My hand-me-down wardrobe was threadbare by the time it got to me, the fourth girl in a family of five. How I envied Ken, my only brother: He always managed to get new clothes. There were no faded undershirts or pants with torn knees for him. He got brand new clothing, and I began to realize how unfair it was to be one of four girls.
The only good clothes I ever got were those that were deemed "ugly." These were the ones my sisters had received as gifts and were too "gaggy" to wear.
They were stuffed into a drawer until they no longer fitted, and Mom wondered why she'd never seen Cathy wear that lovely yellow sweater from Aunt Martha - the one with the ducks on it. There were also wide-legged pants when the style was slim. These became my new clothes. Until I was 10, I had the fashion sense of a wart hog: So as long as it fitted, I wore it.
But one day, something changed.
My friend Rena lived next door. She was older, pretty, and fun, and she came from a Ukrainian family. I loved the clothes that she wore - full of color and tradition. One day when I was at her house learning to make pirogies, her mother brought out a bag of clothes bound for Goodwill.
"Would you like to go through these first?" asked Mrs. B. I eagerly dropped my dough and went for the bag. At the top of the pile was the most beautiful shirt I had ever seen. It was red - bright red - and silky.
There were no tears, no stains, and no runs in the shirt. It had seven gold buttons on the front and one on each silky sleeve. I was in love. I crushed it to my stained T-shirt, said "thank you," and quickly ran home to show my mom.
The new shirt had a magic to it. For the first time, I began to look in the mirror before I left for school. I combed my hair more than once a day, and I brushed my teeth more than twice. I put my dirty clothes in the laundry pile. I started to notice what other people wore and even sneaked looks at my sister's fashion magazine. I showed an interest in sewing, and soon I was making my own clothes out of castoffs.