© Copyright 2019 by Desiree Kendrick
Photo of the author.
When I sit in the brocade chair in my motherís house, the obstacle course of breakables that cluttered my childhood confronts me from all corners of the room. My father filled his den with French provincial furniture, reproduction paintings and delicate Royal Doulton figurines. Grandeur. He was a formidable gentleman and the room reflected his discernment. As a young child, I took tentative steps in that room, hesitant to knock over a porcelain lamp or look at a crystal vase the wrong way. My saucer eyes saw landmines.
Christmas was the only occasion I abandoned my fear, embracing that room with awe and excitement. Our evergreen tree dressed for the festivities, outfitted in painted baubles and accessorized with blinking lights. Tinsel twinkled. Dad brought home super-sized floral bouquets that competed with the pine needles fragrance. My mother spritzed perfume. Her room was the kitchen, where she sliced onions and stuffed the turkey. The holidays brought out special treats. Family traditions included shopping for a new outfit.
A clip-on bow tie spruced up my brotherís cardigan. My younger sister and I received patent leather shoes, so shiny we could see our reflection in them. We crossed our fingers we wouldnít outgrow the footwear. As for the dress, the annual holiday photographs display one new frock after another. My fatherís Cannon camera captured the girls in velvet, chiffon and organza confections. We looked as pretty as a collection of decorated sugar cookies.
A white georgette dress with gold ribbon trim was a favorite, with enough material to twirl but tailored to evoke grown-up stature. I wore my best hair ribbons with that cherished dress. My mother bought me white stockings. At ten, I didnít own a little-girl-girdle. Mother was resourceful. Two black shoelaces, tied at the top of the hose kept the patterned stockings in place. Voila! Look at me. Ignore the red welts on my thighs.
It was sheer disappointment when the skirt inched higher and higher as I grew. I held back tears when mother passed it to my younger sister.
ďWatch me!Ē my sister giggled, pirouetting like the ballerina in my jewelry box.
My mother saw value in hand-me-downs. I took pride in knowing it belonged to me first. Over the years, she passed our expired outfits to the Church bazaar.
ďSome other child can benefit from the items,Ē she said.
As a teen, I forgot about the ghost dresses of Christmas past. I experimented with new hairstyles, wielding my curling iron like Luke Skywalker testing out his first light saber.
By my twenties, I was wearing a new fashion-forward identity. Jumpsuits and sequins were my party attire, perfect for dating. I liked to dance and tucking my pant-legs into boots prevented me from tripping. The truth is, trends changed and I discarded the jumpsuits as easily as dumping a shabby boyfriend.
When my older sister had a daughter, my mother resurrected that forgotten white dress. She never sent it to the flea market. I saw past the frayed gold trim, it looked immaculate.
ďItís from when your Aunties were little,Ē she told her grandchild.
Iíve no photos of my niece wearing the family heirloom and yet I know from the condition it was her pride and joy. There are no food stains and no rips in the sleeves. It remained catalogue perfect.
Ten or more years passed before the dress returned to my home. I now had a young daughter. The special hand-me-down hung in the closet waiting for another twirl. A classic design, those vintage threads were timeless. The feel of the fabric unwrapped layers of recollections. I recall skating on the kitchen floor in stocking feet, pretending to be a figure skater. There are old photos of us posing for our parents and eating plum pudding at the grown-up table. That white dress was as pretty as evergreen trees dusted with fresh snow.
The tradition of wearing a holiday dress carried on with a new generation. My daughterís posture was impeccable when she wore it to her first Christmas concert. As I sat in the audience, my heart melted, knowing she would put her own spin on that dress. That old dress shone as bright as any Christmas decoration. Perhaps one day Iíll gift the dress to my grandchild. My parents didnít know their shopping produced a family heirloom. It was simply another annual party-dress.
My childhood is full of mementos, Christmas gatherings in particular. One stuffed elephant survived. Itís not a collectible and has no value except I remember the morning I opened the box. Outside frost glittered, inside laughter warmed the house. Among my holiday keepsakes is a candy tin, which I used when my kiddie jewelry box broke. It resembled a pirateís chest. Among the contents, I hid treasure, including a gold locket, which held a grainy photo of a secret crush. By adolescence, I tossed the photo but kept the locket.
Over the years, Iíve stashed birthday cards and letters away, bringing them out periodically to relive my youth. Reggie in grade four would be surprised to know I kept his valentine. It was the biggest card in the class, and he signed it with Ďlove,í a sure sign we would grow up and get married. Or not. Older sisters left home. They sent me postcards from their world travels. I cherished the big sis sentiments and added them to my growing collection of memorabilia.
When my children were born, I tucked away hospital name-tag-bracelets and floral delivery ribbons along with their birth certificates. I didnít need to register my kids with any child registry. I hoarded baby pacifiers and first-cut hair locks. I was prepared for DNA matching, before it was a thing.
My mother is of an age where her stuff gathers dust. She still owns those delicate lamps and Royal Doulton figurines. However, I only covet one item. Itís the old steel scissors, most often found in my motherís sewing box. My childhood recollections sprinkled with mother clipping newspaper articles. Iíve no idea why she saved the stories. I only remember her scissors were always within armís reach.
I was a young woman when my mother shared the history of the scissors. At age twelve, her mother cut her hair, right before a formal portrait. The greyish image is a rare family photo in my motherís possession. Shortly after the family sitting, the grandmother I never met died of health complications. Whenever I look at that elegant shears, I imagine a motherís hand clasping the handle. Love demonstrated in every cut of the blade. A tool passed from one generation to the next. Useful, practical and unassuming, itís there when you need it. No one entering my motherís home would see value in those old clippers and yet I see silver.
Unlike my girly dress with the frills, this artifact reminds me of all the things we take for granted. Simple gestures and lessons passed without fanfare. Those sharp edges snipped material for the blouse my mother sewed for me. Mother trimmed threads embroidering baby quilts for both my children. She used those scissors to cut pictures out of magazines, to teach my daughter the alphabet. Iím certain mother clipped the plastic netting off the Christmas turkey she dressed for our traditional dinner. Her stuffing experiments were like opening another present. I never needed another helping and yet I went back for more.
When I look around my motherís home, the Royal Doulton ladies congregate in the china cabinet gathering dust. Silverware and the crystal remain unused. Iíve tucked away the frothy white dress. My mother still uses her faithful scissors. Although we have a number of artifacts, collected over the years, the real heirlooms are the family moments. Boxed or not, those memories never tarnish.