The antique store is more like a basement of a man who bought what was left when the garage sale ended. The ancient building creaks and sings harmoniously with the occasional soft breeze. Each filthy wooden floor plank bends alarmingly like a rickety bridge strung between mountains. The slow moving ceiling fan stirs slowly, blending the odors of countless unnamed families, their trials and tribulations melded now into their celebrations.
As I dig through the plastic storage box in search of the few white doilies I want to cut up and turn into ocean froth on a Hymn of Cloth currently in progress, it whispers “Psssst” so softly I almost miss it. I stand up, turn to the back of the store, and there she is: a wedding dress decidedly past her prime. Her netting is ripped and her side seam zipper gapes open, refusing to zip herself up ever again. Whoever made this dress – and it most assuredly is homemade as evidenced by the facings tacked down by hand – clumsily added a ruffle of blue satin to the edges of the bodice. It stands awkwardly, this addition, not enough fabric to be a modesty panel, too little fabric to be a striking embellishment.
The skirt of layered netting is covered in rust stains, not from exposure to weathered metal objects, rather the rust of time and neglect. A center panel of lace takes its place down the front of the dress, culminating in a V shape. A big uncomfortable stain of blue sits off to one side of the lace panel, not the same blue as the added trim around the neckline but the blue of an unintended encounter that leaves her forever marked. Tulle forms a cap sleeve on the left. The sleeve on the right must have run off in search of a better life. And what of the woman who walked down the aisle in this below-the-knee length dress? I am already listening to the stories.
Dropping the doilies, I go immediately to the dress, climbing over piles of detritus of lives unknown to rescue this beauty from the tack on the wall. A price tag proclaims her value at $1.50, and I know we will be together forever. But when I go to pay for her, the man says the tag can’t possibly be right and he will only sell me the dress for $30. Being one who wants everybody to make enough money to pay their bills and feed their families, I expect (perhaps naively) complete strangers to give me a price that will treat us both fairly. I do not negotiate outright – that’s a language I do not speak fluently – and I do not point out what some would surely call the dress’s flaws, blemishes that diminish her value, things I call beauty marks that define her and tell her story.
I try to keep my head straight, but I feel taken advantage of by this man who refuses to honor the price on the attached price tag. I’m not ashamed to tell you that it is with tears in my eyes that I walk slowly to the back of the store and return her to the tack in the wall. That was hours ago, and I still miss her terribly. This is more than (non) buyer’s remorse. I abandoned what is quite possibly her only chance at a life with one who loves her dearly for the dress she was then and the dress she is today. And in abandoning her, I deprive myself . . . and y’all . . . of her stories.
There are some things money can’t buy, and there are some things money can’t not buy. The Dress and I are reunited. After calling the shop owner, I seal the check into the envelope with a sincere wish that the money will bring food to the table or lights to the room or maybe a pink birthday cake with a princess on top for a special granddaughter. Underneath the stamp is a hope that The Dress knows I would’ve paid more (even though it would’ve no doubt left The Engineer scrarching his head) because really, how do I attach a number to her?
Once upon a time, some belle met some beau at the altar to say “I do” and “I will” and “I promise” as directed, imagining a life that would be dreamlike in its rosy perfection, soft in its feel and touch, lasting in its tenure. It would be a fairy tale life like the one she cobbled together from stories read, movies watched. Her marriage would be embellished with dancing on weeknights, sewn with threads of laughter throughout, cut from the fabric of adoration. And never – not for a single minute – did she imagine that This Cherished Dress would ever be anything other than the Coach that would take her right on into Happily Ever After.
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