If she had lived, my paternal grandmother, Avis Frances Mackey Fletcher would have been one hundred years old yesterday. If my maternal grandmother, Hazel Alabama Whitmarsh Webster had also lived on she would have been one hundred and one years old today.


Avis Frances Mackey Fletcher in her sewing room.

Both of my grandmothers were long lived. My paternal grandmother, Frances died on New Years Day, 1995 at the age of 89. My maternal grandmother, Hazel lived to be 83 years old, dying on her wedding anniversary.

I always think of both of them at this time of year and hope that somewhere they are both sharing birthday cake.


Hazel Alabama Whitmarsh Webster

Both of my grandmothers were working women and extremely good seamstresses. They and my grandfathers had their own drycleaning shops in our city. One was called Fletchers’ Cleaners and the other, on the main street in town, was the Rightway Cleaners.

Needless to say we wore a lot of clothing made from wool because we never had to worry about the cost of drycleaning.


The dress my grandmother made me and the West Point cadet I later married.

My maternal grandmother, Hazel was very exacting in her needlework and could make her own patterns. When I was in the only beauty pageant I ever entered I was dissatisfied with the selection of evening gowns so I drew a picture of the evening gown that I wanted to wear.

My grandmother took some measurements with several straight pins sticking in her mouth. She laid out the material, made her markings and penned the dress, humming all the time. I remember how amazed I was at my grandmother’s artistry. She made the dress I had imagined and it turned out beautifully.

Back then, there was no such thing as glamorous evening gowns as the fashion trend of the time was decidedly hippie. I refused to wear anything that made me look like Laura from Little House on the Prairie so my grandmother solved that problem for me. My evening gown was made from ten yards of turquoise chiffon and satin and had a bodice made of turquoise brocade. It was trimmed with rhinestones across the chest and around the midriff.


My grandmother, Hazel also made this beautiful gown for my sister.

My maternal grandmother, Hazel was slightly superstitious about her sewing projects. She never started a project on Friday or Sunday.


My maternal grandfather, Guy Smith Webster at The Rightway Cleaners.

Both my grandmothers sewed the dresses my eight bridesmaids wore in my wedding and my paternal grandmother, Frances made the girls’ headpieces. She also made my bridal veil.

I remember one time when we were home from Fort Monroe for a visit, my paternal grandmother, Frances sat up until three A.M. making curtains for my youngest daughter’s room. She was always willing to sew and so fun to sit by and listen to. She could tell intricate and interesting stories even when she was sewing. She made the sewing look easy.

I loved to watch both of my grandmothers’ hands as they sewed. Each one of them gave me tips on sewing on buttons, hemming and making curtains. But if I couldn’t sew something by hand I wouldn’t do it. I am hopeless with sewing machines and am convinced I may be slightly mentally handicapped because I could never cut out a pattern properly or place the bobbin in its pocket correctly.

I am fine at handstitching but not as good as I’d like to believe. Last winter I was hemming some slacks and my niece was watching me. Finally, she could stand it no longer, grabbed my sewing project from me and expertly whipped out the hems in no time flat.