Butterfly House Pants

butterfly-housepantsMy father was secure enough in his masculinity to wear butterfly house pants. My mother had repaired the ripped-out knee of his old pair of blue jeans with a recycled, embroidered butterfly patch that she’d salvaged from a worn-out pair of my oldest sister’s jeans. Dad wore these pants only when he was in the house, because in my farm family, our clothes observed a strict division of labor.

Church clothes were our nicest outfits. In my case that meant dresses, pant suits, or skirt and blouse combinations with my “good” pair of shoes, often black patent leather. Church clothes could be worn to school only on “dress up” days. My older sisters and brother and I went to Catholic school — with a dress code. All through grade school my school clothes consisted of one standard uniform: a gray plaid jumper with a week’s worth of white and pastel blouses, usually accessorized with knee socks and tennis shoes. My younger brothers and sister went to public school, so their wardrobe was more varied and colorful.

Barn clothes were worn when we were doing chores or other farm work, whether in the barn, around the farmstead, or in the field. We tended to wear tough blue jeans and work shirts and sturdy leather shoes. When we came into the house, we dropped our dirty barn clothes at the back entrance and changed into our clean house clothes, jeans and shirts that were never worn in the barn. Mom figured we didn’t need to be spreading farm dirt throughout the house.

Clothes remained in their categories until they were outgrown (and then they were passed on to the next kid in the family) or they had worn out. When Dad’s butterfly house pants finally wore out, Mom carefully cut out the butterfly patch to save and use again. That’s the kind of frugal homemaker she was. After she died, I found the patch in her sewing box. I’m no seamstress, so I’ll probably never use it to fix a pair of pants, but I can use it to patch together a story. And I’m saving the patch so I can use it again.

Laura Sternweis


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