Living Between the Lines

Nights in Pink Satin

As I reached across the gas hob to retrieve a wooden spoon, I felt the heat rush up my arm. Husband had left the gas ring on, ‘simmer’. I hastily withdrew my arm before the flimsy material of my blouse could catch alight.
That single act brought another image to mind, an image of another item of clothing that did not escape the flames and indeed, that can still cause me to squirm and die a little of shame, each time I remember it.
I was 3 years old. The year was 1960.
It should be said that sibling jealousy played a big part in what was about to happen.
It had all started on Christmas morning 1959. My middle sister and I were both handed similarly sized, squashy presents, wrapped in identical Christmas paper.
My 5-year-old sister must have unwrapped her gift first. As the sheet of paper tore apart, a torrent of beautiful, pink satin silk, cascaded onto the floor, landing in soft ripples at my feet. Scooping the garments up, my sister exclaimed over her new satin knickers and nightie. I, watching longingly, coveted them from that moment.
“Open yours,” she urged me. I couldn’t wait. I ripped open my present, expecting the same pink satin garments to drop from its folds. I pulled out the crisp, flowered cotton apron and held it before me.
“What a lovely apron Auntie Jules has given you,” exclaimed my mother, or words to that effect.
I stared at the apron, disappointment clouding my vision. I looked at my sister’s pink silk nightwear and put the apron down. I don’t suppose I actually said I was disappointed. Perhaps they knew as much by my face but nothing was said. Of course, I liked the apron. However, its coarse cotton fibres could never match the delicate fronds that made up the silk knickers.
Every time my sister wore the garments I must have felt that stab of jealousy. More than once I begged to be allowed to wear them for a while, though they would not have fitted me. I was never allowed.
Living in a house bereft of any heating save for the coal fire, burning in the grate, it was inevitable that when laundry had to be dried indoors, the airer was erected close to the fire.
On this particular evening, some time early in 1960, the pink satin knickers and the pink satin slip, had been draped over the wooden clothes horse along side my Winceyette nightie.
My mother was brushing my sister’s newly washed hair. We must have both just had a bath because I was wrapped in a towel.
The fire guard had been moved while my mother poked at the coals to rekindle the flames. Satisfied, she had sat back to resume the brushing.
I reached out, intending to touch the pink satin.
“Don’t touch my things!” blurted my sister.
Now what possessed me, who can say? I really do not know but I remember it clearly. Perhaps her words goaded me, before I knew what was happening, I was reaching out and grabbing the knickers in defiance, while she screamed at me and my mother blinked in amazement. Quick as wink, I had flung the gorgeous pink satin knickers onto the fire.
To my mother’s credit, she reacted quickly and tonged the knickers out again, before they disintegrated in the flames. Alas, she was too late to prevent the scorched hole from appearing in the seat of those pants. They would not be worn again.
My sister squealed and I, almost as shocked by my actions as she was, burst into tears. The smack I received and the reprimand, were nothing in comparison with the feeling of horror I experienced when I saw what I had done.
It was a tough lesson to learn for a three-year-old, “jealousy is a destructive emotion and what is done cannot be undone”.
So, here I am, 56 years later and that moment is etched in my memory still, brought to mind this week, by a gas ring left burning. My sister kept the pink satin nightie until she grew out of it, by which time it was quite washed out and far less appealing. Its whereabouts after that are a mystery, probably delegated to the rag-bag.
Ironically, I still have the cotton apron that Auntie Joules bought me, all those years ago and treasure it beyond any silk or satin.

On the beach
Sisters – pink satin horror forgotten

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • hilarymb

    Hi Debbie – what an extraordinary story – and as you say jealousy is something too terrible at times … yet how you love your apron – the pink satin gone forever. I’m sure I’d have rather have had the satin – but I don’t remember anything like that … however – your ‘guilt’ lives on … we do remember things we’d rather forget …

    That flame so easy to burn … and especially as we get older things can be forgotten about briefly – while our minds turn elsewhere – being on my own I try and keep my wits about me …

    Knights in White Satin .. loved that song … and this is what I thought when you started the post … Does your sister remember or know?! Cheers Hilary

    • Debbie

      Alas, Hilary, I never asked my sister if she remembered the event and as she is no longer with us, the time has passed. She certainly remembered it for a while when we were children. The play on Knights in White Satin has been worked many times over but seemed just right for this post somehow. Yes, jealousy is such a negative emotion isn’t it? I am glad you keep your wits about you, I shall endeavour to do the same 🙂

  • Teresa

    Knights in White Satin – one of my favourite ever songs. I feel so sorry for little you on realising what you’d done and big you for still feeling guilty. I have memories that make me squirm too – they never leave you. Thank goodness you didn’t set fire to yourself on the gas ring 🙂 xx

    • Debbie

      I’m glad I realised the hob was on, in time, Teresa and as for the little me, well, a lesson learnt I suppose. I did hold a great respect for other people’s things after that episode. A lesson learnt I suppose :-)x

  • Deb

    I love your stories so much. And I love the gumption of that little girl. It makes me wonder what other impulses she followed to trouble. 🙂

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