I’m rather stoked. I knew that if I just kept moving forward, some purpose/idea for my dresses would come to mind. And now I have an idea for a show. I’m really excited about it; part of my idea involves writing a backstory for each dress I make. This story is for my peacock dress. Charlotte is a woman who is curating an exhibition of dresses.
This was my mother’s dress. My grandmother abandoned by mother. She left my mother to the Catholic church and the church gave her to a couple that appeared devout on the outside but committed atrocities upon her at home.
When she was a teenager and an actor friend of hers died, she read this in his obituary: “He was a walking refutation of that dogmatic statement, Mens sana in corpore sano. He cashed in on his disabilities. He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade stand.” That Latin bit means: Being of sound mind and body; Hector, the actor who died, was a midget.
Making lemonade became my mother's mantra — and mine. Mother’s lemons were blue; she had bruises to hide all the time and a frown to conceal. One day a friend said to her, “Wear something nice; you’ll feel better.” And that's how my mother thought getting a dress would be making lemonade — and she thought her dress should be blue like her bruises.
She didn't want just any blue dress; she wanted a showstopper of a dress. “Something like a blueblood would wear,” she said. That was the word she used: Blueblood. She said a blueblood hid horrible things behind spectacular clothes and highly mannered behavior and that’s what she needed to do.
She told me the idea came to her as she was spinning and dancing around in her bedroom, and while she was trying to imagine her dress she heard a peacock. It's ear-splitting cry made her think of how silent she was and of the secrets she was keeping about the things her parents were doing.
She wanted to scream to the world about them, she said. But she couldn’t. She was afraid and ashamed, she said.
But when she heard the peacock, she decided she wanted her blue dress to be a peacock dress. Peacocks were proud and beautiful and they moved like ripples of the incoming tide. “I want to look and move like a peacock,” she said. “I want to be strong and unafraid like a man; like a peacock.”
And so my mother called the costume maker of her theatre troupe to her woman if she could make a peacock dress. And while it was being made, my mother set herself to thinking about where she would wear it. This is what she wrote in the letter she left us in her will:
“One day I was sitting at my bedroom window looking out on our backyard. My stepfather was chopping wood. It was his axe that gave me the idea — it and the nursery rhyme. I decided to do what she did and that the perfect time and place to wear my dress would be at my parents’ funeral so I called the chemist.”
My mother showed the police her brother diary. Harry had a secret — a big secret and that’s why the police think he killed my grandparents. They think Grandma and Grandpa found out about Harry’s secret and confronted him but the police couldn't find him to ask him. He'd taken off and no one's seen him or heard anything about him ever since.
I’ve enclosed an article from the local paper and in the photograph of the funeral you can see my mother wearing her dress.
Ruth Clemmens told me about your dress exhibition and that she’d declined to participate. She thought you night be interested in my mother’s dress because she knew how much it meant to my mother, so I sent her the dress and asked her to pass it on to you. I realize that you may not want to use it. If you don’t, please send it back to Ruth.
I never told Ruth the whole truth about my mother. If you had to unseal the envelope to read this letter, as I hope you do, it will mean she still doesn’t know so please be discreet in any correspondence with her.
I want to keep my privacy and protect my mother’s reputation. So I’ll sign my letter with the name of the woman in the rhyme.