Summer traditions

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Last night was our annual short-making session up at the church. Every year we make camp shorts -- moms, leaders and girls all come together in one seething mass of fabric, scissors, and ironing, which, somewhat surprisingly, turns into into 25 pairs of shorts, and a parade of women carrying their sewing machines into the night.

Let me explain: Each year the girls in our church (ages 12-18) attend a summer camp. This year the locale is very woodsy AND un-airconditioned. The girls will need to wear their most camp-y clothing. In addition, each year, the girls are asked to wear knee-length shorts, which is no small request in this day and age of less fabric = greater cool factor. There just aren't a ton of long shorts to buy, and most of us aren't willing to drop a hunk of cash on shorts for the woods. And thus, the homemade tradition. 

The cool thing about camp shorts is that anything goes fabric-wise. In fact, the louder the fabric the better. Camp shorts demand full reign of the fabric store. Nothing is off limits -- no fabric is too colorful or silly or kitschy. I still remember two pairs of camp shorts my mother made for me in about my 13th year. One pair was baby blue squares, each square featuring a different muppet baby -- baby Kermit, baby Miss Piggy, baby Gonzo, you get the idea. The other was made of red bandana fabric -- long, deep red, quintessentially Texan. I wore them to camp for sure, but I also wore those un-cool shorts around the house, to sleep in, to the grocery store for years and years to come. Even now, the muppet baby shorts live on in my memory as emblematic of my childhood -- a sixteen year old struggling for independence, yet stubbornly refusing to give up her threadbare muppet babies. In many ways, I wish I still had them now. I think they would give me comfort.

This year I coordinated the short-making effort for our band of girls. I bought the fabric (45 yards!) and patterns and elastic. I sent out e-mails asking for sewers and cutters. I lugged everything to the church, set up some tables, rolled out the bolts of fabric, and set to cutting. The miraculous part was the way the other women flowed steadily into the room. They set up additional tables when needed. They told the girls when to iron and when to shove elastic through the skinny waistband. For the first 45 minutes I had my head down and was cutting out size smalls as fast as I could pin and cut. 

Pin. Cut. Unpin. Slide the pattern down. And when I looked up, there were girls dancing about in fully completed shorts. Some were rushing pieces back and forth from sewing machine to iron. Some were stubbornly trying to sew their own, the sewing machine owner patiently standing behind, offering instruction. It was a microcosm of productivity. Not perfect productivity mind you, but efficient. And selfless. And kind. 

I hope my girls remember the kind women of the camp shorts. The ones who give up their evening and ask for nothing in exchange for their service, who seek out what needs to be done without asking, who put their shoulder to the wheel and push, even when they don't have to. I hope they remember the making. The ingenuity. The strength in numbers. The loud fabric. The chatter.

The hot summer nights and singing crickets.

When I was younger I spurned the sewing church ladies. I didn't want any part of such feminine bungling. I wanted to fly. I wanted to do something important. I wanted to cast aside the traditions of my youth and move on to better things, to greater heights, to significance. 

I never thought I'd find such greatness and significance in camp shorts. But it's there in spades. I think George Eliot would have approved of camp shorts: "For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

What about you? What unhistoric acts have changed your perspective on the world?