might think of it this way: they get to cover their heads.

The result is rich! In the pew in the traditional church, you’ll find a sweet little scarf tied gypsy style, two berets( one of silky cranberry cotton, one black velvet with a heartbreaking velvet rose); a generous mantilla with Our Lady of Guadalupe crocheted into the pattern, that falls in graceful folds around the fascinating, shaded face, a wool fedora with a peacock feather, and a cowboy hat. The traditionalist culture requires only that a hat be worn; the variety is natural talent, an expression of the freedom of Catholicism and the skill and heart of women. It is in no way puritan, or protestant. It is elegant and simple by turns. To wear a hat is required by custom, but the expression of the rule is up to the individual, so that the most creative and fashionable of women are actually given both an opportunity and a venue, and they rise to the occasion. You could never ever get away with it anywhere else, in today’s neutered basic-black workplace. A woman in a hat indoors might as well be an alien–except here, in tradition. Here she is safe.

So here, they wear dresses or skirts. Most of the dresses are home-made (since one cannot buy ‘everyday’ or even many ‘Sunday” dresses anymore, dresses being apparently confined to weddings and being as a result too dressy in fabric and cut to actually wear, to actually live in).They wear sleeves. Their culture asks them not only to dress this way for mass, but to dress so after mass as well, so that although they too come dressed for activities after mass, like the gals in the novus ordo, they will perform those activities in a dress or skirt. They only take off the head-covering; the modesty remains.

An interesting thing, the contrary thing, and perhaps it’s rude to say, is that there is clearly more ‘sexual energy’ however subtly expressed among the traditionalists, simply because the girls look like girls, the women look like women, so femininity is on the loose, and free, unfettered femininity is beautiful, and sexual. You can see marriage and children in the future here. It’s in the air. It’s good to feel sure there will be a future with fertile human sexuality and children in it, that being no longer an option in most European nations now. That is why wise cultures retain some control over matters so seemingly simple as clothing. Womanhood has a power, a necessary power to encourage the sexual instinct. That is why it is so often imitated by faux women, the only ones in the larger culture encouraged to dress like women now. “Woman” has become a synonym for a dirty joke conflated by injected estrogens. Here in the traditional parish one finds more flirtatious dressing of an innocent but charming undertone.

Whatever can be said of sexual energy between men and women to marry and reproduce, there are governments around the globe trying without success to revive it, now that they’ve spent roughly the last fifty years killing it with birth control and the enslavement of women in the labor market and pornography and solitary sexuality and easy divorce and all the sad, sick rest of it. But it lives here, and the proof is in those pretty frocks.

Of course, it’s not only dresses that express so much fashion. Shoes too are varied, to go with the dresses, strappy sandals with five inch heels, slim pumps, boots, and silver slippers. Sleeves! One will see among the traditional congregation fabulously ruched sleeves, and puff sleeves, and bells . . .and empire gowns (pronounced ‘um-peer’ in the vestibule where sewers have been known to trade tips) . . .and sweetheart necklines . . .and circle skirts draping dramatically and concealing everything that is better concealed . . .and graceful skirts in gores . . .summer wools and winter wools and rayons and knits and silks and velvets and prints and solids and pinafores on little girls and hats with flowers and veils . . . . They are almost of another species altogether–the feminine species. The Princess species. This is because their adopted mother, Mary, Mother of the Savior, is a Queen. (You may bet her statue will be close by, with a trendy yet modest cloak of stars.)

One cannot help but draw a surprising conclusion. The women kneeling in the traditional Catholic church in September in 2009 are not only more liturgically reverent than their novus ordo counterparts, they are just more fashionable! It is just about enough for a woman on the fence about liturgy but yearning for a place to wear an ordinary dress, to make the switch! It’s a woman thing.

