Think of this as a short prelude, a transition between where we’ve been (for the past 73 days, anyway, for anyone counting along) and where things are going next. Here’s the scene:
It’s fall break, my freshman year of college. My mother has flown from Memphis to meet me in New York, where we are to spend five days together, just the two of us. During the trip, she will show me the New York she remembers from her 20s, and I will show her the New York I’ve come to know at 18, a college freshman.
We stayed at the Wentworth, where we would be in walking distance of most things we’d most likely want to do, namely shopping and museums. We spent a day at the Met, a day at the Museum of Natural History (still my favorite). And we spent a day shopping, while my mother told stories of her time in the city in her 20s, when she worked for the National Cotton Council and had to dress appropriately for the job.
I tired of these stories the way young people always tired of hearing old people’s stories, the way some of you might be tired of reading my reminiscences. This is the essential rhythm of life: Old people tell stories to young, impatient, restless ears, and then those young people grow old themselves and stories begin spilling out. It is the way of life.
Anyway, I was indulging my mother as we shopped in the places she remembered having shopped, in the way she remembered having been there.
Our last stop before ending our shopping day excursions was Bergdorf Goodman, a lovely, elegant place among lovely, elegant places.
We wandered slowly, oohing and ahhing appropriately. As we wandered through one of the women’s clothing departments, my mother noticed that I’d taken note of a dress.
“You should try it on,” she said.
I looked at the price tag. Looked at my mother.
“This dress costs FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!” I said, and not in a quiet voice.
“You should try it on,” my mother said again.
Without my noticing, a woman had walked toward us and came close enough to speak.
“Come with me,” the woman said, sweeping the dress from its display.
I followed her into the dressing room, giving my mother a wild-eyed look as she trailed behind.
I tried on the dress.
If you’ve seen any Disney movie in which a plain young girl tries on a magical dress, I assure you the scene in that dressing room that day was the same. I tried on that magical five thousand dollar dress and looked every bit like a princess.
“When you are older,” my mother said, “I want you to remember this. Remember how you felt in this dress, how it looked on you. Remember it.”
“Your mother is right,” said the quiet woman who stood behind me wearing an expression of admiration that had nothing to do with how I looked in that fabulous dress.
Later, when we were eating a late lunch, I asked her why in the world she encouraged me to try on a dress we could never afford to buy.
And my mother said something to this effect: You could buy that dress. You could save up, over time, and buy that dress. And it would be worth saving up for, that dress, if you wanted it. What I want you to learn is how to wait for the things you actually want.
Ah. It’s 11:58, so that is all for today. Maybe you’ll come back for more, tomorrow.