The Blue Dress

The Blue Dress

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

The Blue Dress

Mother’s love grows by giving.
~Charles Lamb

I am the eldest of six children and was usually in agreement with my parents on issues of money. Like them, I felt it was foolish to spend needlessly, and I worried about their scarce finances. But, on this one day, I did not want to be frugal. I had been invited to the junior/senior prom, my first formal dance, and I wanted a gown that would make me look like an angelic princess. I had envisioned the gown for weeks—pink fabric with little white bows and a two-boned hoop sewn into the skirt. I would wear pretty little sandals and carry a beaded purse.

As we were shopping for this dress, we walked past a consignment shop which had some of its items on the sidewalk for display. As I recall, I practically leapt, in slow motion, to block my mother’s view of this powder blue, used dress of gauze fabric that I just knew would accompany us home should the two meet. The meeting did occur and the bonding took place the minute my mother eyed the price tag—$20!

“Oh, honey, look!” she exclaimed, “It’s you, don’t you think?”

I would have bent over backwards to make things easier for my parents. I also knew the dress I wanted would cost more than my mother had in her budget. I just couldn’t see any choice but to agree with my mother.

I smiled and told my mother that I, too, thought it was a godsend. Not only was the cost simply unbelievable, but the dress presented my mother with something she just couldn’t refuse—a challenge! I could almost hear the thoughts screaming with excitement in my mother’s head.

“So, it’s not pink. Powder blue will be much prettier against her winter pale skin.”

“It’s an inch and a half too short. But, I saw the most beautiful lace in the fabric store the other day that should be just wide enough to add the necessary length.”

“But, the skirt. It doesn’t come with the hoop and (sigh) a double-boned hoop will cost twice as much as this dress.”

As she struggled with the challenge the hoop presented, she kept holding the dress up to my face and pointing out all the delicate details this dress had which the other dresses did not. We agreed right then that this was the dress I would wear to my first formal dance. We proceeded into the store, one proudly, one reluctantly, with this dress of fine detail in hand, and paid the clerk our $20.

All the way home, Mom chattered about her ideas for altering the dress. As she talked, I fought with my internal conflicts. I was amazed at my mother’s ability to seek out finds, and I took pride in her creative talents and can-do attitude. However, I knew all the girls would be wearing store-bought dresses that didn’t need an added inch and a half of lace just to make them fit properly. I was struggling with my immaturity and my selfishness. I didn’t want to settle, once again, for what I thought was second best. I didn’t want to be reasonable. I didn’t want to have five siblings at home who also needed things. I just wanted the perfect dress that would transform me from my plain self to a sophisticated young lady.

But my tantrums were always internal and never manifested themselves outwardly. I didn’t know at the time that my mother could see the contents of my heart by looking at my face. She never let on that she knew I was secretly disappointed. She just did her best to change my disappointment into the excitement she was feeling.

So, as I climbed the stairs to my room that night, I looked at the dress hanging on the door next to my mother’s sewing machine and told myself it wasn’t such an ugly dress, really, and that the gauze-type fabric was as soft to the touch as rose petals. A little sigh and that was the end of my internal tantrum.

The next morning, as I awoke, I heard the zig-zig-zig of my mother’s sewing machine. When I gently placed my hand on her back to ask her what she was working on, she jubilantly exclaimed that she knew what to do about the hoop issue. She then, to my astonishment, held up two heavy white sheets that she explained would be sewn together, gathered at the waist with elastic and inserted at just the right levels with the boning to turn me and my dress into a proper Southern Belle. I could muster up only one question. “What about these little bleach holes that are all over the sheets?”

Voila! She was holding up a little powder blue cloud shaped piece of fabric. “We’ll sew these little clouds over the holes with a tiny blue satin bow in the middle of each cloud,” she told me. “Okay, Mom,” I said, “If you really think it’ll work.”

What was I talking about? Of course she thought it would work! She was as stubborn as she was talented. After several trips to the fabric store, the day of the prom arrived. As I held my arms straight up into the air, Mom slipped the hoop over my head and pulled it down to my waist. Although it was tilted just a tiny bit to the left, I had to admit she had exceeded all expectations. While all the other girls wore hoops purchased from the same local store in our small town, I could look down and discreetly admire the hand stitching around each cloud that only my mother and I knew covered a tiny hole underneath. The small satin bow in the middle of each cloud was daintier than anything I had envisioned.

When Mom slipped the dress over my head next, it gracefully fell into place and gently brushed the tops of my toes. The lace was beautiful and looked as if it had been part of the original design. Mom fashioned a perfect bow in the middle of my back and I was ready to go.

When my date arrived, beautiful white and baby blue wrist corsage in hand, his eyes sent the message I had heard in my dreams. I waved goodbye to my family and left with my date for the dance.

It’s funny how only time teaches us to truly appreciate the special gifts of the people we love. My mother told me not long ago that she knew how much I did not want the $20 dress. She knew what a sacrifice it was for me, despite my insistence that it was nothing.

What she doesn’t know is that the $20 she spent that day paid for much more than a prom dress. It paid for a deepened love of a child for a parent. It paid for lessons in economics and creativity. It paid for lessons in heartbreak as well as for lessons in appreciation and maturity. The $20 allowed my mother to give me, in addition to a dress and slip, the gift of herself, of her mother’s love.

~Jennifer Gilkison

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