And the phenomenon isn’t reserved for well-to-do traditional parishes in the US. Make the effort to find the traditional parish in Guadalajara, Mexico, and you will see the same fashion expression among women who are by no means financially middle class. They dress up for mass, each family to the best of their ability. They never wear trousers, and they cover their hair in the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Their community insists on this observance, but the women obey with joy and spirit. Scraps of left-over cloth can become a pretty skirt with ‘handkerchief hemline’ (so-called, it has little points all around), a few ribbons transform a little square of lace into a girl’s dainty headdress. The old Mexican fabric skills are passed on here: stitched pin-tucks of a full skirt and daisies hand-painted on a peasant blouse. Their counterparts across town, mind you, in a novus ordo parish, will have on the same tee shirts and jeans as children at mass in, say, Oakland or Chicago or Hong Kong–oh wait, there are no children in Hong Kong, since the citizens there learned how to ‘plan the family.’ But the point stands. It is no longer the location on a globe; it is the faith. And it’s a happy faith indeed that encourages women to dress like women without paranoia over their resulting beauty. Their modesty, not protestant at all, but Catholic to the core and hence liberal in the only nice sense of the term, clearly differs from the burqa solution, and it certainly lacks the twin perversions of secular humanism, unisex or its evil other head, naked pornography. This Christian fashion option known now only in traditional communities may be, to fashion-frustrated women, as persuasive of the deleterious role of Vatican II as the definitive text Iota Unum. Persuasive of the truth of the traditionalists’ goal, to return the Church to its identity. This fashion is apostolic. Down with the pants suit and the burqa both. Let’s wear skirts! Consider yourself invited, sister.

 

Author’s note from 2013:  Last year our parish participated in the rosary in the public square campaign, as we have in the past, and invited other ‘traditional’ (indult) parishes in our area to join us on a cold, rainy, windy day in late October.  Several women from other parishes did, in pants, causing horror and aversion in one of our young men.  This caused me much thought. The women, although in pants, were also wearing long coats. The pants were furthermore looser than stockings. The women were simply dressed modestly, if that is defined by the loose and unsuggestive covering of all body parts, and I felt the young man’s disgust (rather than my own feeling of hospitality toward them, and even joy that they were participating with us in this good work) was just plain wrong.  It caused me to think long on the subject. And so I would like to amend this writing: I do not think the wearing of loose pants accompanied by a tunic top that covers what needs covered,  especially in certain activities like bike riding or physical therapy, or in cold, nor the covering of women’s hair in our churches, is a central issue to either the question of modesty or the question of maintaining Catholic tradition. I think it might be that the separation of certain persons and their teaching or preferences on these matters from one traditional group may prompt us to rethink this issue, and others.   To celebrate differences in dress between men and women as a welcome fruit of the complementarity of the sexes is one thing; to force a style of dressing, not necessarily a more modest one, on women, does not reflect prudence, does not recognize the diversity of modest dressing around the world nor of Catholics around the world, limits our apostolic mission abroad and at home, and may be unnecessary.  What will we wear in space? We’re going, can we not focus on modesty?


9 Comments so far
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Wonderful post!

Comment by Marie-Jacqueline

Don’t agrre entirely..the TLM long skirters look decidedly frumpy & anything less alluring I’ve never seen. I have 8 daughters who reverently attend Mass in their jeans..at least they practice their faith in their teens & early 20s..

Comment by Jackie Parkes

Frumpy?! Well, all I can say is, your TLM-ers are slacking! Perhaps they’re indult TLM-ers, with novus ordo shading. Do they stand around in church after mass chatting, too? That’s a sure sign.

Myself, I’d rather see a girl in an unfortunate print, or a painful color palatte, knowing she’s done the math and the hand/eye coordination to make that fumpy frock. Researchers say the best grades in college are associated with students who fall into two categories in their high school years, equalizing other factors like family income, race, and family structure: those who worked on cars, and those who sewed.

