The One That Got Away: Love on a Dishtowel

A hardworking, conscientious girl. A boy with a massive crush. The sweet story of young love. How do you capture that in a few stitches?

It can be done—just look at these funny towels!

A great many vintage items pass through my hands, as I poke around garage sales and thrift shops and as others scavenge for me, as well.

I can’t keep everything, of course, so I sell a lot of what I find and keep only what I consider to be really special.

But sometimes I don’t realize a thing is special until it’s gone. Absence, it seems, really can make the heart grow fonder.

Such is the case with these adorable towels.

My mother picked these up for me, at a bargain price, from a white elephant sale—one look told her they were not to be left behind.

These three towels were probably originally part of a set of 6 or 7 “day of the week” towels, each depicting a housekeeping chore assigned to a different day of the week.

Towels like these were popular in the 1940 and ‘50s and many iron-on patterns were sold, so a person could make her own set according to her tastes.

Of all the many sets I’ve seen, this is one of my very favorites.

I love these towels for the craftsmanship and the details that are included—just look at the boy’s tiny spurs and bandana and the fringe on the girl’s split skirt!IMG_2652

But I love them even more for the narrative contained in them, the story between the boy and girl that we’re invited to participate in. It’s that age-old story of puppy love!

Some people might look at these towels and say they simply reinforce negative, outdated gender stereotypes—a boy bringing a girl his mending and ironing, while he dawdles around, getting in the way.

All I can see, though, is the sweetness. He fills his 10-gallon hat with mending and she throws her hand to her head and says, “Oh! The things I do for you!”IMG_2645

He takes a broom and offers to help with the cleaning, but it’s only a ruse to stand by and moon over the object of his affections. And she, playing hard to get, turns her back and pretends she doesn’t know the turmoil he’s experiencing.IMG_2654

She tries to iron and he shows off for her, trying to impress her with his skills with a lariat. You can almost hear her saying, “Get away, I have work to do!,” while she secretly loves every moment.IMG_2666

It’s all here—drama, emotion, whimsy, the human story. And it’s an ongoing story, developing over the days, as their clothes change in every setting.

I also can’t help but wonder, when I think of these towels, about the loving hands that did the careful stitching. Was the maker a young woman, stitching a romantic story and hoping it would materialize in her life? Was she a new wife, feathering her nest and honoring the thrill of a recent courtship? Or was the maker a care-worn housewife, reliving the sweet memories of what she felt when she first met her husband?

For this little cowgirl and cowboy, the moment never passes, the bloom never leaves the flower of first love.

I hope the new owner of these towels loves them and the story they tell!