Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

jungle gym


The other day when I was shopping online, I accidentally ended up on a page full of dresses.

Alongside the dresses were ads showing mothers and daughters celebrating Mother’s Day together. Now I wouldn’t buy my mom a dress; she prefers books. However, my mind easily took the mom-dress connection and ran with it because so many of my early memories of clothing, especially dresses, include my mother and grandmother.

Grandma loved sewing for me. My school pictures from kindergarten to third grade all have me wearing dresses or jumpers with blouses that Grandma made. In my school photos from fourth grade and later, I was wearing store-bought blouses. I’m pretty sure my grandmother had given up on me by then, had considered me a lost cause in the dress department.

As a tomboy who climbed trees and rode bikes and played in the mud, I preferred pants, even at an early age. In fact, in kindergarten a male classmate asked me “Why do you dress like a boy?”

Well, any girl who has ever climbed on a jungle gym while wearing a dress knows the answer to that one. I learned early on that dresses limited my ability to do what I wanted to do. Pants are a lot easier on the legs than dresses when sliding down the metal slippery slide. And it’s hard to be lady-like in a dress while hanging from the monkey bar rungs. I was never able to get clear across the monkey bars, but I got plenty of blisters trying.

Pants were just more practical than dresses. They have pockets. You don’t have to be so careful about sitting positions. And with slacks, you don’t have to worry about strong gusts of wind. (“Dress up day” is what we call a windy day in Kansas.)

During the ‘60s, girls in Pawnee Rock grade school were allowed to wear pants. The fun ended, however, when we crossed the line into junior high where dresses were a requirement. I worried about that for years, but I lucked out – the dress code was relaxed before I got to seventh grade.

Wearing slacks to church, however, was never an option. And every spring, Mom made an Easter dress for me. Part of the annual ritual was to visit a fabric store, usually Grace’s Fabrics on the courthouse square in Great Bend. There, we’d turn the pages of the pattern catalogs together to choose a dress and then pick out the material. One of my favorite Easter dresses was a lime green A-line dress made of polyester knit with colorful appliquéd flowers tacked onto the dress’s vertical front seams.

Now my grandma, she was old-school when it came to apparel. She only wore dresses, ones she had sewn herself. Her one and only complaint about me was my fondness for pants. “You look so cute in dresses. I wish you’d wear them once in awhile,” she’d say when we visited her in Arkansas.

I wore a dress every Sunday. Wasn’t that enough?

By 1976, Grandma had moved to Kansas and was living in her childhood hometown of Kinsley. Somewhere along the line, Mom had talked Grandma into buying herself a pair of slacks. One day when we picked Grandma up to go shopping in Dodge City, Grandma wore her new pantsuit. As soon as we returned to her apartment, Grandma changed back into her dress. “Now I’m comfortable,” she said, her voice filled with relief.

Actually, I did wear dresses and skirts once in awhile. I wasn’t going to miss out on the mini-skirt rage in the late ‘60s. Mrs. Fry, our fourth grade teacher, held girls to the dress code: skirt hems could not be more than four inches above the knee. We liked to push the limit, and when there was question of length Mrs. Fry had us kneel on the classroom floor and she got out her ruler.

My mother doesn’t care what I wear and Grandma’s not around anymore to try to wrestle me into a dress, so if you see me out in the world these days, you’ll likely find me wearing jeans or slacks. I haven’t climbed a jungle gym since 2008 when I found one at the closed elementary school in Carlton, but if I come across another one, I want to be ready.

Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh


  1. LOVED IT!!! I’m soooooooo old we had to wear dresses to school always from kindergarden all the way through– but as soon as I got home the jeans went on—your could not do chores & work in the barn yard in a dress– & I was on horse back a lot– & you sure would never catch me in a dress riding side-saddle!!! 🙂 I am still more comfortable in anything but a dress!!! 🙂

  2. Uniforms for us girls in Catholic school, but in high school, that included a slacks option, which was wonderful on those freezing-cold mornings on the bus stop! Thanks for this one, Cheryl — it brought back happy memories of the clothes my mom would make, and of how much fun it was to look at the pattern books!

  3. You speak to and for me in this one, Cheryl! Love it! My mother always made me dresses too, and I don’t recall ever wearing one out! Another perfectly turned column that touched me and brought back my own memories. Thank you!

  4. Cheryl, I love your columns! Tuesday is always the best day of the week! You do stir up memories–I went to school in Woodbine AND my mother made all my clothes (except for jeans, or course)–and for my sisters, and many times we all had the same dress. ah, the “good ol’ days!”

  5. In elementary school I can remember standing at the bus stop with a chill wind blowing up my skirt because pants weren’t allowed. Then as I went to junior and high school (early 70s) slacks were allowed, but no jeans. My mother sewed too, and I have a picture somewhere of my sister and I at Easter in homemade dresses. Cheryl, your story takes me back. Thanks so much!

  6. Great to read this, such good memories. I remember wearing dresses all through school… we were allowed to wear slacks under our dresses or skirts if it was very cold, though… those were the best days, we could play freely! My grandmother sewed for me, too (dresses), but she was the first adult woman I knew to wear blue jeans, which she called “dungarees”… she lived in the country & wore them for her gardening & yard chores. I think I take after her!

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