This time of year reminds me of a time when I was 12 going on 13. A magical, yet awkward age for me. I was still playing house with my little sisters sometimes, yet I was going to Jr. High and I had started to notice that Doug Snow, whom I had considered annoying and pesky, was beginning to seem more interesting to me. He was in my Sunday School class. He usually sat behind me and found it amusing to tie my dress bow to my chair. Then when I stood up, the chair would follow and make a lot of noise. Hilarious, dumb boy entertainment. But, I didn't mind so much now, though Doug was a little slow catching on--as boys are wont to do.
In the meantime, it was the time of year for school Christmas Concerts. I played viola in the O'Leary Jr. High Orchestra. Mr. McKinnon was our short-tempered conductor. He pounded his baton so vigorously on his music stand that he broke several each term. We had to be prepared to duck when the piece came flying into the orchestra--it really kept us on our toes. He announced the date and time of our Christmas Concert and emphasized how VERY important it was that we dress appropriately. Suits and ties for boys and NICE dresses for girls--NO PANTS--except for the cello-players.
I lived in a time and place where one nice Sunday dress was enough and two was a luxury. I had not grown for a few years so I had a couple of very worn dresses--one a hand-me-down from my taller friend, Kellie. My mother decided I needed a new dress for Christmas and how wonderful to get it early so I would have it for the concert! This was my very frugal mother (remember--she had me dress in rags as Cinderella for Halloween!) So I was surprised and excited. We went shopping the first Saturday in December. The main street of Twin Falls, Idaho was decorated for Christmas and all the shop windows were decked out for the holidays as well. It was unusual for us to shop anywhere outside of K-mart...maybe Sears...if it was a really good sale. But for this trip we went to "The Paris".
Twin Falls was not then, nor has it ever been a fashion center. But we did have"The Paris" -- a rare little oasis of shopping magic in a town full of 'budget' and 'practical'. I would sometimes walk downtown with my friends and look in the windows. There was a sweeping staircase and beautiful displays. But I don't think we ever went inside. We were too common to enjoy the rarefied air of such an upscale establishment. Yet, there I was, walking in the front doors with my mother. We enjoyed a few moments looking through the racks, I glanced at the price tags and felt a little light-headed. I was relieved when I looked across the store and saw a sale rack. Something from the sale rack at "The Paris" was still light-years ahead of anything I could ever hope for. No matter how beautiful the dress, I wouldn't feel good wearing it while the family lived on bread and water until June!
I started looking through the sale dresses and there it was: my dream dress. It was a maxi (seventies-speak for floor length) Gunne Sax. Red. With a cute peter-pan collar trimmed in crocheted lace. Tiers of different patterned red calico formed the skirt. And it tied in the back into a darling bow. It was long-sleeved and had little cuffs with beautiful little pearl buttons. Those same buttons were at the neckline between the curves of the collar. I pulled it off the rack and asked to try it on. While I was in the dressing room, my mother found a dress that she thought was better. She held out a blue, fluttery looking thing to me and said "Oh, try this on-- it's a perfect party dress!" Without letting go of the red dress, I went back into the dressing room. I tried on the blue dress and looked in the mirror. Yuck. It was weird-looking to me--kind of like a rosette on a wedding cake. It hung a bit past my knees--not the sophisticated maxi dress I had hoped for. It also had 3/4 length sleeves. This was a huge problem because I went to great pains to make sure no one ever saw the hideous black hair that grew in huge, humiliating quantities on my arms. No matter what I believed about evolution, I was certain there must be some gorilla gene in me somewhere.
I stepped out to let my mother see. She and the saleslady 'Ooohed and Ahhed.' This wasn't looking good. I turned this way and that for them. It would need to be hemmed they decided and taken in on the sides (like I said, I hadn't grown for awhile-- I was a late bloomer). I began to realize that the choice had been taken out of my hands...literally and figuratively...as the saleslady took the red dress and put it back on the rack. They led me to the seamstress' back room to have the blue dress fitted to my shrimply little 7th Grade body. I stood on a stool and she chalked and pinned. I slipped back into my own clothes as my mother finished the transaction. I walked slowly past the rack with my beloved red dress. I touched it as I went by. And gazed longingly back at it as I waited for my mother. We were told the dress would be ready in a few days. As we walked out of the store I was surprised to see that it was dark. All the Christmas lights twinkled merrily but it didn't lift my heavy heart. I knew I was sooo lucky to get a new dress at all. I was the second oldest of (at the time) eight children. I wouldn't think of complaining. We went home and my mother happily described the new dress to my dad.
After dinner, to my surprise, my mother took me aside and said, "I have a feeling you really wanted that red dress, is that true?" I don't remember what I said but I'm sure my whole being lit up with hope. She said, "Daddy's going to take you back to the store. They haven't started the alterations. You should have the dress you really want."
I rode with my dad back to "The Paris". He waited in his work van while I went in. My dress was already in a beautiful Paris box, nestled in tissue paper. I left the store walking on air. Suddenly it seemed like all the twinkling lights were winking at me. I was the girl with a new red dress. From "The Paris". I couldn't wait to put it on when I got home. It was a little long and a little big in the sides. But I could just tie the bow a little tighter and I hemmed it up myself. It was ready to wear to church the next day.
In Sunday School, Doug tied it to the chair. And I pretended to be mad at him.