But the most important difference: the girl in the frock knows how to dress for the King of the Universe. You could argue that ‘clothes don’t matter, all clothing should be equally acceptable,’ but I’m hoping your daughters don’t go to job interviews dressed in those same jeans, do they? If the right clothing–and you know what the right clothing is–is important in one place, but not in the other place, the other place matters less, because the reason you go there matters less. Or you’d wear suitable clothing–even better than the job interview, yes?

If we don’t dress up for Jesus, who we gonna dress up for? If a person feels that’s over the top, I wonder if they believe that Christ is really present there?

Wouldn’t you think the best insurance of practicing one’s faith in thirty years–is falling in love with Christ? As opposed to a comfortable habit of stopping by church every Sunday?

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

This morning I woke dreaming about the scenario discussed on NPR’s On Point, about a book called America on the Brink: It Could Happen Here [http://www.onpointradio.org/2009/10/will-inequality-lead-to-revolution]. The program pretty thoroughly covered the complete destruction of the middle class in the US, and one cannot help but relate it to dress. We no longer dress like the middle class. We dress like peons. And we are paid peon wages now. No relation? Right. It doesn’t cost more or less to dress like a peon. It’s just a statement, I suppose of your level of aspiration. I know a woman in a skirt gets treated very differently than a woman in a pair of jeans with her thong showing. Now I’m thinking we get paid differently too.

There was a program recently too on foreclosures, with footage of a gorgeous house, marble foyer and all the rest, and the owner couple looked like caretakers, with sweat shirts, jeans, hair falling over their faces, and overweight. They looked as if they didn’t belong there. And now they don’t. It wouldn’t have cost that woman a dime more to put on a housedress, yet even a television camera wouldn’t budge her from her spoiled insistence, Take me as I am.

I learned about the SSPX community because of their dress. I was living in Puerto Vallarta during the last Eucharistic Convension, and a man who went to Guadalajara to attend came home and told me excitedly that there had been a group in the procession “como usted!” like me, “muy guapo,” handsome. He went on to describe how beautifully they were dressed that caused him to make the connection with me (I always wore skirts in Mexico, too; good caution for a woman traveling alone, I had found). I went to find them, and encountered a group as poor as all the rest of Mexico, but not perceived as such because of how they clothed themselves for the world. And it gave them power!

I awoke this morning with the perception,after listening to NPR’s chilling program, Please help us, please help us save the shreds of dignity we have left here, save our wages, save the small benefits we have wrested out of the earth and the rich over the hard-scrabble generations: get your daughters out of those jeans! Dress them as women who deserve marriage and a home and medical care and respect! Because right now we are dressing like inmates of the concentration camps they’re preparing for us.

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

Jan, You made a great connection here: those who insist, “Take me as I am,” need to ask, “Where am I being taken?”

Comment by Marie-Jacqueline

I’ve recently started to attend a local indult mass. What a difference it has made in my life. I always knew in my heart that I should “dress up for Jesus” but didn’t want to be strange, and felt uncomfortable in a skirt or dress. Now I love to dress up for church even when I have to go to the local Novus Ordo Mass. I’m often the only woman there with a long skirt and hat but I love setting a good example. As for not being comfortable in a skirt, my problem was all my skirts were to short! Now I wear ankle length skirts all the time and have never felt more comfortable or more like a woman!

Comment by Elizabeth

Great read!

Comment by Delena

Very nice! Your logic and writing reminds me of G.K.Chesterton who I’m reading presently. I love dresses (and long ones!!) too! I don’t think I look frumpy at all, but even if I did I’d rather that than immodest, revealing, or boy-ish! This is a very good read!

Comment by Patti Lamesch

Dear Janet Baker,

Many thanks for your sterling essay: “Fashion and Faith” which I’ve read several times as a treat at the end of a harrowing day. Like you, I believe that solid faith and classy clothing go hand-in-hand, and that the respect we show to God (and one another) is reflected in how we opt to clothe the bodies He so lovingly gave us. My parents, too, believed in this link between Fashion and Faith, as did THEIR parents, judging by my beautifully attired ancestors that leap from my mother’s photo albums, proclaiming from one generation to the next: “You reveal your love by what you wear.”

