Posted July 2, 2017 by Kerry McFall
Floaty, delicate, demure, the peach confection unfolded itself across my mother’s bed like a weary dancer. Just liberated from nearly 70 years in an airless cedar chest, it seemed to have a mind of its own. Yards and yards of chiffon cascaded over the edge of the bed in a sudden gust of gravity to reveal — Ooh! A black satin bodice! I take back the adjective “demure”. It’s sassy! It’s just this side of ooh-la-la… And that sheer yoke… Wait, is that possible?
This belonged to my mother? At least, it was in her cedar chest, snuggled up next to her Very Virginal white satin wedding gown. It looks like it is her size, quite petite except in the bustline, which can only be described as generous. I don’t know what was the occasion when she wore it. Prom? Bridesmaid? Had to have been a Momentous Occasion, because she was a poor farm girl in a tiny logging town. Sometime around mid-1940’s I’m guessing. But look at that sheer yoke and neckline! This was back in the day when one simply did not have visible bra straps… so, no bra?? I’ve always suspected she was a tease, but this takes that probability to new heights! Hmm.
Now my curiosity is piqued. But do I dare risk asking her about it? Her dementia seems to come and go, sometimes allowing her to reminisce about her early years with confidence, but other times bumping up against blank spaces. When the blanks present themselves, without hesitation she manages to create a believable patchwork of unrelated but slightly similar events and characters, reconstructed into a new fictional past. The only way you can differentiate between the real history and the fictional patchwork is if you lived it yourself. Usually, it doesn’t matter. The greater risk, though, is opening Pandora’s Box. It hasn’t happened often, but talking about anything but what’s right in front of her can trigger her anger at the inevitable changes that have come with dementia. Will thinking about parties lead to thinking about getting to parties in vintage cars, which leads to thinking about driving… No, Mom. you can’t drive anymore. You can’t live alone. We can’t let you.
To ask or not to ask, that is the question. I’ve brought the dress home for my daughter, who has been a costume designer and a model. Although she doesn’t really want it (see my previous post about how nobody wants your “stuff“, and besides , she is too tall and broad-shouldered to be able to wear it,) I know she would be interested in the construction and design of the dress, and the story of the dress, Now that I’ve had my enjoyment by drawing it, and letting the fabric drift through my hands, ultimately it may be donated to the local theater. Maybe, reincarnated and re-purposed, it can once again dance and float!