Teen forced to wear clothes made from burlap sacks after mother burns his only outfit in the oven

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

Raising four children in the Azores was difficult for my grandparents. They had no money and could provide little in the way of food, clothing, and shelter.

I often think about how different my life is from that of my grandparents. They grew up in a time of great poverty, and their circumstances were very different from mine.

For one thing, they lived in a dirt-floor hut with no electricity. Can you imagine that? And they couldn't afford to buy new clothes for their children. Instead, they had to make do with whatever old clothes they could find.

Keeping their three growing daughters and their son clothed was a challenge. The younger children wore hand-me-downs from the older kids, but the eldest child always seemed to need new clothes.

According to my mother, disaster struck one day when my grandmother washed my uncle's only clothes and attempted to dry them in the oven. She burned the clothes beyond recognition and brainstormed an inexpensive way to replace them: burlap sacks.

Here's how it happened.

It was a warm and sunny summer afternoon when my grandmother washed her sole son's clothes by hand. It was his only outfit, and it needed to be dry by the following morning when he got out of bed.

No sooner had my grandmother hung her son's clothes outside to dry than a storm struck unexpectedly. That left drying the clothes outdoors for the next day out of the question.

Fortunately, my grandmother was clever. Unfortunately, sometimes her cleverness got her into trouble.

My grandmother had been baking bread in the small wood-fired brick oven, and she decided to pop the clothes into the hot oven to dry since she couldn't dry them outside. She thought keeping them in the oven overnight ought to suffice. So that's exactly what she did.

My grandmother placed the wet clothes in the oven to dry overnight. She didn't realize she would end up scorching his clothes beyond repair until she pulled them from the oven in the morning and saw the error of her ways.

When my uncle saw my grandmother had crisped his clothes, he cried for hours. They had no money to purchase new clothes. Now he couldn't even leave the house.

My grandmother rushed into action. She grabbed several burlap sacks that had once contained flour and brought the sacks to my great-grandmother's shack.

The two women carefully cut and sewed a single new outfit for my uncle to wear. They made a shirt and a pair of pants, all from the scratchy blotchy burlap sacks. They were utilitarian at best. At worst, they were ugly and ill-fitting. Not to mention terribly uncomfortable.

My uncle complained that his new clothes were itchy and stiff. Who could blame him? Nonetheless, he had no choice. He was forced to wear those itchy handmade clothes made from burlap sacks until my grandparents could afford to buy him real clothes.

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