What one sentence can change a life?

One sentence did change my life -and eventually, the lives of many others.

My friend -at 18- was getting married and asked me to be her maid of honor. She was from a good family, her mom was mortified because I was a "bad girl”. “Bad” because I dropped out of high school, not that I told anybody why. I'd left home at 16 taking my 15 year old sister with me tl;dr but I winged a year of high school while working 3rd shift to support us before giving up on high school. But anyway, by the time of my friend’s nuptials, I was living in a rented travel trailer with my cat, working 3rd shift at Frito-Lay where I shoveled rotting corn out of the in plant sewers and driving a fork lift. I was looking forward to a life where my greatest aspiration was to move into a 2 bedroom single wide. And I'm not kidding. I'd planned it all out down to the powder blue carpet I was going to have installed in my sister’s bedroom. It wasn't much of a life, I think I was already waiting to die and I was only 18.

But anyway, the bridesmaids gowns had to be made and I said I'd make my own; I'd been sewing since I was 5 (yes, really) not that I told anybody since only poor people sewed in those days and not as tho anyone would ever mistake me for anything but that, but I had my pride to defend. My friend's mom wasn't convinced and began nagging me until I finished it. And then, she insisted on seeing it. That was nearly insulting. But whatever, I took it over and she showed me the bridesmaids dresses she made for the other girls before she looked at mine -in hindsight, I realize she was trying to take me down easy but I thought the dresses looked awful; she'd hand tacked the neckline binding to the bodice and you could see the stitches (albeit tiny ones), that's not what the instructions called for. So she looks at my dress and I swear, her jaw dropped, literally, the only time I've seen that happen in real life. She was speechless.

Then she said, “this dress is better than the ones I made” which was true and not that I'd be so rude as to point that out and then she said —-life changing sentence —— “you should be a pattern maker”. And that's when the heavens opened and the angels started singing. I had no idea there was such a thing. I had never wondered how sewing patterns came to be and that it would be someone's job to make them but as soon as I heard it, I knew that being a pattern maker was the only thing I wanted to be. It turns out, my friend’s mom was a home ec teacher. In an instant, I had an all consuming aspiration - so I asked her how I could do that and she said there was a college downtown where they taught that. Well I couldn't go to college because I hadn't finished high school but she said I should go talk to them anyway.

So I went down the very next day, right after I got off work, not realizing there was dried corn stuck in my hair but I couldn’t get there fast enough. As it turns out, the state of Texas where I was living has some interesting laws. One is that any institution of higher learning that accepts state funding must reserve 5% of their enrollment for people who don't qualify for admission for whatever reason, hard luck and all. The college can impose testing on these back door applicants to prove you can do the work even if you don't have the paper. So that's what I did. I spent most of the day taking tests. At the end of it, the dean, Ruby Herd, took me aside and personally took me around to get me signed up (classes had already started that week). Being new at this whole college thing, I didn’t know how unusual it was; I think now that she felt sorry for me.

I cried when she shook my hand and asked me to make her proud. She gave me an acceptance letter from the college, a half sheet of blue paper with her signature on it. It became my most prized possession. She sent me a letter every semester (because I did not fail to make the deans list) and those letters joined the acceptance letter. Same half sheet of blue bond paper With her signature in blue ball point pen, “"Ruby Herd”, with a flourish, the paper indented from the pressure of her pen. Sounds hokey now but it meant everything to me.

I had the hardest time believing I was a real college student, a situation I had not dared to aspire to. I didn't even have anyone in my social circle who had gone to college (and ended up losing all those friends). Many days, it did not seem real. It was a difficult adjustment, the other students were so happy and carefree, some already had degrees but they all had good families. It wasn't until I got to college that I realized that other parents liked their kids, loved them even, and did nice things for them. Until college, I thought other people were lying about their families if they said their parents were nice to them. People at college were a whole world away from anything I knew, from people I knew. I had nightmares about college for years. In my dreams, I saw myself walking the halls at college and a man (always a man) would come out of nowhere to grab my elbow and yell at me that I didn’t belong here, his spittle hitting me in the face.

Then he’d start yelling to everyone walking by “I’ve caught her! She doesn’t belong here! Come and get her!” And when he’d start dragging me out of the building, I’d wake up crying. Somehow I got through it. I later ended up going to the University of Texas to study economics because I wanted to improve people’s lives. Problem is, although I have good math sense, I had debilitating math anxiety. I took 2 semesters of accounting to get over it. I had dreams about that too, for years. I was awfully insecure for too long and became a straight A student with only 1 B (93.5; a 94 was the A) in my college career.

But I digress. Yes one sentence can change a life. And yes, “you’re pregnant”, “marry me” and all that can change a life but one sentence changed my entire destiny. I am proud of my job. I don’t care if it is deprecated by other people or they think I’m stupid… being a pattern maker was the finest thing I could ever have imagined becoming. I’m proud of being a good tradesman. And I am grateful. Today, my company does a lot of pro bono work to help disadvantaged people (mostly we make coats to donate to needy kids) and the focus of my business is empowering entrepreneurs to start and run sustainable businesses that will create good, well paying jobs. I think I’m the luckiest person I know.

To address common questions:

No, my friend’s mom doesn’t know the positive effect she’s had on my life. I lost contact with my friend but someone has said they may be able to help us reconnect. If we do, I’ll update this.

My sister died of cirrhosis in 2014; previously a brother died when he was 19 (suspected suicide). Of we five siblings, only 2 of us went on to become productive citizens. None of us graduated from high school; I was the only one to attend college.

I’m glad many enjoyed this but I do not plan on writing my life story. I do quite a bit of technical writing, specifically, nearly all the content on Fashion-Incubatorfashion-incubator.com. It is a well respected site in the garment industry. I also wrote a technical book, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing. Currently, I’m writing a sure-to-be crowd pleasing book on Cut Order Planning after which reviewers the world over, will lobby for my Pulitzer.

If I may impose upon you, we host apparel manufacturing boot camps at my sewing factory with two goals in mind. First is to help rebuild good, fair trade factories here in the US. Second, we make products that we donate to needy kids here in New Mexico. The training is free although we must collect a small fee to buy fabric for the products we donate. You can find out more about this project by visiting the Albuquerque Fashion Incubator.

Anyone is encouraged to try it (we have lots of home sewers come). However, even tho you may never have heard of it, it is very popular so sign up sooner rather than later. We only have 2 openings left for the event being held next March 2017. We have a waiting list for the camp scheduled for Labor Day 2017.