Joining in with both Sian’s Christmas Club and Blogmas today, the Blogmas prompt being, “What’s your favourite Christmas memory” and Sian suggesting we start our piece with, “At Christmas we…”. Here goes…
At Christmas we would always, without fail, buy a new dress for me. A special dress. One from Loreen’s, the poshest shop in the village. I remember the excitement building as the Designated Day grew closer, my Mum more excited than I was, always, her excitement barely containable on the actual day itself. It’d be a special trip, just me and my Mum. My Dad would hand her an envelope and we’d be instructed, kindly and with a smile, to spend no more (I don’t know, looking back, how they were able to spare any money for a dress that was obviously so expensive, as money was very tight in those days).
We’d get ready, me and Mum, for the long walk in to the village. Pulling on socks, then carrier bags (so we didn’t get wet feet), then wellies, then gloves and scarves and bobbly hats, we’d head out, in to the darkening afternoon, snow beneath our feet. The prospect of entering Loreen’s brimming in our minds, the crunch crunch crunch of the snow under our feet hypnotising us, hardly talking to each other as we imagined what we’d find there. Loreen’s. The very name causing hushed silence in anticipation of special attention, an array of beautiful, handmade dresses and kindnesses I’ve still, to this day, not forgotten.
We’d get to the main square and suddenly we’d start to talk. What colour would I like? “Perhaps we’d be able to get a cardigan too. Or shoes?”, I’d venture. (I laugh, now, as I remember how wonderful I felt when Loreen let me try the girls high heeled shoes on, as my daughter doesn’t stop asking me to tell Santa that she, this year, wants a pair of high heeled shoes, “…with a bow on the front, Mama”).
We’d cross the main square, bidding Merry Christmas to everyone we’d meet and then we’d grip our hands a little tighter and I’d hold my breath the last few steps. We’d say hello to Dave the Barber (next door) and then there we’d be! At Loreen’s. She’d always have a marvellous display in the window, and we’d stop and stare, mouths agape, as we took in all the delights: embroidered tulle, thick pleated silks, taffeta, pearls stitched on finest, smoothest cotton, socks with little bows…a little girl’s dream shop.
The moment before we’d enter. Whenever I remember it, I always feel like I was holding my breath, like time slowed down, as I imagined myself crossing in to the shop. The window in the door full of condensation, from the warmth inside, little drops of water running down the window, meeting the ledge, it’s Victorian flaws catching them, a perfect little drop of water forming, glistening…some frozen in action. The lights inside would be welcoming, glowing. There’d be a smell of rich, new, cloths emanating from inside, and then, click – dingaling – Mum would open the door and the little bell on a wire, that hung over the door, would ring. We’d step in to the shop and Loreen would step in from out back and there we’d all be! With only one task in hand: to find the most beautiful Christmas dress (at the right price).
I remember she’d always fuss over me, but not in a fussy way. In a way that felt perfectly comfortable. Like a perfectly human, real, Mary Poppins. Immaculately dressed herself, she’d add a spot of glamour to our village wherever she went. She popped in to the Post Office, all the ladies would discuss her outfit as she left. In the bakery, they’d spend an age discussing her shoes (and be baffled by her choice of chocolate eclairs, “But she’s so thin!”, they’d sigh). She was a swathe of elegance in a village without much of it, and we all loved her for it.
As we entered the shop, she’d ask how we were, ask me how school was, slip me a few chocolates and ask me to warm myself by the heater (an electric heater screwed to the wall a little way above my head). Then we’d set to, to find it. She knew what I liked, what called to my heart. [I guess that’s why she was so successful, why people came from all over the county to find their Christmas dresses there].
I’d be welcome to try them all on, all the ones we selected, as many as I liked. Her patience was infinite. I’d take delight in the trying on – thankful that the heater did it’s job – and I’d step out to sighs and ‘Oh my, she’s so beautiful!’ from my Mum, Loreen and her assistant. I remember feeling so special in those moments. Not that I was showing off, at all, but because I was being spoilt – on one of the days of the year my parents decided they could spoil me – and, because of that, I had to enjoy every moment of it because it was most definitely special.
It was expected, it was part of the delight, part of the special attention from Loreen, from my Mum, from my Dad. It was a day, an experience, to treasure (and treasure the memories I do). I’d be allowed to try on not just the dress but, also, the socks (with bows) and the high heeled shoes and the matching embroidered cardigan. The whole set. A little girl’s dream, so many frills and details and so much love.
As I’d be trying them on, I’d hear my Mum and Loreen whispering. Some negotiations about payment. Loreen touching my Mum’s arm and telling her not to worry. It was her pleasure. Then I’d come out, feeling like every little girl should feel at Christmas time. My heart fit to burst (it was all a bit too much). Their faces a picture. Me ducking back inside before they’d see my tears of happiness (because they might think I was upset, not happy, and I wouldn’t want to spoil their enjoyment).
I’d hand Loreen the one and, as I was changing, she’d pack it for me. The works. Tissue paper, thick cream- coloured paper bag with a thick satin ribbon handle. A shiny glittery pom-pom bow (rarely seen decorating even Santa’s presents in our home). It’d be wrapped with such love, such care. Then I’d emerge from the changing room, dressed, again, for the cold and she’d give me more chocolate and a kiss on the cheek and bid us a Merry Christmas with the sweetest smile and we’d be on our way home, in the dark. The snow a little bit deeper, the cold that little bit more chilling, but all of it bearable because my Christmas dress – the one – was in the exquisitely wrapped bag.
We’d get home and de-bulk, Dad handing us an Ovaltine or Horlicks to warm us up. The bag’d be placed in Mum and Dad’s wardrobe until Christmas. And I’d spend the next few days dreaming of the dress, literally dreaming of it. It’d be handed to me on Christmas Eve (I’d always try to imagine Mum’s face as she opened the bag). I’d hang it on the side of my wardrobe, facing me as I fell asleep, on its own cushioned coat hanger, embroidered by my Mum. Ready for the next morning. I’d stare and stare at it as I fell asleep, memorising every glorious detail of it.
As I woke, I remember, I’d look over to the dress – even before I scrambled to see if my stocking had been filled – and – magically – the dress would have been joined by some high heeled shoes, some socks with bows and an embroidered cardigan. All of them there, shining with happiness and joy, waiting for me to bring them to life, to bring them to life on the sweetest, most joyous, of all days.
My Christmas Day outfit completed.
A little girl’s wildest dream come true.
[Photos from here]