The collar was fashioned into a multilayered sash, cresting the shoulders and flowing down the back to veil the neck and screen the zipper. A peach taffeta sheath shimmered underneath.
“Everyone knows a wife dies seven years after her husband,” Mom declared.
“Is that the law?” I asked.
“It is,” she assured.
“And, if you don’t die, what then? Do they give you a ticket?”
Mom flashed me the look of admonishment that every parent keeps ready to actuate in times of insolence.
“It’s a glorious dress,” she said.
“Yes,” I conceded. “A veritable work of art.”
My mom was never as thin as she thought she was, or planned to be. After 56 years, six children and a passion for chocolate, she arrived at widowhood 20 pounds heavier than ideal for her 5-foot frame.
Still, she was striking. Her ivory-streaked ebony curls were invariably fastened atop her head like crown jewels. Her posture was precise. Her apparel was meticulous, with a penchant for pastels, fabric flowers and contemporary styles.
The exception being, that dress. Where other designs died on the rack and emerged in time as retro vogue, her burial dress remained permanently detained in 1969.
I don’t know why Mom never saw fit to keep the dress in a garment bag. Perhaps she just preferred the convenience of instant viewing. Regardless, she carted it, unprotected, through five dress sizes, three homes and 37 more years.
“She makes me put it on, you know,” my sister, Sue, disclosed one day.
“The burial dress?”
“Whatever for?” I wondered.
“So she can imagine how she’ll look in her coffin.”
“She’s serious,” Sue cautioned. “Every visit, she makes me put that dress on and lie down. Eyes closed. Hands folded. Perfectly still. She makes Kate do it, too. Every holiday. But Kate lies with arms stretched wide, like wings.”
(Kate’s our kid sister. Both she and Sue are 5 feet 7ish.)
“Yeah. When the sleeve pleats open, they look like angel wings.”
“Why hasn’t she asked me to try it on?” I almost pouted.
“Because you resemble a younger, thinner her,” Sue teased. “She characterizes you as her little dolly.” I scoffed at her remark, but took it as true.
“So? How do you look in it?”
“Puh-lease,” she chortled.
THE ABOVE EXCERPT IS FROM:
Seriously, Mom, you didn’t know? by Marguerite Quantaine
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This essay © by Marguerite Quantaine first appeared in St. Petersburg Times, on 11/5/2006.
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