By Anita Garner
The church lady on the right looks exactly the way many ladies looked in our Louisiana congregation in the 1950’s. On the left, Sister Fern is the gospel singing pastor’s wife wearing a slinky black dress and the big corsage.
From time to time we came off the road from our gospel tours when Daddy pastored a church for a while. On the road she wore jersey, which clung in the right places and moved even when she stood still. When she married the preacher, she gave up wearing makeup and raised her low-cut necklines a bit, but she still sought enhancement wherever she could find it.
She found it down at the yard goods store where she discovered polyester and nylon and plastic/vinyl in thin sheets and stiff netting and every other difficult-to-wear, artificial material available.
She made those corsages, huge prickly things they were, in every color. She cut out the petals using pinking shears, then wired the parts together with florist’s tape and bunches of nylon net. She formed all the parts into shapes resembling prom corsages – big ones – some even bigger than the one pictured. She was tall and her impressive front was built for displaying her creations and she wore some version of this every Sunday. Responding to compliments which may not have been solely directed at her corsage, she was happy to pass along details.
“You can suds them right in the sink, shake them and they’ll dry right off.”
Which doesn’t sound like a great endorsement for items meant to resemble flowers, but people kept saying nice things. This pleased her so much she made new ones, brighter and bigger, and gifted them to many church ladies. When I stood at the microphone on Sunday to sing with the family, I looked out at a garden of plastic and nylon net occupying the fronts of ladies in their cotton print Sunday best dresses.
Then her attention turned to making school clothes for my brother and me. Memories of a nylon dress and Leslie Ray’s matching shirt are still fresh and painful. More about them another time.
Meanwhile, here’s Sister Fern doing what she did best. Click the picture for a song.