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The Dressmaker’s Story

South Pacific Islands

Driving home from a Zen retreat in the Northern California in October we took the scenic route, something I’d not done before.

The road goes in through the redwoods and back out at the sea. As you get closer to Santa Rosa there are little towns. Little means 3 shops and maybe a cafĂ©. One of the towns had a dressmaker’s shop that John knew about. It had a sign that just said “Dressmaker”. Inside in the window you could see a Japanese woman with long grey hair sitting at an industrial sewing machine, looking happy, sewing something black.

Inside (wooden door with one of those jangly bells that shop doors sometimes have) there was music playing, loudly, old musical comedy music. Not what I had expected, incongruous even. It was from South Pacific, There is nothing like a dame. Nothing in the world. There is nothing you can name that is anything like a dame…

We looked at beautiful colorful silk drapy outfits. Colorful, loose, probably would look like a shopping bag on me, although I wished I still had a living grandmother or a different sense of style. We picked out a couple of scarves, it seemed the sort of destination you want to bring something home from and the one I picked was beautiful, bright pinks and corals and greens, all water-colory.

We called the dressmaker over from her sewing machine so we could pay. She talked about the fabric of the scarves, where it came from and who had designed it. I commented on her shirt which was white silk charmeuse like butter. She said she had woken up and it was cloudy and she was going to be sewing black all day so she changed into it to make herself happy. Just talking like you do when you suddenly have people to talk to.

Then she started talking about the music.

She said she’d gone in to the city and seen the show last week and had been playing it ever since. For some reason I asked if she’d ever been to the South Pacific. And she began to tell the story. She said when she was a child she was very protected. Her father was a highly placed government official and she lived in a big house, but she could never go out to spend the night away with her friends. They would come and stay with her. But she said she listened to the music of South Pacific and decided that some day she’d go out and see the world, to see that it actually was round. Then she said she had made her way to living in the United States in her early 30’s and one day she heard on the radio that the government had blown up a small South Pacific island in a nuclear test. That was it for her, she said. She had a small business, but she closed her doors the next day and packed her backpack and for three years she traveled in the South Pacific. She went all over, to all the islands, and Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand.

In the end, she said, after she had seen it all she decided that Sonoma County was the best place to live in the whole world. Anyplace she wanted to visit, she’d just find it here, and there wouldn’t be so many people. And now she was listening again to South Pacific and feeling like she had completed the circle. She talked more, about silks and sewing machines and she looked really happy.