Making the Russian women smile 1 Sept 2013
It takes more than a bunch of kids to make these ladies laugh.
Here Pants. So much in life comes back to pants. And I don't mean that recent misuse that confuses them with underpants.
I mean pants. Pants you wear to work or a party. Slacks, trousers, breeches, corduroys, dungarees … jeans even.
Being short, any pair of pants I buy are invariably too long. And when it comes to shops that do alterations, I'm spoiled for choice where I live. There's everything from ultra-slick to outright pedestrian.
I prefer the ordinary, local shops, where staff are passionate and love their work. “Cos godammit, hemming slacks is right next to saving whales.”
So the place I take my pants is a drab and low-key affair. The walls have cracks. There's a makeshift change room with a torn curtain, and a well-worn table in the middle.
Seated around heavy, Soviet-era sewing machines are five middle-aged, heavy, Soviet-era women. They are, as my kids have grown up to know them, the Russian Women.
These are women who immigrated from a brittle, hard-boiled world. These are the women for whom a deep Melbourne winter is probably a welcome change.
And for years now, I've had but one aim: make these toughened ladies smile. Every time I go in, I put on my best face to turn their sour facades around. I've tried every trick in the book of charm.
I thought wearing colourful shirts would do it. Nyet,
So I brought in my baby. Nyet.
So I got a cute dog. Nyet.
And when the baby lost his baby-cuteness, I begged my wife to have another. Nyet. Well, my wife yes yes; the Russian Women said nyet.
Oh how many pants I went through. Oh how much money I spent. Can you take them up? Can you bring them down a little? This side's a bit shorter than the other. This stitch is a bit weak. These aren't my pants. You get the picture.
Eventually, four years later, I succeeded. I cracked the code. I'll never be exactly sure what did it. Was it the relentless charm offensive? My handsome looks? My impeachable fashion sense?
Or maybe it was this day: my dog with a pink bow on her ear, my son with his puppy ears head-band, my daughter in a cute sailor suit, and me jumpling around in a teddy-bear onesie. Somehow, at some point, I got my smile.
However it happened, that day I welcomed five Russian Women to a better life in Australia, in the only way I knew how.
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