Listening to every heart
She was almost always right.
I balked at the idea of a homemade winter dress for the eighth grade dance. How childish! How peasant! How poor. But she decided on a satiny cotton white on white, with small graceful white flowers almost appearing as if they were snowflakes, perhaps, if I knew snow, there in the valley of Santa Maria, California. It was she who decided that a long, deep-red velvet bow should grace the almost 13 year old wasp-waist, and it was she who decided that the smallest of tinkling bells should hang from the inverted V ends. But oh! Disgraced, I was, in the black “ballet slippers”, which were, as she thought, like “Audrey Hepburn’s shoes” in Sabrina. Not real ballet slippers, but soft “slip-ons” with NO height and NO heel.
She wanted to keep me a child.
I had no date. I didn’t need to go. But, it was my first winter dance. Just to watch it, might be worth hugging the wall. No one would notice me, anyway. I wasn’t popular – not the way Mom dressed me. I wanted to see how it was done, how people acted, I wanted it to be – special. She, of course, was ruining the special of it. But the material had been bought, and if white weren’t bad enough, she pulled out a pattern that was old! It was a dress, full skirted, summer sleeved, jewel neckline, from the 50’s! Oh, the shame!!!
The look from my father’s eyes told me a thankful voice was required. Mother pulled more than her weight around, and to eyeball the material and put together a dress almost overnight with the help of the old Singer machine, well, where WERE my manners?
Dad could shame a rolly-polly pill bug into curling up, just with the look of a silent “What?” in order to shame his intended victim into instant remorse for even having raised an eyebrow.
So when I became quiet, very quiet, and helped her as I could, with the process of putting together this hated dress, she commented, “You are always thinking. Your mind is always going somewhere, and someday, it will find a road on which it will be happy.” I have always remembered those words. Because indeed, even today, it seems I can’t turn off the thoughts. Ever.
Notice how, when you are driving with someone, or walking with someone, and you ask, “what are you thinking?” they say “nothing”. How can anyone be thinking of “nothing”? How does that happen? Isn’t there SOME thought going through their mind? Even if it is that they don’t want to be with the person they’re with? Is that it? Is that person, “nothing”?
My father claimed the dress “magnificent!” I can still feel the blush on my cheeks from his proud eyes. Then he slipped that look of pride toward mother, who could make something out of “nothing” and I looked down at the black slippers on my feet, confused over the feelings and thoughts I had. The mirror lied, showing a young girl with summer blonde hair swept back and held up with her going-out-to-dinner combs. The white of the dress brought up the pink in my cheeks. I was a color combination of sun and pink, sitting on winter white. Just a simple wallflower.
Both mother and father had spent that week teaching me how to “dance” to their music, slow timed waltzes, the Foxtrot, the Two-Step, even [horrors!] the Charleston. Really! It was 1964! Didn’t they know about the Beatles? I mean, we had ALL watched the Ed Sullivan show!
I tried to hug the walls. I really did. I saw the boys looking at me, grins on their faces. My dress was not the colors of the year, nor was it fashionable. It was, heaven forbid, classic from the shoulders down. I found a wall, and put my back up against it. Cool, almost chilly, I stood there and watched the colors of the season gyrate around me to music that was louder than I had ever heard, but I could catch the words, and I listened to them, as people I knew floated around me, talking, laughing, enjoying life.
The white dress begged me not to hold the red punch, or pick up any cookies or cake, for fear of my ever-clumsy self, dripping color onto the snow in flow. Because, as I moved, the skirt took on a life of its own, and I was unaware of how it rippled beneath the still slender colt-like limbs. I was also unaware of the shimmer of it, as the embroidered sheen caught the lights and glimmered easily.
All I was aware of was the goofy grins from gangly boys and the tell-tale smell of an old gymnasium, which had once belonged to the Air Base military men. I thought of my father, who could never serve, 4F as he was due to his allergies. I thought of my mother, who had stayed up late sewing a dress I thought I despised, but the small flowers that almost looked like snow was growing dear to me. Ashamed, I kept my eyes down, my ears and heart listening to the music of the Righteous Brothers, the Beach Boys, and those upstarts, the Beatles, as the platter turned, and spun the night along.
Then, one of the younger, and very handsome teachers, approached me. I was not in any of his classes, and he was spending a night away from his family, to act as a chaperone. He bridged the time between my parents and myself, and quite possibly [as hindsight is] saw both stories to the equation of the little wallflower.
He asked if I would like to dance. My heart stopped. My breath stopped. To dance would mean to walk away from the wall, which, at that particular moment, I would have sworn was holding me up. But his hand was out, and I put mine, slowly, hesitatingly, into his. Surely, surely, this was just me, thinking of what I wanted to happen. Some tall stranger [my mother always said I was thinking!] would walk up to me and true to Cinderella, I would dance a step or two. I would be the one all eyes were watching. I would be the Belle of the Winter Dance.
I truly don’t remember what eyes were on me, if any. It was enough to concentrate on the slow, moving music, and to be in the arms of a very handsome man, who would not kiss me, or walk me home, let alone drive me there, for my father would soon be along to chariot me home. But the music didn’t seem to stop, one slow tune fell into another, and then he simply said, “thank you so much for the privilege.”
I had danced, not with any of the gangly boys during the fast, heaving dances of the day, but some slow, graceful dances that only a gangly Fred Astaire could perform with his beautiful Ginger. I do remember coming to my senses, and realizing that the teacher and I were one of the few on the dance floor. That was when the burn came to the cheeks, for the wallflower had dared to step away from the wall, and people, peers, were watching. That wasn’t right. I was a thinker, and watcher. I wasn’t to be thought of, while being watched.
I thought it providential that Dad showed up just then, poking his head through the gym doors, to see if I was ready to go home, a tad early before the closing down of the dance. I didn’t mind. Knowing that I had been watched, while slow dancing with a very handsome man, was shame enough. I couldn’t even dance with a young man my own age. An older, very handsome gentle man had felt sorry for me.
At least, that’s how I looked at it then.
Perhaps time is its own teacher in ways we don’t think about, until we see or feel, or hear, or smell something that brings the moment back. That’s when our total perception of the time kicks in to high gear, and we view it, almost as a soul out of body. Everything comes back, except the embarrassment. The blush, perhaps, shades our cheek again, for a moment, as the light of the evening casts the events as it truly happened, and the shadows step back, letting wallflowers emerge.
Mother was almost always right. Someday, you will know of another time, and another instance, where she was almost right, again.