White Muslin Dresses
in Honor of Sue Middendorf
by Mary Jo Kelly Wilhelm
Image by Maurice Prendergast titled Children at the Beach
White Muslin Dresses
Eight little girls in eight different sizes
Ironed white muslin dresses, Their lovely disguises.
Their mother said, "Oh, dear daughters mine,
Fold your dresses 'till they are thin as a dime.
Then place them, just so, in your very own trunk
And don’t put in any of your junk.
Be sure the blue tissue paper crinkles inside.
Pretend that you will be beautiful brides.
Then all of your brothers led by Big Bad Bill
Will fill our station wagon. It will look like a hill.
We're heading south on Highway One,
In Florida, we'll have some fun.”
Well, all the children piled in the back.
That station wagon nearly cracked.
Mom said, "Children, are you Ready?”
They shouted "Yes!" They felt so heady.
Then Mother said, "Dad, How about you?”
Dad counted the trunks and the pillows, too.
He counted his children, one to eleven,
Then cried out “John must still be in heaven.”
Dad checked his oil, his gas and his tires
He wanted nothing to happen dire.
The children waited with total quiet.
They would not want to cause a riot.
They drove though Virginia to North Carolina
The children were singing "nothing could be fina,”
Each mile they went, the sun got hotter
Till Marian Sue got in a bother.
She thought her sisters surely would melt
As they drove south through the Cotton Belt.
Those on each side of her became a muddle
Where they touched each other; there was a puddle.
They drove through South Carolina, down into Georgia
And finally the Middendorf’s drove into Florida
But on they went, past this beach and that
Dad kept saying, “We’ll be there in nothing flat.”
At last Dad drove to Miami Beach
And all those kids, they let out a screech.
Dad pointed east and said real quick,
“You kids can now swim in the Ocean Atlantic.”
Each morning at dawn, they woke with the sun.
They ran to the beach; they ate only a bun.
They swam very far in the warm, quiet water
They looked very much like sleek, little otters.
At they end of the day, then all of the went
To the fanciest, plushiest, restaurant, "The Kent”
Each of the girls put on one muslin dress
And came to her dinner and didn't make a mess.
They used their best manners; they always said, “Please.”
The waitress asked, "Whose fine chillun are these?”
Their mother said proudly, "They're his and they're mine.
Bill, I do believe we should have a glass of wine.”
The candle light sparkled; the children at ease.
They ate their chicken; they even ate peas.
They ate their rice pudding with pistachio ice cream.
They said, "Good night, Mother!" Then went off to dream.
They found tiny shells and played they were dishes.
They saw turtles swimming and long snakes sunning.
They came very close to a white egret running.
When out of the sky flew one hundred flamingoes
They danced on the sands on their long legs and pink toes.
Those gorgeous pink birds; they preened and they chattered.
Then all of a sudden, the full hundred scattered.
"Oh," cried Marian Sue and all of her sisters did so, too.
One day they went to Biscayne Bay
And none of them ever forgot this day.
They ran this way and that, like leap frogs and fishes.
Built sand castle and filled them with wishes.
And so, sad to say, one day must be last
It came at the end and they wanted a party.
Each last muslin dress they took from its hanger.
Each put on her dress with a feeling of langour.
The meal was the best: fried potatoes and flounder.
The coconut cake could not have been rounder.
Eight little girls and three little boys
Bid a teary farewell to their Florida joys.
"Good bye, Hotel, Good-bye, Water Good bye, Florida,
You could not have been hotter!
We love you, we miss you, we wish we could stay,
But now it is time for us to be away.”
They got in their wagon and headed back north
And wondered to where they would next venture forth.
"Maine," said their father, "you will love that, too.
And all of you children will not stick like glue.
The air's not as humid or even as hot
And I know you will love
Big blueberry pies and
Sweet lobster in a pot.”
The whole East coast from Florida to Maine,
The Children of Middendorf did ordain
A wonderful playground, a fine place to play
Come and join them and you, too, will have a great day.
Mary Jo Kelly Wilhelm