“Mum,” says my daughter, “do you know where my green satin dress is? The one I wore on my fifth birthday?”
I should point out here that my daughter is now in her early thirties (even though she still looks like a teenager!) with two small children. Since she wore that dress, I have moved four times and also remarried. Along the way, quite a lot of “stuff” has got lost or given away or even chucked.
But I know I hung onto that dress because it was so pretty. A friend of mine made it for my little daughter and I can see it now as clearly as if it is in front of me. It even had a matching sash!
“It would be so nice if Rose could wear it for her birthday,” adds my daughter.
I totally agree! My granddaughter’s birthday is coming up and although there won’t be a party – we’ll still be in lockdown – we’ve decided to dress up and play traditional games in our family bubble.
Now all I have to do is find the green dress!
I start my search in my eldest son’s bedroom. Regular readers might remember that he is staying with us until he can return to work in Spain. He’s brought back quite a lot of clothes and books with him and it’s a struggle to wade through everything to reach the wardrobe. The latter is crammed with clothes which all three of my children have asked me to keep “just in case” they ever need them.
(“Are you sure we have to keep them?” asks my hsbuand every now and then. Yes. Quite sure.)
I’ve a feeling the green dress might be at the back.
But it isn’t.
Then I try the walk-in wardrobe. Except you can’t walk in. Frankly, it should have a safety warning notice on the outside. It’s crammed with an old guitar with broken strings; piles of books; stacks of LPs; a battered school briefcase (mine); several boxes marked photographs and a rail of more old clothes.
Goodness me! Look at that! Right at the back is a duffle coat which my first husband and I had bought for our eldest son when he was about six. It even has his nametape hanging off (my sewing skills are such that nothing stayed put for long!).
“This will do for George,” I say excitedly.
“Isn’t it a bit big?” questions my second husband.
“He’ll grow into it,” I say, dusting off the mildew on one sleeve. My heart is filling up with excitement. How sweet that my little grandson should wear his uncle’s coat!
But where’s the green dress?
Maybe it’s in the spare room wardrobe. But that one’s pretty impossible to reach too! There’s a massive cardboard box in the way (containing a ballerina doll which we’ve bought Rose for her birthday) as well as some presents for my 97-year-old father and his wife. I’m desperately hoping we’ll be allowed to visit by Christmas.
Eventually I manage to open the wardrobe door…
No luck! Just a row of my husband’s working shirts which he no longer needs as he’s retired.
Determined not to be beaten, I stand on a chair and also my tiptoes to drag down the suitcases in the cupboard above. I’ve been using them for storage. So that’s where those old toys went that I was looking for! Now George and Rose are too old for them. But what’s this?
My eyes moisten as I take out the mutton-sleeved dress. It’s blue and white and it reaches my ankles. It’s also a size and a half too big. “Look at this,” I tell my husband, running down the stairs. “My mother gave me this on her last Christmas in 1986.”
I was younger than my daughter is now and had just given birth to her.
I hold it to my nose and breathe it in. It’s a touch musty. But in my imagination, I can smell my mother and her Blue Grass perfume.
My daughter pops in later
“Did you find the green dress?” she asks when she pops in after collecting George from nursery.
“No,” I say regretfully. Then my voice lightens. “But I did discover this!”
“That’s lovely,” she says when I explain her grandmother had given it to me. “Maybe you should have it altered.”
But I don’t want to. The nostalgic part of me wants to keep it as it is. Then a few days later, I happen to be flicking through the paper when I see a dress that was very similar (without the mutton sleeves). Don’t tell my daughter but I’ve ordered us both one in our respective sizes for Christmas. We can also wear them for Rose’s birthday. I can’t help thinking that my mother would have liked that. It’s a way of carrying on tradition and at times like this, that feels rather comforting.
As for Rose, she’s decided she wants to wear her Frozen outfit instead from the dressing up box!
A reader has been in touch
On another subject, I’ve had an email from Annette, a granny whose two-year-old grandson seems to have “gone off” her.
“I’m part of his childcare bubble because his parents are still working. He used to be very happy about me looking after him before the first lockdown. But afterwards, he became very clingy and didn’t want to be left with me. It makes it very difficult, especially when he cries after they drop him off in the morning. I can’t help feeling really hurt.”
I’d say that this is very understandable, wouldn’t you? The virus has made us all feel unsettled; however old we are. So try not to take it personally, Annette. How about changing the morning routine? Can you go round to your grandson’s house instead of him being dropped off at your place? Maybe you could distract him by bringing something to do such as printing out pictures to colour in; or making leaf paintings; doing a nature hunt on a walk (how many pine cones can we find?).
If you’ve got any suggestions for Annette, please email me at email@example.com. I’d also love to know if you’ve saved up clothes from your children’s days and have passed them onto your grandchildren.
I’ve put my mother’s dress back in the wardrobe now. Maybe when Rose is older, she might like to wear it.
It’s been lovely to chat but I’ve got to go now. Rose and George are coming round to tea.
“What would you like to eat?” I asked them this morning so I could get ready in advance.
“Fish and chips,” declares Rose. “Without the fish!”
They do say funny things, don’t they!
Jane Corry is the author of five top ten best-sellers. Her latest novel I Made A Mistake is about Betty, a grandmother who lives with her son’s family. Published by Penguin, £7.99 in paperback and also available as an e-book and audio, narrated by Emilia Fox. http://bit.ly/IMadeaMistake OR https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Made-a-Mistake/24376830