My mother lived this creed of Fashion and Faith every day of her life, but especially on two occasions in the 1960s when my family was nearly wiped out in one fell swoop and we had reason to believe that we’d never see each other again.

I’m referring to the two years that we were stationed in Seaside, Oregon and my father was commanding officer of The Yukono. If you know anything about Seaside, Oregon, you’re aware that this lovely little tourist town is subject to terrifying tidal waves that hurl over coastal Oregon — one more horrifying than the last — with deceptive periods of calm and eerie silence in between each wave, wreaking havoc over the coast and devouring whole — any houses or human bodies that come their way.

There is no warning, at least back then, there wasn’t! What happened was this: If Alaska or Russia got an earthquake, we were in serious danger. In an earthquake, the ocean floor would crack from Alaska —all the way to the West Coast and Oregon was especially vulnerable to the ensuing tidal wave. When my family was stationed for two years in Oregon, we children were thrilled! We were used to moving every other year or so, but this would be our first time on the West Coast and to think that our front yard was the Pacific Ocean! Our living room had a vast picture window that revealed the promenade and the glorious waves of the Pacific only 40 yards away. Swing-sets dotted the beach and the Turn-Around included an array of popcorn stands, hotdog stands, Ferris Wheels, and enough novelty shops, toy stores and amusement rides to enchant not only ourselves, but the thousands of tourists that poured into Seaside every summer.

The enchantment faded fast in the middle of the night when my father got a phone call to the tune of: Tidal Wave Alert. Repeat: Tidal Wave Alert. Evacuate. Get your family to Tillamook Head and do it now. (Tillammok Head loomed across our living room window. It was an impressive mountain that rose so dramatically above sea level that it was the chosen site for safety during a tidal wave).

Once Daddy hung up the phone, he woke my mother up and Mama then woke up her sleeping children. She told us that we had to get up NOW because a tidal wave was coming and we needed to get to Tillamook Head right away. She gave it to us straight: “Daddy can’t come because the Captain can’t leave the ship attached to the dock or else it will be smashed to pieces in the tidal wave. So your father has to take the ship out into the tidal wave, children, and we need to pray to our Blessed Mother that he comes home safe and sound.” And so down on our knees we went, reciting the prayer that we said every night whenever my father was out to sea: “Star of the Sea, pray for Daddy,” only on this occasion, we added a “Hail Holy Queen.”

By the time we finished praying, our father was already downstairs in his uniform with its four gold stripes that made me so very proud and we children, still half asleep in our pajamas, all gathered round to say goodbye to Daddy. Down on our knees we went again, but this time my father led the prayer, saying the same words that he ALWAYS said whenever he went off to sea for three – six months at a time: “Dear God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, watch over my wife and children and keep them safe from all harm until I get back and please make sure that everything’s all right at home.” After an Our Father and a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be, we got off our knees and Daddy and Mama said goodbye. They didn’t have much time. All she said was: “My Captain.” All he said was: “My girl.” They both started to break down a little, but not much. Daddy then turned to my oldest brother, Billy, his definite favorite, his cherished first born, who – in two years time – would enter the seminary and then become a Benedictine priest. But THEN he wasn’t a priest, but a very tall and strong boy of 16, our hero, and we were only a teensy bit jealous that Daddy spent the longest time saying goodbye to him and only a few seconds saying goodbye to the rest of us. “Take care of your mother and the children,” Daddy said, which is what he ALWAYS said when he went to sea — but this time he looked at Billy for quite awhile because he didn’t know if he’d ever see him again and that caused him almost as much pain as not seeing my mother ever again.

