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Curtain Call

Overhearing a discussion of prom dress prices the other day brought to mind a story I had heard from Alene Horner many years ago.

Alene, 85, a retired teacher who now lives in southern Indiana, spent her early childhood in a small, now-vanished Whitley County coal camp called Bon Jellico. Her paternal grandparents, Richard and Vina Kirklin, lived close by.

From the time she was a toddler, Alene treasured the moments spent with her grandmother, an even-tempered, sturdy little woman who wore her hair done up in a bun.

Alene often sat on Grandma’s lap and helped her milk Star, the family cow. On some visits her grandmother would give Alene a needle, thread, and thimble and let her help stitch quilts. The stitches may have been removed later, Alene supposes, but helping to create something so pretty instilled in her an early love of sewing.

Her mother died when Alene was 14, and around that time the mine closed and her grandparents moved to Savoy, not far from Williamsburg. Alene stayed with them on weekends and during the summers until she finished high school, then she came to live with them and entered Cumberland College, now University of the Cumberlands, in Williamsburg.

She walked to and from classes each day from their little white house in the country. It was nothing fancy, but it was always well-kept and cozy, with starched, lace curtains hung from the windows in two of the rooms, and love in every corner.

Alene was sweeping the front porch one morning just before Christmas when her grandfather came walking from town with a large bag under his arm and a twinkle in his eyes.

Not until after he died three years later would Alene learn that—without prompting from her grandmother—the old miner had picked out the large cloth doll left under the tree for her that Christmas morning. It is still among her most treasured keepsakes.

She had never heard of a prom dress in those days, but occasionally there were costume parties and other dress-up events at school. When she was 17, she wanted to go to a college costume party, but she had no dress and there was no money to buy one, so she gave up on the idea.

Then one afternoon she came home from school to find that her grandmother had cut up her prized lace curtains from the dining room window, along with one of her best cotton slips, and had made a pretty dress, an apron, and bonnet for Alene to wear, dressed as Little Bo Peep, on that one special night.

“I’m sure that I cried,” Alene recalls. “I still get real teary when I think about it.”

In this cluttered world of store-bought memories that often fade so soon, there is something of lasting value in the story of Alene Kirklin Horner’s most unforgettable dress—made so long ago with lace curtains and a grandmother’s love.

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