Monday, September 23, 2013

The Yellow Dress

I inherited the yellow dress from my mom, probably because after the fourth pregnancy, she could no longer fit into it, or maybe she just thought it would look cute on me. It was made of a soft, sheer cotton with white rick-rack on the sleeveless arm holes and hem and the waist was cinched with a cloth belt. I was about twelve when it was hung in my closet for wearing to church.

When I heard the news that my uncle had died, my instant reaction was to rebel against attending his funeral. I announced that I would not go. I didn’t want to be in a room full of weeping relatives. I don’t believe in funerals, I protested. You either love someone while they are alive or you don’t. I didn’t feel close to my dad’s large family and I couldn’t imagine my uncle any other way than handsome, funny and charming. He had the same black wavy hair and blue eyes as my dad but he wasn’t married nor did he he have children of his own. He made all of us feel special. In fact, out of all the aunts, uncles and cousins on my dad’s side, he was the only relative I liked. The Brown family was made up of hard-working, beer drinking, gossiping German blue collar workers and Grandpa was a drunk. He always smelled like beer and being next to him made me feel sick. I was an intellectual bohemian artist with my nose in a book and my head in the clouds. Uncle Tom had made me feel comfortable in an acutely uncomfortable situation. I thought to have a funeral was the wrong way to honor his passing but I didn’t have the concept of “celebration of life” at that time. It was my first encounter with death and my response was to refuse. The refusal was a facade to hide my shock and sorrow.

I argued and tried to resist but my parents insisted that I show my respect and accompany them. There was no way that they were going to let me stay home while they all went to the funeral. It was unthinkable.  I knew the casket was to be closed due to way the body had been damaged in the car accident. This fact was another reason I thought a memorial was stupid. You couldn’t even view his body, anyway, he was no longer there. If I had to go, though, I would wear the yellow dress.

My parents were trying to get my three siblings dressed and ready and didn’t have time or energy to fight with me any longer. I can’t remember their reaction but I wore that dress to the funeral. I don’t remember anything about the service or the gathering afterwards, although I’m sure there was one, with plenty of beer. The only thing I remember is that I knew Uncle Tom could see me in that light-reflecting yellow dress. I knew it would make him smile. I knew I would never wear black to a memorial if I could help it. I would go as myself, my dynamic, feisty, alive self.  

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