So my father went outside and drove to the dock where he would then take The Yukona and her crew into the heart of the tidal wave, to prevent the ship’s destruction against the dock. So how did my mother and her children get from the house to higher elevation? My father sent a junior officer (who owned a station wagon) to pick us up and drive us to Tillamook Head where we would remain until the tidal wave was over and the people could then return to their homes, or at least, what was left of them.

With my father gone, my mother’s own natural strength rose to the occasion. We only had a half hour or so before the junior officer arrived with his station wagon. She gave her orders loud and clear: “Each of you may bring with you two of your favorite possessions. Nothing more and nothing less. Bring with you your favorite two toys, or two books, or two dolls, or whatever it is that you value the most, but you can only take TWO things; is that clear?” It was very clear, and already our minds were scrambling to think: “What do I want to bring?”

So off we went to get our favorite toys or books and we helped the three youngest toddlers to pick out THEIR favorite toys. I remember that I chose my favorite doll and my diary, a red leather one that had its own gold key, and Billy chose his best catcher’s mit and his best baseball but I can’t remember what anyone else chose, except that my mother chose her two best photo albums.

By the time we re-convened with our two favorite toys, the shrieking winds were terrifying, and the darkness outside grew blacker than ever and seemed to press into our picture window, and I was too scared to look outside for very long because I didn’t want to see the tidal wave come crashing into our living room, and take my mother away and my brothers and sisters.

My mother’s next set of instructions was much louder than her first, and she was not nearly as affectionate as she was the first time. In fact, we were all reprimanded for our disgraceful appearances: “Children, listen to me very carefully! You cannot, I repeat, you CANNOT go out of this house looking like you do! If we are going to meet our Maker, we will meet our Maker in style! Who ever heard of facing God in wrinkled nightgowns? Who ever heard of facing God in wrinkled pajamas? Who ever heard of facing God with hair that has not been combed? All of you, go back to your rooms and change into your best dresses and your best suits and do NOT, repeat, do NOT, come out until you are proud of how you look!”

So we turned back to our rooms and we put on our best Sunday dresses and our best Sunday suits and we combed our hair as best we could and we polished our shoes with Kleenex and a dab of Pond’s cold cream until they looked like Daddy’s shoes and you could see your reflection in them, like a mirror. The older boys helped the younger boys; and the older girls helped the younger girls; and I don’t remember who took care of the two youngest toddlers, but I took charge of the baby boy, Alex, and we managed to pass inspection after going back to our rooms only two more times for minor corrections. (“Those socks do NOT match; those hair ribbons are NOT ironed; don’t pretend that they are!” My older sister, Teresa, managed to plug in the iron and set up the ironing board and iron the hair ribbons of all four girls and WHERE my mother found the bow tie for baby Alex is still a mystery to me, but find it she did and put it on she did, with a quick flick of the wrist, and a kiss to his silky, black hair).

I can still remember the shoes I wore. True, they were getting too tight, but a girl who loves her shoes will only admit they are too tight when she HAS to, and never a day before. They were royal blue patent leather with thin straps and the dearest pearl buttons on the side that you could possibly imagine. Honestly, I can’t remember what dress I wore, but my twin sister, Ellen, wore a gorgeous gray dress with see-through silk for the long sleeves and a broad, white lace collar over which her mane of blonde hair spilled in glorious abundance, and HER twin brother wore a dark navy suit with a white tie that had a cowboy-on-a-leaping-horse tie clasp attached to it.

And so the boys gathered around and told the girls they looked very pretty. We thanked them and told them that they looked very handsome. And when Mama came down the stairs, we all gasped at her beauty because she chose her green satin dress that brought out the pale green of her eyes and made her long, dark, curly hair more beautiful than ever and the silver-sequined belt accented the slimness of her waist and made her long legs look longer than ever. No one can remember if she wore a hat or not, but Baby Alex had a black beret that matched his dark bow tie perfectly, and on my way out the door, I DID remember to bring two clean diapers because who knew how long we’d be on Tillamook Head??

