THE OLIVE GREEN DRESS
I fingered the olive green dress hanging on the children’s clothing rack. An inappropriate color for a three year old, I thought, too militarish and dull.
As I malingered, my thoughts took me back forty years to a ten year old balking at an ugly olive green dress given to her by her mother.
“I never want to wear it!” I thought. “Why couldn’t my mother have brought me something pretty, perhaps yellow or purple?” How I wished I knew how to avoid wearing this gift!
Perhaps I wished too hard, because I got my wish that fall, the fall after my grandmother died.
Not long after her death my family moved to an apartment in a seedy part of town, quite unlike my grandparents home where I had lived most of my childhood. That life was now as dead and buried as my grandmother. Her death dissolved all remnants of family unity. I was now in the unsavory position of being the child of a mother who broke societal sanctions by both living with a man she wasn’t married to and parenting his child.
Apartments for people “like that” were relegated to the “wrong side of the tracks,” which is where we were when my mother bought me “the dress.”
Soon other events occurred that were beyond my childish understanding. I was left at a stranger’s home for a week. The adventure ended when my mother packed us up in a car and we took an all-night drive to our new home in Buffalo, New York, the home of my new stepfather’s mother. Although I never saw the olive green dress again, the feelings of a ten-year-old child were revived while I was shopping for a dress for my own daughter.
My attitude toward the olive green dress was never forgotten. While musing over the same color dress I found on the children’s rack this day, I realized how profoundly that original dress my mother bought for me has affected my life.
Through the years, I mourned the loss of my olive green dress. Somewhere in the recesses of my childish mind its significance remained with me throughout the years, its memory rising to the surface at odd moments when I was clothes shopping for myself or my children, or reminiscing about the not-so-golden olden days. On this day, while I was leaning over the dress rack, fingering the dress, I finally understood the significance of the dress.
A child’s sense of power and responsibility can be overwhelming. I was finally able to understand and release the forty-five year old guilt I had unknowingly carried for the displacement of our family. After all, if I had been a more grateful child, we would still be in New England and our family would not have been disrupted.
Or so a very ungrateful ten-year-old mistakenly thought.
It’s funny how simple things can remain with us throughout life, representing feelings and thoughts we understand only in the recesses of our minds.