What I remember:
Mother’s Day in Alabama. I am three. A blue dress in a box with tissue. The dress has bosoms, like my mother. My father picked it out for her, but it’s from all of us: the two boys, the two girls and my father. I am the youngest. I’m excited about the dress. I ask to see it again and my father opens the box and shows it to me. I smile up at him and he smiles down at me. I am so enchanted about giving my mother a gift, about the box and the tissue that surrounds the dress. The box is huge. The dress bosoms are huge. My mother’s bosoms are huge.
That same year:
My siblings are in school and my mother and her friends are sitting in lawn chairs in a circle in someone’s back yard. They’re drinking iced tea. It’s hot. I’m running around naked. The women decide to take their shirts and bras off. It’s so hot. I am amazed by all the bosoms blooming around me. They are like peonies. I don’t touch. I just look.
I step on a snake out in the driveway. I see it stretched out straight and I mistake it for a stick, and I decide to step on that stick, right there in the middle. When I do both ends of the snake come up in the air and I scream and my mother comes out wearing only her girdle and bra. She’s carrying my brother’s BB gun and she shoots the snake and kicks its body away with her bare feet and comforts me as I lean in to her.
In subsequent memories my mother stands at the stove and sighs. A lot. She stomps into the house carrying bags of groceries. She sighs during dinner. She asks us to clear the table. She asks again. And again. She rails against my brother and me when we break a jar down in the basement. She says, “I had a few minutes to sit down and read a magazine.”
My brother and I repeat this for years. We repeat it so much that even now I can remember her exact cadence. If we’d been better children, she might have only said it once. If she’d only said it once, we might not have repeated it. If we’d not repeated it, I might not remember it so well.
But I do remember it, as I also remember the blue dress in the huge box for Mother’s Day, and the bosoms blooming all around me in the circle of women, and the day my mother shot the snake.
I once mentioned these things to her.
The blue dress. She smiled.
The half-naked women. “Certainly not,” she said.
Shooting the snake in her bra and girdle. She denied it.
But I want to believe these things about my mother. I need to believe them. And for her sake, and mine, I do.
This essay was written from a prompt in one of my classes. The prompt was “The Dress.”