That Perpetual Plaid Dress

Iris Leona Marie Cross

© Copyright 2020 by Iris Leona Marie Cross

Photo courtesy of the author..

I begged my mother to get rid of the plaid dress she had had for years, and always wore. My pleas fell on deaf ears. She wore it to death (well, until her death) as if it were the only dress she owned. This narrative tells of my frustration at seeing her in that dress, day in day out.     

In retrospect, I never quite understood my mother’s fascination with that dress. It was her prized possession, her lifesaver, her go-to garment, elevated above all others in her wardrobe. To me, it was a run-of-the-mill, wash and wear crimplene dress – nothing exotic, exceptional, extraordinary or exquisite. There were no frills, ruffles, lace trimmings, appliqués, fancy pockets, eye-catching sleeves or unusual neck and hemlines about which it could boast. Yet, for some unknown reason she was drawn to that dress like iron to a magnet.

Perhaps it was within easy reach and eyeshot in her wardrobe. It probably had a hanger of its own, whereas the other garments had to settle for being stacked one on top the other in order to save space. Increased visibility and accessibility could have been responsible for her habitually choosing that dress over the rest. I can only surmise since I never took much interest in how her clothes were arranged. Maybe the simple, comfortable shift style with the slim red belt (threaded through two elastic loops at the waist) had my mother transfixed. Or was it the vibrant mix of colours (red, white and navy blue), the plaid pattern, the ease of putting on and taking off, or the ability to keep her cool in our very hot, tropical climate? These distinct features could have made that dress more alluring and irresistible in her eyes, and therefore more favoured.

While such explanations may well be credible, I suspect my mother’s obsession with that dress was more deep-seated, rooted in abandonment issues that began in early childhood. It’s no secret that when she was a toddler, her mother and father migrated to the United States leaving her in the care of her grandmother. Decades later, her beloved husband of only four years died suddenly and tragically, leaving her bereft.
Sudden separation from parents and husband could have given rise to feelings of abandonment from which she never fully recovered. That dress was her trusty garment; her good old faithful, providing her with a sense of security which she lacked and craved. There was no way it would ever desert her, and woe betide anyone who had the audacity to suggest that it be dumped!

Perusing my mother’s box of mementos I see signs of emotional attachment. Her passport photos show her in that dress; her identification cards likewise; ditto for her driver’s licenses. That dress is starring in most of the photographs taken of her over the years. Other than my armchair analysis of the situation, what other reasons can account for that dress appearing on her body with such frequency? Since my mother is no longer here to explain her behaviour and that dress cannot speak for itself even though it is still around, her reasons for clinging to it will forever remain a mystery. This love affair between my mother and that dress, till death did they part, boggles the mind.

I remember when she bought that dress. It was many years ago on a shopping spree at Marks & Spencer in London, England. At the time, Marks was the retailer of choice for women of a certain age. That dress soon became her favourite frock whenever she wanted to go for a drive to visit friends, or she had a function to attend like a church service, a local concert or a birthday party. I, on the other hand, soon began to despise that dress for always being present. If anyone had told me that it were possible to dislike an inanimate object so intensely, I would have told them they need to see a shrink. But here was I, losing my sanity over an ordinary, soulless, wash and wear crimplene dress. Left to me I would have bundled it up, put it in a black garbage bag and carted it away to the nearest Salvation Army depot. But I dared not, for fear of the psychological and emotional repercussions of so doing. My mother had developed such a strong bond with that dress that she resisted all efforts to discard it, even after years of overuse.

On the day of her best friend’s milestone birthday party, I had expected her to pick a dress befitting the occasion. Since she had a wardrobe packed with party clothes and might have had difficulty selecting an outfit for the important event, I said:
Let me know if you need help deciding what to wear.”

No, it’s alright," she said.
So I left her to it, thinking that she would make an appropriate choice. I waited patiently in the car, engine running, for her to appear in all her finery. Once again, to my horror and bewilderment, she had donned that dress!

No, No, NO!” I yelled, banging the steering wheel with the palms of both hands, accidentally pressing the horn. “What do you have on? Not that damn dress again! Why, when you have more suitable dresses you could have picked?" 
What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
Red with rage, I ranted: “I wish you would get rid of that damn dress. I’m sick and tired of seeing you in it. For God’s sake, give it to the jumble sale or something. It has passed its expiry date!”

She sucked her teeth in defiance as if to say leave me alone; I dress to suit myself. “Steupsing” was my mother’s trademark behaviour when expressing her disapproval of people, places, events and things.
Drive the car. I don’t want to be late,” she said, waving me on and flaring her nostrils in annoyance. She was not going to change her apparel to please me. Nothing was going to come between my mother and that dress, no matter what anybody said.

Back then, I harboured so much resentment towards that dress as though it were a human being who had done me wrong. My antipathy to it was off the scale. Fast forward twenty years and now, like her, I refuse to get rid of that dress. My mother is gone but that dress lives on, occupying a prominent place among my clothes on a wooden hanger of its own. From time to time, I wash it on a gentle cycle just as she used to do before hanging it back in my closet. When I look at that dress, I shake my head and smile. The irony never escapes me.

That dress and I have moved house eleven times, crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice. As long as I am alive it will never be relegated to the rubbish heap or recycle bin. And it will come as no surprise if that dress is still hanging in someone’s wardrobe years after I am gone. 

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