Pink Calico

For Anne Gertrude Sneller, who told this Civil War era story of her Aunt Elvie (much more concisely), in her book 1964 book, ‘A Vanished World.’

How she afforded it no one could think!
Fold upon fold of calico pink!

A beautiful bolt, not grey, black, or brown
But coral pink calico, bought in the town.

In the days of the war cotton put on fine airs,
And hand-me-down dresses were all we could wear,

But one day our mother came back to the farm
With rosy pink calico under her arm.

‘Elvie and Sarah need dresses’ she said
And before us the calico fabric she spread.

And Elvie and I had never seen such
Glorious pink, it was almost too much!

And I saw in her eyes Elvie’s heart rise to heaven,
With the wonder-filled joy of a girl just turned seven,

As with love overflowing she stood gazing upon
The calico fabric as pink as the dawn.

‘Now, girls’ said our mother ‘it’s time supper was laid’
Then safe from the sun till the dresses should be made,

She put up the cloth in the closet to stay,
But we thought on it all of the rest of the day.

Carrying candles together we went up to bed
But eyes closed or open Elvie saw in her head

That glorious fabric brought home from the store,
And she felt that she had to just see it once more.

In the parlour our mother and father were sitting,
Father read by the fire, mother worked at her knitting;

Not a sound could be heard but the needles’ soft click
And the turn of the page and the clock’s steady tick,

When all of a sudden a scream tore the air,
Then scream after scream — father leapt from his chair

And mother in haste cast her work on the floor,
And they ran to the cries — to the closed closet door!

Throwing open the door they found Elvie inside,
Clutching her candle as in terror she cried,

For before her was lying, with flames rising higher,
The sunrise pink calico blazing on fire.

Father beat out the fire, mother took in her arm
The terrified girl, and she came to no harm,

Still she cried from her fright and for the calico too,
For the folded pink fabric was burnt through and through.

Then mother said ‘Hush,  you are safe, do not sorrow,
And I’ll look at the calico fabric tomorrow.’
But how she could manage it we could not think!
Work with those cinders of calico pink?

But she worked all next day and well into the night,
Piecing together the calico bright,

Cutting and measuring, matching the grain —
And on the table by morning two dresses were lain — 

And Elvie and I had never seen such
Beautiful dresses, it was almost too much!

Beauty for ashes was no fairy story,
For there it was lying in pink calico glory!


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