Family legends are loaded with layers just like a frilly dress.
When I was 5 years old in the early 1960’s kindergarden was not considered part of the curriculum for all children. If you were able to afford to send your child to kindergarden, you did. I don’t remember much about kindergarden except the naps and the pineapple juice that we drank at snack. From what I can remember it was more like organized play with very little instruction. I attended for 2 years and at the end of those 2 years, the kindergarden that I attended had a little recital for the “graduates” to perform for their parents and relatives. My dad paid for college by singing tenor in a gospel quartet and he loved performing. He decided that I should sing “Nothing would be finer than to be in Carolina” a song he had sung to us as kids for as long as I could remember. We practiced and sang and I hammed it up because after all the audience was my dad and I knew that he adored me.
My grandmother sewed lots of clothes for me and she was enlisted to make me a recital dress. I wanted frills and fuss. It was springtime which meant that my grandmother was living at my uncle’s house in Athens Georgia. It was a long distance fitting. She made me a dress and shipped it to Birmingham from Athens. It arrived and when we opened the box, I was disappointed because the dress was daffodil yellow. In 1960, television was relatively new at my house and color television was nonexistent but I knew that fairy princesses did not wear yellow. They wore white or pink. Luckily for me, my mother did not like it either. She called her mother and somehow a couple of weeks later, I got a new white dress with layers of tulle all the way to the floor. I was in heaven. It looked just like the dress that Cinderella wore on television. That particular Cinderella (Lesley Ann Down) was not a blonde haired blue eyed beauty but she had brown hair and brown eyes. And I was going to look just like her – or so I thought. I was not a mosquito bitten, unruly haired, shy tomboy but someone transformed…someone comfortable in her skin even if it was itchy skin from all those layers of cheap tulle. My family was nothing if not practical and I tried the dress on and back it went in the closet for the big day.
The day of the recital came and it was a beautiful day. We attended kindergarden in an old house in Bluff Park that sat on a hill overlooking Columbiana road. There were lines of folding chairs perched precariously on the hill facing the house. Each of us girls were given parasols to use in our performance. Now that I am telling this story, I realize that I do not remember a thing about any of the boys in my class and whether they were a part of the recital or not. My guess would be that they were not. This was the South in the 1960’s and we girls were born and bred to please and thank you. Hairspray was considered a necessity like toilet paper and coffee.
The family legend is that I got up there and began singing “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning” emphasis on the ’morororning ’. And then my parasol closed on my head. I opened it back up- continued singing and it closed again. My father and mother told me that this continued throughout the song. Thankfully, mercifully, I do not remember that part at all. I do remember my best friend Barbara in the front row laughing. Et tu, Barbara?
Because I do not remember that part, I was able to join the high school choir and take drama when I got older Perhaps my DNA containing my family’s sterling ability to pretend that bad things don’t happen expressed itself in this particular incident over the awareness of horror and self.
I like to think today that my belief in transformation was born at that moment when I wore that dress and I transcended space and time and a bad parasol. A good imagination is better than all the money and clothing in the world.