And so the junior officer arrived and my mother sailed out of the house with her five sons and her four daughters, and we drove up to Tillamook Head and we waited for the tidal wave to crash over us, do its damage, and then depart. How long did we wait? How long did we sit in that station wagon with the junior officer who was younger than my father, but not nearly as handsome? I don’t know, precisely, but several hours, I’m sure, or so it seemed to me! I can still remember the shrieking of the winds and the unearthly darkness of that dreadful night that brutally refused to end.

Over and over I asked myself: Would the tidal wave reach us and take us away, despite the impressive height of Tillamook Head? Would we drown before daybreak? Would Daddy come back or would Daddy die? Would Daddy drown in the tidal wave? Would we even get his body back again if the tidal wave destroyed the ship?

Daddy, come back….Star of the Sea, pray for Daddy….Daddy come back….Star of the Sea, pray for us. Daddy, come back!

I can still see the blackness of the car windows and the rain pouring down in rivulets and the carloads of people that surrounded us. Sometimes a car’s inside light would go on as a car door opened and I could see the bedraggled occupants of that car, looking like people SHOULD look in a natural disaster, when evacuating to the top of a mountain in the middle of the night. Some mothers had curlers in their hair and most of the kids were in their pajamas, having been dragged out of bed by their frenzied parents who had nothing on their minds but what you’d THINK they’d have on their minds: “Let’s get to Tillamook Head as fast as we can!”

But that’s not their fault, is it? They didn’t live by the same creed of Fashion and Faith that my dear mother lived by, nor did they think — as the sirens blared through the town — that they could well meet their Maker as a result of this tidal wave, and THAT being the case, they must dress to pay homage to the Giver of life. And so if my mother and her children were dressed for the most magnificent of Easter Sundays during a tidal wave, it was simply because my mother’s love for God could not fathom the notion of being ill attired in His presence, especially on the very night that your body and your soul parted company and you faced your Maker after dying in a tidal wave.

For our part, the car door sometimes opened, too, and the inner light on the roof of the car revealed the occupants within: A young man in a military uniform, a gorgeous woman in her late 30s, wearing a green satin gown, and and her nine children all dressed for Buckingham Palace! Of course, the next day in school we NEVER heard the end of it: “How was the opera? Where did you go after the tidal wave? To the Thee-ATE-ER?” … followed by an onslaught of guffaws….But, who could blame them? How, oh how, could they possibly understand that my mother believed in the link between Faith and Fashion and that the drama queen in her is what kept us alive, and what sustained her children’s morale, and what kept us believing in the goodness of God, no matter how much injustice we absorbed or witnessed, or caused ourselves in our later lives?

And so finally, finally, finally, that night of anguish came to an end. The junior officer drove us down Tillamook Head and we ventured back to our house, back to the promenade, back to the pitch darkness of a ravaged beach and a ravaged shore line. “Would our house be there? Would it still be standing? Would we even have a house to go back to?” These were our unspoken questions and only when we reached the house would we realize that the tidal wave had done its damage; certainly; the little town had suffered unspeakably, yes; but our house WAS still standing, and we DID have a place to sleep and we COULD wake up in the morning under our very same roof!

My mother thanked the junior officer and told us to do the same and then, at her behest, we got back into our pj’s, and we went back to bed for an hour or two of semi-slumber, but we were at peace, knowing that the tidal wave was over and we could sleep in our own beds.

But, it’s not ENTIRELY true to say that we were at peace. Sure, the three youngest children were at peace, but what about the six older ones? We were old enough to fear the worst: What if our father had drowned? What if the ship was destroyed and our father’s body was never found? How could we sleep, wondering where our father was at this precise moment?

Daddy, come back….Star of the Sea, pray for Daddy….Daddy, come back….Star of the Sea, pray for Daddy.

