The blue organdy dress was a present my grandfather bought for me at the end of a summer I spent in San Francisco with my grandparents when I was six-going-on-seven. Was this the first time I crossed my father? Or only the first time I remember? My father had asked his father to buy me a dress for the first day of school. I was taken to the Emporium, a well-known department store in San Francisco. It was there that I spied the blue organdy dress.
Organdy is a thin cotton weave often stiffened with starch that was reserved for party dresses. The dress was palest blue and because organdy is see-through, it came with its own matching slip, also made of blue organdy. The dress had a full skirt and a big sash that tied in a bow at the back. It would have had puff sleeves, and if I remember correctly, eyelet embroidery. It was definitely not suitable for school, nor even for the tree-climbing and running around in the garden I usually engaged in at family gatherings at my other grandmother’s house after church.
My grandfather nodded when I insisted that I must try that dress on. It fit perfectly, and soon after he paid for it.
It had been a special summer. I was the first grandchild and my grandparents doted on me. I had been sent to stay with them for two weeks, but every time my parents called, I begged to be allowed to stay longer. My grandparents and I developed a familiar routine. After my grandfather finished the crossword puzzle and smoked a few cigarettes, he joined my grandmother and me for a white breakfast porridge called Farina. Then we all got dressed, and my grandmother drove my grandfather to the train he took into the city for work.
The early mornings after we dropped him off were the best part of the day. My grandmother liked to stop by the local Catholic church to light a candle in a dark blue glass for Uncle Bobby who was away in the Korean War. I would sit quietly while she prayed the rosary on her faceted lavender rosary beads. I wanted to pray with her, but because she prayed silently, I never got the hang of the “Hail Marys.” I must have known the words to the “Our Father” by then, but the order of the prayers remained a mystery to me. Yet it was in those moments that I learned the Blessed Mother is always with us.
After church, my grandmother and I had our daily adventure. We might go to Lake Merced to watch the ducks. Or to the ocean where we removed our shoes and I my socks and my grandmother her stockings so we could run along the shore in the waves. Sometimes we found sand dollars.
I am not sure why my parents sent me away that summer. An aunt once mentioned that there was a time when my parents had problems. My younger brother was a difficult child. This also would have been the year our family moved from Monrovia to Temple City, because colored people had begun to move into our school district.
I do not know why I insisted that I be allowed to stay with my grandparents for the whole summer. I must have enjoyed being the only child again. I liked playing canasta with my grandmother and listening to the stories told by a neighbor named Jewel. My grandmother had a fish tank with guppies that were continually giving birth. We scooped some of them into a jar for me to take home at the end of the summer, but they all died during the ten hour drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
As soon as we arrived, I would have excitedly modeled the blue organdy dress for my parents. My father was livid. “I asked you to buy her a school dress” was all he said to his father. I suspect that my grandfather and I were given “the silent treatment” for our sins. Nonetheless, I loved that dress.
*With thanks to Alice Munro whose stories I had been reading and interviews watching in the days before I wrote this. What I took from her is that life flows on and then there is a moment when you make a small decision and everything changes, far more than you ever realized it could or would.
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer and educator currently living in Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. FAR Press recently published A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess. Carol has been leading educational tours based on the religion and culture of ancient Crete for over twenty years. Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger.