Today is Mama’s birthday! This picture was taken on her tenth birthday, when they threw as big a party as was possible for her (Mama always regretted being born in the summertime, because most everyone was out of town). In the picture, she’s wearing an American Dress.
Having clothing from America was a huge deal in the Soviet Union. The quality of the clothing was incomparable, and the lack of environmental restrictions on the dyes used at the time meant that the colors never faded (this particular dress was navy and white, with two little red stars at the edges of the collar). This clothing made it into the country by way of someone’s American relatives who had escaped to the US at some point in the earlier part of the century. They would send boxes of used clothing over, and it would help in more ways than the one. Sometimes the boxes would get their recipients into trouble, during those times when “having relatives abroad” was tantamount to being treasonous. But at times when things were more relaxed, those boxes would come through for a special few.
Baba had a friend living in Chernovtsy that received packages from her American cousins. Said friend, Anna, had a mother whose twelve siblings and parents had all immigrated, leaving her behind with her unfortunately Bolshevik husband. Anna therefore had untold numbers of cousins sending her support. They would often send clothing for her to sell, and also for her daughter, Sofa, to wear. Since Sofa was four years older than Mama, Mama would get her hand-me-downs whenever she and Baba visited Chernovtsy, every four years or so. That would make Mama impeccably dressed for quite a while until she outgrew what she had. Sometimes she’d be “between boxes” and quite threadbare. Baba would alter the dresses as much as she could, but eventually Mama could no longer wear them, and they would be passed along to another little girl. Such was the value of these clothes that Mama would sometimes meet her old dresses on the street years later, worn by some little girl she had never met. Who knows if they ever stopped circulating?