Birth of Bliss

“I would always rather be happy than dignified.” ~Charlotte Bronte

If you grew up in 1970s America and did not have at least one summer camp experience learning how to tie-dye, you were deprived of one of the best things to come out of the Age of Aquarius. For me, it was Shannon Fleming’s mom, a sheep rancher and textile artist, who taught me to set a warp and weave and use a drop spindle and make macrame and do tie-dye.

My mother hated the Brownies and Girl Scouts mostly, I think, because our local troups were dominated by snotty, elitist Mormon girls and their pearl-clutching mothers, so I was forced to join the Bluebirds instead, which was populated by healthy Baptist and Methodist farm girls and utilitarian mothers who were 4-H leaders and Home-Ec teachers and all things self-sufficient. As a result, Bluebird summer camps were always hosted at someone’s farm for a week, and tents were strewn across the acreage under trees and between temporary clotheslines curtained with sheets and old blankets to shield us from the road and leering brothers.

These weeks were packed with activities where earning badges was an afterthought to learning life skills, like baking sourdough bread in an iron skillet on the side of a campfire, sewing our own rucksacks out of big grainbags donated from the elevator, and learning how to make a fire in a teepee that didn’t smoke you out or burn the damn thing down.

The summer we did camp at the Fleming’s farm, old grey, splitery picnic tables were set up under the cottonwood trees before we got there, laden with dozens of labelled feed buckets filled with every imaginable colour of smelly Ritz Fabric Dye and dozens of pairs of steel tongs. Now the reason I’d been sent to camp with a pair of pink Playtex rubber gloves and a lawn bag with arm and neck holes cut out of it made perfect sense though, in the end, I don’t think it really helped much, judging by the slow-to-fade dye job I sported on my arms, legs and face for the rest of the summer.

We were each given a brand new white teeshirt, and told what we were going to do, and Mrs. Fleming and the other leaders helped us twist and bind the fabric, tying it in segments with yarn remnants spun from the Fleming’s own fleece. Whilst we set up our shirts, Mrs. Fleming explained how fabric dyes worked, and told us to picture in our heads the colours we wanted to use and what we imagined our shirts would look like when we were finished, before we got to the dying part.

I’m not gonna lie. My first attempt at tie-dye was a godawful disaster. I chose purple and green as my colour scheme, and by the time I was finished prepping my shirt for the dye buckets, it looked like a misshapen ball of very tightly packed little yarn knots. Back then, dying fabric was a multi-step two-or-three day fiasco, and my imagination ran wild with visions of the most beautiful little starburst teeshirt the colour of lilacs. Imagine my disappointment when, on the third day of camp, I snipped hundreds of ties to reveal a brown, muddy splotch-fest of a teeshirt that looked for all the world as though I had simply thrown that nice white shirt into the irrigation canal and waited a year before retrieving it….

After many tears and then stuffing my first tie-dye foray into the back of my tops drawer, my mother decided to fix it by ironing on a big colourful decal of Raggedy Ann holding a bouquet of daisies that read, “I’m a Real Doll,” and it seemed like a great fix in my 13-year-old mind until Mr. Hill, my perpetually screaming, red-faced walking stroke of a P.E. teacher, told me that the shirt fit, “because a doll is a stuffed idiot.” (Don’t worry. He was rude to everyone; I wasn’t being singled out.) After that, the shirt became a nighty.

Years later, Mavis started working at the fabric store for the employee discount and began collecting every clearance-item craft supply known to mankind, and we got to work making shit for fun and profit. Year in, year out, scrapboooks, quilts, pillows, afgans, fake stained-glass, real stained-glass, beaded everything, embroidery and crewel and decoupage came and went through our hands out into the world. Of course, Mavis collected a massive box of Ritz and Tulip fabric dyes and once, when Mavis moved house back in the late-90s, I got yelled at by the realtor when Mavis told her that it was my fault that the downstairs bathtub, bathroom floor and walls looked like a psychedelic parrot had exploded in there. Needless to say, my dying skills have improved with age and practise, and I usually do it outside now. It also helps that some genius in the industry has managed to simplify the process; gone are the days of pilfering catchup squirt bottles from the drive-thru and trying to asphyxiate oneself with ammonia in enclosed spaces.I’ve been washing a lot of bolts of fabric lately, getting ready to make some new clothes for myself. My dresses are threadbare and getting far too big for me, my pinafores are in tatters, and I am overdo for new. I decided this past Winter when I unpacked Mavis’ dye collection that I was doing up at least a couple of bolts of muslin for pinafores and curtains, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it.Later on today, these two pieces that I dyed last night will become new pinafores in the fashion of me….

This past week I had a once-in-a-blue-moon discussion with an old friend who let slip that meanspirited gossip and nastiness about me continues from quarters where honesty and chivalry should reign, but doesn’t. I was saddened, but not surprised, by this revelation for a few days, before I decided that I don’t really care, I’m going to keep doing what I actually do, and they can make up all the stories they want to, I’m still living a wonderful life in spite of their projected misery. Who cares what they think? I haven’t had contact with those self-righteous, narrowminded toads in years; they don’t know me!

Life is allegedly short, so I will continue to read Chesterton novels aloud to my chickens, sunbathe in the pastures with my dogs and goats, forage in the forests for treasures of green, wear purple and loads of tie-dye and make midnight margaritas with my own tintured absinthe instead of tequila without any thought about how it looks to others or how they can twist it in their own shallow imaginations like a muddy brown shirt.

Bliss is borne in doing what matters, doing it with heart and leaving the rest of the world to it’s own pessimisms. I haven’t got time for that latter mess; there’s too much to make beautiful in these days I’ve got left and not enough time to do it! As the saying goes, the best revenge is a life well-lived….

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