Princess

Princess

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Princess

The dress hides far in the back of the closet, behind years of accumulated plastic-sheathed memories. Carefully, I pull it from the dark recesses, past layers of archived prom dresses, granny gowns and jean jackets that mark a fabric trail of my increasingly distant and often troubled youth. As the dress faces the morning light for the first time in many years, tiny sparkles wink at me through the dusty garment bag hiding its loveliness. Removing it from its transparent covering and holding it to my cheek, I smell its fragrance and the musty perfume of the past.

My mother bought the dress more than forty years ago for a cocktail party at the general’s house. As the wife of an army captain, she experienced alternating pangs of excitement and worry at the extravagant purchase. The dress hung for many days, weighed down by assorted tags, while she fought a silent battle with herself. The precarious balance between womanly desire and financial practicality shifted in favor of one position, then the other.

Self-absorbed like most ten-year-olds, I didn’t understand my mother’s budget dilemma. I knew only that something black and wonderful had entered her closet and hung in solitary splendor amidst the flowered housecoats and practical day dresses.

I don’t think she actually decided to keep the dress until the day of the party. When I crept into her room late that afternoon, the offending tags finally lay discarded in the trash. My mom hummed happily from behind the closed bathroom door. Eager with anticipation, I slipped back out the door.

After what seemed like hours, my mother’s voice beckoned me into her room. What I saw when I bounced through the doorway took my breath away! My sensible mother, who made me eat my vegetables, ironed my father’s shirts instead of sending them out, drove me to Brownie meetings, and baked chocolate chip cookies, was transformed into an elegant beauty clad in a soft ebony cloud.

“What do you think?” she asked as she turned slowly in front of the mirror.

I stood mute in wide-eyed wonder and then reverently delivered the highest compliment I could think to give. “You look like a princess.”

And she did.

The dress tightly enclosed her slim waist, then flared out in a bell-shaped skirt. The black taffeta underskirt rustled as she twirled, and lamplight bounced off silver and blue confetti-sized sparkles strewn over the black organza overskirt. The dress shimmered like stardust scattered by a fairy godmother. It was a dress fit for a princess, and that night, in my eyes, my mother ruled the kingdom.

Years later when my mother and I found the dress in the back of her closet smothered with layers of her past, she told me that the night of the general’s party was one of the most memorable nights of her life. Not because of the dress, but because of the admiration she saw in my ten-year-old eyes and the compliment I had given her. Then she repeated the words I had said more than three decades ago as she had stood regally before her mirror dressed in stardust and midnight.

I wanted to cry. Not tears of joy for the poignancy of the moment, but tears of sadness for the many years lost to us because of the complexities of adolescence. Because that special year, the year I discovered a princess in my mother’s lamp-lit bedroom, was the last year of my childhood when we fit together snugly and comfortably like two interlocking pieces of a puzzle.

In the intervening years between that long ago moment of love and our reminiscing, the bond forged between my mother and me in my early childhood was sorely tested. During my rebellious teens and early twenties, she saw little in my eyes but anger and heard little in my voice but recriminations.

Though as adults my mother and I slowly built a strong relationship, I longed to take back those hurtful years of my youth and replace them with memories of love and kindness. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t change the past any more than I could iron out the wrinkles etched deep in her face or restore to her the vitality of her youth. I could only stand beside my beautiful seventy-year-old mother and whisper, “I love you, Mom.”

And she could only smile and reply, “I’ve always known that.”

As I stand in my bedroom smelling the past from deep within the folds of my mother’s dress, I am thankful I have it to remind me of the strength of a mother’s love and the power of a moment. But I am most thankful my mother and I still have time to build enduring memories that will sweeten the past with their musty perfume.

Kristy Ross

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