And so the next day we had school, as usual. We begged our mother: “Can we stay home and wait for Daddy?” but Mama said, “No, that’s my job. Your job is to go to school and keep praying for your father.” We wore our usual, every-day-of-the-week, respectable outfits, and those of us in Catholic school wore their Catholic uniforms, but we never heard the end of it: “How was the Opera? How was the Thee-ATE-er?” because most children did not abide by the creed of Fashion and Faith that my mother had taught her nine children.

When we came home from school, we were exhausted and anxious to hear about our father. “No, my darlings, Daddy is not home, but you must do your homework and have faith in God. I’ve made a surprise dinner for you and a very special dessert, and I’ll put your father’s dinner on the stove for when he comes home.”

But Daddy didn’t come home for dinner and no one dared to say what it was they feared the most. The phone rang off the hook and the officers’ wives kept calling my mother to hear the latest news but Mama knew no more than they did, so all she could say was: “I’m sure the ship will be in any minute. If I know my Donald, and I know I DO – then the ship is due in any minute and her crew will be alive and well.”

Daddy, come back….Star of the Sea, pray for Daddy….Daddy, come back….Star of the Sea, pray for Daddy.

And let me conclude this chronicle of Fashion and Faith by telling you that the Star of the Sea DID pray for Daddy, and she DID send my father back to his family. I forget how many hours he clung to the ship’s steering wheel; he told us, but I can’t remember. He hung on and he never let go, but he told us that he knew he HAD to get home, and he HAD to get his men home, and he KNEW that the Star of the Sea would look out for one and all, and that is why he got home safely and soundly, and that was why everything was fine at home and did we know what a wonderful mother we had and were we thankful to God for all He had done for us and had we been good children while he was away?

What a grand reunion that was, even though we were shocked at our father’s weather-beaten face and his eyes were so blood-shot that they streamed tears of blood when he burst through the door and ran for my mother, and she for him….We were allowed to stay up and wait for him to come home, and so we saw this reunion with our own eyes, and would see a similar one the following year when yet another tidal wave would strike Seaside, Oregon, and Daddy would have to take the ship out again into the tidal wave, into the dead of night, while we waited on Tillamook Head in a station wagon with our mother and a junior officer who was younger than my father, but not as handsome.

A few years ago, one of my brothers phoned me to ask if I had seen a special the night before on the Discovery Channel about the tidal waves that struck the coast of Oregon during the 1960s, and that continue to strike the coast of Oregon to this present day. I told him, “No, I missed that! I wish I’d seen it! What did it say?”

“Among other things, tidal waves are not called tidal waves anymore. They’re called Tsunamis.”

“I don’t like it! I’d rather they were still called tidal waves! Why must they take the poetry out of everything? Why can’t they STILL be called tidal waves?”

“I agree with you, honest, but even so, it WAS an excellent program and I can’t believe it was on the Discovery Channel.”

“Were you properly attired?”

“Top hat and tails!”

And so, on this Thanksgiving Day weekend, I am thanking God for this White Lily Blog Site and for this magnificent essay written by Janet Baker on the subject of Fashion and Faith. Oh, yes, people who live by this creed WILL get laughed at, whether they’ve experienced a tidal wave or not; and people who live by this creed WILL go against the current of the popular culture, more so in our present age than ever before.

Yet I truly believe that we reveal our love for God by what we wear and we should dress each day as though we are destined to meet our Maker before our head hits the pillow. This does not mean that we must go to the extremes that my mother went to back in the 1960s, and yet the link between Fashion and Faith cannot be denied by anyone who believes in God, who has self-respect and who truly esteems everyone they encounter.

Happy Thanksgiving, Janet Baker, and all who subscribe to the White Lily Blog. If this comment is too long to print, Star of the Sea, send it to my father and my mother. Please let them read it in Heaven. Star of the Sea, pray for Daddy.

Comment by Sister Emily Gallery




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