Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Yellow Dress

When I was growing up, girls wore dresses to school. This was not simply the style of the time; dresses or skirts were mandatory. As my family lived in a northern rural part of Canada, winters were long, cold, and snowy. I walked to school in skirts, a distance of about a kilometre, in temperatures of minus 20, minus 30, or minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Although I wore tights (we called them leotards back then), my legs would be numb and cold by the time I reached school. My hands in woollen mittens, and my feet in lined rubber overshoes pulled on over saddle oxfords, also were likely to be numb and tingly. We were matter-of fact about it, blowing on our fingers or warming them in our armpits. This was just the way things were.

My mom always made sure that we had nice clothes to wear even though money was tight. We would pore over the Simpson's and Eaton's catalogues selecting our new back-to-school clothes, or our new spring and summer clothes, and then a few weeks later a parcel would arrive. It was like Christmas, opening the parcel and trying on all the new things.

As a young child, my favourite colour was yellow, then later orange. Unfortunately, my skin is dark toned, with a kind of greenish undertone, and so neither of those colours suits me well. I would point out pretty yellow outfits in the catalogue, and Mom would talk me into choosing a different, more flattering colour. So, I never had yellow clothes as a child.

However, there is one exception that stands out in my memory. My parents were close friends with the "Dales," a couple who had three girls, all older than me. I deeply admired those older girls. The Dales were my godparents. When their youngest girl outgrew her bicycle, they brought it over for me, a tiny little two-wheeler, and that was my first bike. I learned on it, and so did my younger brothers. The Dales also gave me my first pair of ski boots, red rubber lace-ups.

One time, when I was about six, the Dales gave us some hand-me-down clothing. Included in the clothes was a beautiful yellow sundress with black zigzag piping around the hem. I was so excited about the dress. A yellow dress! I immediately began nagging my mother to let me wear the dress. Because it was a sundress, Mom said that it was not appropriate to wear to school. Besides, it was still early spring, and the snow was hardly off the ground. It wasn't really sundress weather, yet. That is what she said, but I discerned that she did not like the dress, presumably because it was a sundress (too revealing), and because it was yellow (not flattering).

Or perhaps Mom was just being practical. I wore pants or shorts to play in. As soon as I came home from school or church, I changed out of my dress or skirt into pants, and went outside to play. Dresses were not play clothes, and that was a good thing, as I was a tree-climbing, hole-digging, fort-building tomboy.

Anyways, one gloriously sunny day, the first really warm day of spring, I finally talked Mom into letting me wear the dress outside to play. It was a weekend, and the grass was turning green and the trees were budding, with the first few leaves starting to pop out. My parents and most of the neighbours were out in their yards doing what northern people used to do at that time of year. They were burning the dead grass off the lawn so the new grass could grow in better.

My parents used matches to light a section of dry grass, and then stood near the patch of burning grass with rakes to control the spread of the flames. My Dad was very safety conscious, so he had the hose running into a bucket nearby. Of course, it was also important to not burn the grass on a windy day. We kids loved the burning of the grass. It was a chance to play with fire, and what child does not love fire?

At some point that afternoon, I was squatting down, feeding tufts of dried grass into the flames, when suddenly my dad shouted. I stood up. He came running towards me with the hose. "Your dress is on fire!"

Just as I felt something burn the back of my leg, he doused me with the hose. Then he yelled at me for managing to catch my dress on fire. I was sent into the house to change into something more appropriate. I inspected the dress and the bottom edge of the hem was burnt. The dress was ruined. 

After that experience, I never had yellow clothing again. Somehow, the experience of insisting on wearing the yellow dress against my mother's wishes, and having a close call with fire, and being told that yellow did not suit me cured my of yearning for yellow clothing for many decades. That is, until recently. Last year I bought a yellow blouse. I have worn it to work several times, and every time I wear it, I feel happy and sunny. When I look in the mirror, my skin does not look green, and it seems to suit me just fine. Today I went shopping, and bought two summer outfits that are mostly yellow. I feel very pleased with myself. That is one of the joys of getting older. I have decided that I can wear a yellow dress if I want.