Throwback Thursdays: More than a dress

The dress, me and my little bro

The dress, me and my little bro

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 sobbed.

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.

My daughter and the dress

My daughter and the dress

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?

11 thoughts on “Throwback Thursdays: More than a dress

  1. The dress I wore as a flower girl to my uncle’s wedding is in my closet now. It’s a bittersweet feeling, since my uncle died of lung cancer several years ago. Funny, though – despite the fact that I was “a star” in that dress (or thought I was), I don’t remember it as well or as fondly as a dress with three pockets that I loved – the pockets were fastened shut with buttons, and were small, medium and large, like baby bear, mama bear, and papa bear, and trimmed in red piping. Part of it was hunter green, and part seersucker stripes, but I don’t remember which was which, the top or the skirt. I just remember loving that dress.

    1. I know what you mean about bittersweet, Paula. When we put our daughter in my dress, my grandparents were long gone and I remember thinking how much I would have loved for them to have seen her wearing it. They both would have shed a deluge of tears.

  2. I love your dress, Kelly. And your attachment to it. How cool your daughter got to wear it in her 3 yr old photos. My niece Sonja wears a lot of my old clothes and apparently, my outdated twirly dresses are her favorite. It makes me smile. Your dress reminds me of Anne of Green Gables who thought the prettiest dress in the world would have puff sleeves.

    Thanks for making me smile. Loved this post!

    1. Thanks Jess! I’m noticing a theme—no matter how girly or non-girly (?) women were when they were children, girls remember dresses. I wear a dress or a skirt maybe once or twice a year, but it’s the dresses from my childhood I remember the most. I don’t have a picture of it, but I had this white lacy dress I wore with a red headband, à la Pat Benatar in the 80s’. Crazy!

  3. My grandmother owned several children’s clothing shops in Southern California. She was a talented seamstress and make many custom dresses. She used to say she “dressed the children of the stars”–and she did. Several times a year she would put on fashion shows at various country clubs, etc. Guess who her runway model was from the age of 3 though 8? Me. Yes, I was a runway model. Any dresses I wore in the fashion shows were mine to keep. They were all ruffled and tucked and laced and beautiful. I don’t have any of the dresses, but I have many pictures. I still remember my mother washing, starching and ironing those dresses. It took hours. No permanent press.

    1. That sounds absolutely magical, Melissa. What an awesome experience that must have been for you. My grandmother/Mimi had oodles of cocktail dresses and I so wish my mom had kept them for me. I used to put on my own version of a fashion show wearing those dresses when I was a kid. Curse my mom for her purging ways!

  4. When my paternal grandma passed away in 2005, we were cleaning out her basement.
    Among the treasures, a copy of “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”, with “This belongs to Daven Anderson” written in orange crayon on the inside cover.
    The years since have only deepened my appreciation and understanding of Theodor Geisel’s simple yet profound wisdom.

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