Elizabeth Stalter was a seamstress with an alteration shop on Niagara Street in Black Rock when my mom, Grace Milligan (then Grace Castelluccio), went to work for her. As the years passed, Mrs. Stalter became “Granma Susan” to me, and my mother became as accomplished a seamstress as her teacher/mentor.
After retirement, Granma Susan divided her living between her daughters Ruth and Liz, and would spend two weeks with us.
When she stayed with us, our small Tonawanda home became a seamstress alteration haven, because Mom took in sewing. She would save the challenges for Granma Susan’s visits. During one visit, I watched intently as Granma Susan altered her own fur coat so it would fit Mom. It took the entire two weeks, as Granma painstakingly and meticulously cut the skin freehand with a razor blade. We were finding fur on surfaces in the house for months after.
After Granma Susan’s retirement, the Barbie doll made her debut. And Granma did what any entrepreneurial spirit would do: She began designing and sewing Barbie doll clothes to sell. When we visited her in Belmont while she lived with Ruth, or on Grand Island while she lived with Liz, Granma’s room was a store for Barbie outfits and a workshop in the throes of creation. I would admire the clothing, but I was in high school and was too old for a Barbie. Seeing my admiration and interest in all the wonderful doll clothes she created, Granma Susan told me, “I’ve saved one of everything I’ve made for you.”
Granma Susan died the summer between my first and second years of nursing school.
She had never had time to give me the Barbie clothes, and I realized that I would never see them. She had “real” granddaughters, then me. I mentioned this to Mom, and let it go.
A few months later, it was Christmas. Once all the gifts were opened and enjoyed, we were preparing to kick back for coffee and conversation, but before I got up off the floor where I sat opening gifts, Mom said, “Oh, there’s one more for you.” I was handed a deep, square gift box. Puzzled, I ripped into the gift wrap and opened the box. Under the tissue paper was a Barbie doll and one of every outfit Granma Susan ever made! I burst into tears.
It’s the best gift ever. I realized that Ruth and Liz were generously honoring Granma Susan’s intention for the doll and collection of handmade outfits to be a gift for me – even though there were six other granddaughters.
I make Barbie doll clothes now, and when I learn of a woman my age who never had her own Barbie, I select a Barbie I’ve rescued from Goodwill or a resale shop (put her through spa day!) and dress her in one of my handmade outfits.
The gift is always happily received! I’m 65, and Barbie is still near and dear in my heart.