We’ve got a copy of THE FUNERAL DRESS up for grabs today. Leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.
Update: we’re thrilled to announce that the winner of this book is Michelle W. Thanks to all who entered! And don’t forget to check back soon. We have lots of great giveaways lined up for the rest of this year.
The Funeral Dress is about two women who worked side by side in a shirt factory. Their story is rooted in the stories of others.
Marea Barker was a lapel maker at Spartan Industries in Dunlap, Tennessee, for nearly 30 years. Everyday, five days a week, eight hours a day, Marea sewed lapels at the town’s shirt factory. She did not attach them to a dress or a blouse. That was a job for someone else to do.
More than a year ago now, Marea and I sat in her living room, amidst her quilting, and talked about her work at the shirt factory. Marea’s husband was a farmer, and she admitted that working at the factory was a welcome opportunity. “It got me off this farm. I was tired of cooking for the hired hands,” she said and stared out the window.
Interestingly, Marea never spoke of boredom or monotony, even when I pressed her about it. Finally, I hushed. I realized that for Marea working at the factory was about friendship. It was about community.
Marea was only one of the seamstresses I interviewed for this book. I talked to a bottom hemmer and collar maker. Some spoke of much needed income and raising children on their own. Some spoke of lunching at the local diner or watching a woman stitch her own finger. No matter how their stories varied, these women were all part of one Southern town’s economic and cultural history.
Marea died three months after we spoke. But this week we will celebrate the release of The Funeral Dress right there in the original shirt factory in the heart of Dunlap. We will have some fun, for sure, and we will honor the women and men who once worked at Spartan Industries. But most importantly, the Sequatchie County Friends of the Library will launch an oral history program so that stories like Marea’s are not lost.
* * *
Emmalee Bullard and her new baby are on their own. Or so she thinks, until Leona Lane, the older seamstress who sat by her side at the local shirt factory where both women worked as collar makers, insists Emmalee come and live with her. Just as Emmalee prepares to escape her hardscrabble life in Red Chert Holler, Leona dies tragically. Grief-stricken, Emmalee decides she’ll make Leona’s burying dress, but there are plenty of people who don’t think the unmarried Emmalee should design a dress for a Christian woman – or care for a child on her own. But with every stitch, Emmalee struggles to do what is right for her daughter and to honor Leona the best way she can, finding unlikely support among an indomitable group of seamstresses and the town’s funeral director. In a moving tale exploring Southern spirit and camaraderie among working women, a young mother will compel a town to become a community.