Thursday morning Jessie brought Ellen ten dresses to choose from. Ellen hadn’t realized she was still about twenty pounds heavier than her last fitting. She could only squeeze into two of the ten. The group included a black satin evening dress and a turquoise and black day dress of a mature style she abhorred. “I see my business is no longer important to you, Jessie Austin, if this is the best you can bring me. Besides these are fourteens and you know I wear an eight. Now take these and come back tomorrow with some pastel shades. My grandma wouldn’t be caught dead in these old black rags,” Ellen spouted angrily. With this, Ellen flopped on the bed in a tantrum, sobbing loudly.
“I’ll do what I can Miss Ellen, but most of the spring pastels are gone, but I think I do have a yellow one that would make you shine. I can bring it by after four tomorrow if that suits you.” Miss Jessie turned and went back in the bedroom to comfort Ellen and save herself. She wouldn’t have had Ellen and her mother not been her best customers,. She’d have walked Ellen’s back door and never looked back, but each of them bought hundreds of dollars every spring and fall. “Miss Ellen, I just remembered I had a custom order for a yellow silk, and it was delayed so the woman had to buy something else. I do believe it is just what you want. I’ll bring it by about four tomorrow if you like. Also, I have some new bra and corset sets. You know you need to try the dress with the foundation garments you’ll be wearing. I can bring those and stock by Peacock’s shoe store and pick up a couple of matching pairs of shoes for you to try. I seem to remember you wear a six, don’t you?” Miss Jessie asked. “Now I need to measure you to make sure of your size. Ellen turned her back and Jessie measured her bust and waist. “I’ll be back tomorrow with something you’re gonna love, in exactly your size. I won’t disappoint you again.”
Jessie hurried to her shop to get the size ten ,yellow, silk dress. measured it and found it a full four inches too small in the bust and waist. Fortunately, the wide butterfly sleeves would not need altercation. She took the dress back to Viola Perkins who was doing alterations in a cluttered back room of the shop. Jessie always acted like she didn’t see the clutter. She couldn’t risk annoying such a valuable employee. Viola made and sold custom wedding, bridesmaid’s, mother of the bride, and flower girl dresses through Jessie’s shop. Patrons had to order their dresses a year ahead, she was so busy. Jessie sold lots of lingerie and trousseau to brides, so it worked for both of them.
“Viola, I need a huge favor. Ellen Pendergrass asked me to bring her some dresses. She’s been in the hospital and gained a lot of weight. I know this dress is far too little for her, but it’s the only thing I’ve got that might work. Can you please alter it? I’ll pay you twenty five dollars to fix it. I have her bust and waist measurements right here. And whatever you do, don’t mention her weight to anybody. Dr. Charles will have our heads if we upset her.” Jessie handed her the dress. “If this goes well, she’ll want several more.”
Viola sighed and put down her work. She spread the dress flat on her worktable and measured. “I think I’ve got something that will work.” She pulled out some pale yellow silk and a large piece of lace overlay. With her scissors she split the dress from neckline to hem.” Jessie gasped. It was so quick, she couldn’t imagine anything good could come of it. Viola carefully placed the lace overlay over the yellow silk. Without a hint of a pattern, she snipped away at the front and back necklines, lowering them. She quickly put a new zipper in. She’d done alterations for Ellen many times and knew she loved showing off her swan-like neck and voluptuous bosom. Jessie lost her nerve and left the sewing room, wondering how it would ever be a dress again. By the time Jessie got in the next morning, the sumptuous dress and a silk-lined lacewrap were in the window for all to see.
“Viola, I have one more thing I need you to do Take the size ten tag off and exchange it for a size eight.”
Several women stopped in wanting to buy it, but of course, it wasn’t for sale at any price. Jessie sent them back to see if Viola wanted to make any of them a dress of a different pattern.
Jessie skipped lunch after the morning rush and took a swatch of the silk to Peacock’s Shoe Store. “Mr. Peacock, I need some of your best shoes to match this swatch. I promised to bring a dress over for her this afternoon, and I’m sure she’ll want a matching bag and shoes the outfit is for an afternoon tea. She said she wants a size six.” Jessie said.
“Well she must be planning to wear them for earrings, then..I always send her a seven and a half and just mark out the size. Otherwise, I’d never get her to buy nothin’ .How do these two pair look? He pulled out two pair of alligator shoes, one pale yellow and one bone color and two matching purses.
Those are beautiful. Can I just take both pair of shoes and bring them back if they won’t do.” asked Jessie.
“Why sure, but I don’t anticipate getting the back. That woman’s bought more shoes from me than Carter has little liver pills.
About nine-thirty the next morning, Ellen came down to the kitchen for breakfast. Cora could tell she wanted to talk and dreaded what might be coming.. “Cora, I need you to call the Cut and Curl and tell Marjean to come over about two. I need a trim and style, and a red tint. Now I want Marjean, not just anybody, you hear.” she was emphatic.
“Miss Ellen, I can sure call her, but she might not come on my say so.” Cora wasn’t too happy about passing that message on to Mss Marjean. Miss Marjean could be quite hateful, especially to black people. She wanted them to stay in their place. Cora knew Miss Marjean would think she was “getting out of her place, telling her what to do. Besides, Miss Marjean was albusiness. She definitely didn’t want to be around with when Miss Marjean was trying to pick Miss Ellen’s businesstry. “Dear Jesus! You got to help us. Dr. Evans has got to tell Miss Ellen about them sweet babies before somebody else does.
Instead of calling MIss Marjean, Cora called Dr. Evans and told him about Ellen’s plan, Dr. Charles said he would take care of it. He was headed home right now, anyway. Geneva had just called him and told him Cousin Jean had passed. Geneva, the girls and Josie would be home in an hour or so. He didn’t think Ellen had been close to Cousin Jean, but he wanted to tell her before Geneva got home. Geneva was very upset. Cousin Jean was the only mother she’d ever known.