Sunday, May 17, 2015

Little Black Dress

It is a fashion rule that has been around so long it is, like a politician, known by its initials: LBD. Little black dress. Every woman has to have one. Young or old or in-between. Southerner or Yankee, debutante or farm wife. You can dress it up or dress it down. A well-made LBD in a classic style will last forever. And you will be prepared to accept any invitation.

At last count, I had nine black dresses. Long sleeves, short sleeves, no sleeves. Cotton and jersey and wool. Sheath and shirtwaist. Tonight I am standing in the closet staring at them, hoping one of them will just jump off the hanger and end my agony of decision because, quite frankly, I’m not up to choosing. I simply can’t make it matter one bit what I will wear day after tomorrow when I get into the car and drive, yet again, to the funeral of somebody I love.

The last time I saw Denise it was the day before Easter and we were in a backyard flush with azaleas and happy children. She held the newborn baby cousin with the ease of the well-practiced, fending off with sweet smiles and gentle coos anyone who ventured close enough to think she might get a turn at snuggling this creature so fresh from heaven. We rolled our eyes in sugar-induced rapture and went back for seconds of the dessert she contributed to the table – a marvelous concoction made of blueberries from the farm she and Dan own just outside town, pineapple from somewhere that didn’t matter, and crunchy pecans that may or may not have fallen from Brantley County trees.

An afternoon cloudburst forced us inside for the Easter bonnet contest and, as the rest of us fools paraded through the house sporting our homemade creations and singing “Easter Parade,” Denise sat at the dining room table, chin propped in one hand, smiling and laughing quietly at us. I remember it because it was such a familiar sight – Denise as grateful audience in a family with more than its share of performers.

I am lucky, I know, that this last memory is such a sweet one. Being sweet does not, however, make it any easier to accept that it is, nevertheless and notwithstanding, the last. And it doesn’t keep me from wishing that somehow I’d known it would be the last because surely, I think, if I had known I would have ... what? Hugged harder at goodbye?

I think, though I can’t be absolutely sure, that the last thing Denise said to me, said as she released me from the hug that neither of us thought to emphasize, was, “Come see us.”

And I intended to. I intended to go to the farm and pick blueberries and walk around and talk to the horses and dogs and guinea hens. I would even let myself be bounced over the rutted edges of the fields in an ATV before sitting down in a chair by the pool and listening to Denise and the rest of the Moodys talk about the neighbors’ new babies and this year’s crop and that last trip down to Steinhatchee, all while the sun melted away behind the pine trees and left our sun-burned faces in shadow.

But before I could accept that invitation, I got another one.

So, now I am staring at a row of black dresses, clothes that are supposed to outfit me for anything, and realizing that there isn’t a little black dress in the world that can prepare a girl for this.

Copyright 2015