When I look at the professional picture of my three-year-old self, my right hand clinging to my younger brother’s shoulder, I think of two things: how I didn’t know at the time the picture was taken that in a few months divorce would split my family and how much I loved that dress. I remember scraggly bits and pieces about my parents’ divorce but I would remember every detail about that dress even if I didn’t have a single picture of it.
My family wasn’t anywhere near rich when I was growing up, but my grandparents were, at least it seemed like it to me. I was Mimi and Pompoo’s first grandchild and the only girl, so of course they spoiled me rotten. They did it in all the traditional ways: buying me things, taking me “fancy” places, turning their heads when I did wrong (except for the time I powdered my Mimi’s bathroom with a grapefruit-sized, seashell-pink powder puff—that got me a spanking). But the thing they gave me that meant the most was the dress I wear in this picture.
One part of the dress, actually the best part of the dress was the bells that were sewn into the white fluffy layers. I didn’t know their purpose. All I knew was that with every black patent-leathered Mary Jane step I took, those bells announced my presence with their jingle-jangle, like the bells on a tiny version of Santa’s sleigh.
My grandparents bought the dress for me to wear when I went with them to Chicago on one of Pompoo’s business trips. Although it was my first flight, I remember nothing of it. But I remember wearing that dress.
I paraded down the halls of the hotel, by myself (ARGH, screams the mother in me), relishing the oohs and ahhs of the hotel staff and other guests. I remember switching up my pace, sometimes sauntering, prancing, or skipping, just to vary the sound of those bells.
I outgrew the dress, but when the two of us reconnected, twice but years apart, I realized I never outgrew its pull on me.
I had two girl cousins on my dad’s side of my family, and as not-rich families often do, my aunt and my mom shared their daughters’ clothes with each other. One day when while playing at my cousins’ house in their attic I found my dress—my magical, pink, melodic dress. I ran to my cousins, screaming, “It’s my dress! It’s my dress!” Of course my cousins insisted it was theirs and were not, under any circumstance, going to let it leave with me. So I left, without it, in tears.
About 15 years later, I sat opening Christmas presents at my parents’ house. We were wrapping up the unwrapping when my mom slinked out the room and came back holding a big, white box. “This isn’t actually from dad and me. It’s from your Aunt Joyce,” she said with a small, tight smile.
In that box, wrapped in plain white tissue paper, was my dress—MY dress.
I swaddled my face with it and tried to draw in whatever little girl scent may still be there. It wasn’t quite as vibrant and crisp as it had been; multiple washings due to dirty girl cousins not taking special care with it and the effects of time had turned its colors slightly muted and yellow with age.
The bells were still there—those glorious bells still jingled as I picked up the dress and gently shook it. Later my aunt told me she’d found the dress in the attic, knew it was mine, and wanted to make sure it got back to me.
Another 15 years or so after that, my dress made its comeback on the petite frame of my daughter when she wore it for her three-year pictures, its pull on me stronger than ever.
So tell me, what’s one item from your childhood you lost and would do anything to get back? If you and your item were reunited at some point, how did you feel? What about it pulls at you—why was it so special?