The Newcomer

That little red dress

by Frankie Potts

Show me a mall and I run in the opposite direction. A shopper I am not.

A store with acres of choices holds no appeal for me.

This attitude rules out vacations with friends whose plans revolve around visits to the malls of the world. And it certainly undermined a friendship with a woman whose many invitations to "go on a quick trip the mall" turned into five-hour marathons.

My aversion to patrolling aisles, trying on clothes and parting with money for things I could easily do without seemed to be ingrained in me.

Over the years I'd given it a lot of thought as I watched girlfriends enjoy the camaraderie of browsing together. I knew I was missing out on something, but didn't know what or why.

I knew I enjoyed ocasional treks through art galleries, museums and antique shops in moderate doses, so why did I balk at shopping, especially shopping for clothes?

It wasn't a question I dwelled on, but was one that did continue to pop up at me. Until the day I remembered a little red dress.

My memory of the dress came in surprisingly clear, but the details involving it were a bit cloudy.

The dress, without a doubt, was bright red, trimmed in pristine, white rickrack, little puffed sleeves, full cotton skirt, a wonderful dress!

Memories of how I got to where the dress was were far from clear. All I remembered was standing beside my mother, clutching her hand, in front of a tall counter my little girl eyes couldn't see over.

The dress was held in the hands of a man behind the counter. My mother and I were the only other people in a room empty of furniture.

"This one or this one?" I remembered the man asking, as he held up first the red dress and then a pale second choice of which I have no memory at all.

It took awhile for shy me to understand that the man was talking to me-and that he actually meant that either dress was mine for the asking.

When that old memory replayed in my head, along with it came remembrance of a huge bubble of joy that had filled the little girl up until she was speechless.

I don't remember how I made myself voice a choice, but that little red dress remained a favorite even when the hem finally had to be let down for decency's sake.

A question surfaced along with that memory. What kind of store was the bare room with a counter separating mother and me from a man with only two dresses?

When I asked my mother about it, she got a faraway look in her eyes.

Welfare in the depressed '30s, she said, was often handed over a counter. Maybe, she said, I remembered that shopping trip because it was the only one she ever made to that state-run counter.

I suppose the garden she grew every year, the chickens she raised, the long summer hours she worked in a cannery and her pride went a long way toward keeping a widow and her child from that counter. But my heart fills with love when I remember a day a mother smothered her fierce independence to take a humbling shopping trip to "buy" her daughter a red dress she still remembers.

Whether this no-nonsense, only two choices, successful shopping trip ruined me for malls, I do not know. I know cutting to the basics is the way I've got to go.

I proved that last month when I bought a new Jeep from a Grandview dealer over the phone at my price, and then sold the old car at my price with another phone call to a Zillah used car lot.

I was lucky to find two dealers who believed me when I said browsing and haggling were not my style.

When we were done, I felt like I had just peeked over a high counter and found myself a new red dress.

. Frankie Potts is a retired journalist who spent her career working at several Washington state newspapers.


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