Susan Maupin Schmid was born into a world of dresses. From her earliest baby clothes, all the way through grade school, Susan wore a dress almost every day. But then so did all the other little girls in the small town in Iowa where she grew up. She wore lacy baby-doll dresses, crisp poplin school dresses, dotted Swiss Sunday school dresses, and a whole assortment of plaid jumpers. (She promised herself that when she grew up she would never, ever wear another plaid jumper. And she hasn’t.)
Susan was a tiny, day-dreaming, story-loving child, who often got in trouble for paying more attention to her imagination than to the world around her. Her mother took her to the public library every week and read fairy tales aloud to her. When Susan started kindergarten, she still wore a toddler size four. But that didn’t prevent her from walking the mile to school every day—alone. She usually arrived late—to the endless annoyance of her teacher—because she sang and danced and imagined herself all the way to school.
Susan learned to read, which opened a whole new world of stories to her. More fuel for her imagination. Less time spent paying attention. Susan exasperated her teachers, who seemed convinced that she could be a top student—provided she stop reading. Alas, school work lacked magic and sparkle and, well, excitement. But she did become a great reader, whizzing through entire novels at a blinding speed and graduating to adult books by sixth grade. Something that upset her sixth grade teacher, who called her mother to complain. When Susan’s mother, who had been a teacher herself, told Susan’s teacher that he ought to be glad she was reading…the teacher decided to ignore Susan for the rest of the year. That allowed her to make excellent progress on her mission to read her way through the library.
In junior high, the school dress code changed. Girls could wear pants and—gasp—shorts to class. Everything changed. Susan wore jeans like everyone else. By high school, she missed dresses and joined the theater group so that she could pretend to be someone else and wear costumes (which were the next best thing to dresses). But school work still lacked magic, so Susan bugged her librarian to borrow books for her from other libraries.
College was a whole new adventure. The university library had over a million books: all those books Susan’s small-town library didn’t have. And a wealth of interesting things to study. Susan spent so much time reading and learning about art, history, design, and theater that she struggled to choose a major. She also discovered Vogue patterns’ Designer Dresses section, where she could buy a pattern that allowed her to sew a dress created by Bill Blass, Ralph Lauren, Lanvin, Albert Nippon, or Yves Saint Laurent.
After college, Susan worked and wore dresses she made herself. Eventually, she married and started a family. When she started taking her daughters to the library every week, she rediscovered her old friends: books full of Magic, Adventure, and Sparkle. And she realized that what she’d always been meant to do was write.
And wear dresses. Lots and lots of dresses.
Photo: Stacey Schuetts
Susan Maupin Schmid
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