I’d seen pictures of the ladies in the magazines. I’d seen women looking very glamorous wearing it. And, oh how I yearned to own one!
“You are too young. That’s just for grown-ups”, my mother said. “You’re already tall for your age and it will make people think you’re older.”
If I had a dime for every time I heard reference to what people would think, I’d have been rich! At the same time, I could appreciate what my mother said since I was 5 feet 8 inches at 11 years old and 5 feet 10 at 12 years old.
What did I desire so badly? A red dress.
My mother sewed. However, as I prepared to enter boarding school at 11 years old, I needed dresses for after-classes and on weekends, when we were out of uniform. From then on, my dresses were made by a seamstress who had ladies working with her and for her. She rivaled any of the top seamstresses in the capital of the island.
About a year or so later, while on vacation from school, my father took me fabric shopping. We found a beautiful fabric with a white background and tiny polka dots in red, green, and yellow, which we gave to the seamstress. I don’t remember asking her and I don’t remember her asking me or my mother about the style. We trusted her judgment and experience.
To my delight, when I went to pick up the dress, she had made a beautiful shift with a large, rectangular collar (I think they were called cape in the mid-’60s) that came down to mid-chest and same in the back – in brilliant RED! That made me so very happy and it fitted perfectly.
I decided that if I could not have a complete red dress, this would become my red dress.
Wish I could say that was the end of my story and I enjoyed my red dress for as long as possible. Unfortunately, I would give those same people – the matrons who looked down their noses at anyone who did not conform – and who my mother was concerned about, a reason to shake their heads at me and my red (caped) dress.
My mother’s cousin, Violet, who was a teacher, was much older and so Mama taught me to call her Aunt Vie. That was a common practice in Jamaica. I loved Aunt Vie. I still remember going to her home. In today’s world, she’d be called a Hoarder. She had things I later understood were genuine antiques. But her house was always crowded because she had so much furniture, books, maps, and other things in her living and dining rooms.
While I was away at school, Aunt Vie became ill and died. I was heartbroken. I loved her so much and she loved me. She always gave me an enveloping hug whenever we saw each other, and always words of encouragement to do my best in school.
I was only 12 years old and her funeral service would be held in the Methodist Church. In honor of my deep love for her, I wanted to wear my favorite dress to Aunt Vie’s funeral. In 1966 it was unheard of in my conservative town for anyone to wear anything but black, and occasionally white, to a funeral. I begged my mother to let me wear my red caped dress. She pointed out that it was not appropriate and “what would people say?”
My father noted that I was doing this because I loved Aunt Vie and if I was willing to be stared at, I could go ahead.
That Sunday I walked into the church in my favorite dress, and as I walked to the casket to look at Aunt Vie for the last time, I could hear the whispers. One woman spoke loudly enough as I passed so that I heard her ask, “Whose daughter is that?” I don’t know if the other lady knew me or my parents. I held my head high, walked down the aisle of the packed church to the casket, grateful that I was able to see my beloved cousin for the last time as she peacefully lay there. As I slowly made my way to the back of the church, I smiled to myself. I had said goodbye to Aunt Vie wearing my favorite dress, my red-caped dress.