Editors' Choice: Homemade Dresses
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Editors' Choice: Homemade Dresses
(Originally published in 1992 in Delta Winds Volume 3)
It was Easter Sunday. I was nine years old, an age when best friends were necessary and giggling a common pastime. It was also an age when the effects of our actions and words were not considered.
That day was a day of excitement. Not because it was the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, but because I could wear my brand new dress -- bought two weeks ago and saved just for this occasion. When my family and I arrived, I went straight to my Sunday school class where I met with my two best friends, Mary and Jane. After we had each shown off our new dresses, we sat down to complain about our big brothers and talk of all the candy we would get in our Easter baskets later that day.
Then she walked in. Sue. I was used to seeing Sue in old hand-me-downs passed down from other girls in the church, usually faded shirts and jeans that were about to fall apart. But today was different. She was wearing a sunshine yellow dress with little white flowers decorating it. There was a bow in the back and lace on the collar and cuffs. I had never seen Sue in a dress before. I knew that her mother had made the dress. It just didn't have that store-bought quality to it, not to mention they could not afford to spend money on something so frivolous.
In class, Sue usually had a faraway look in her eyes and rarely smiled. But today was different. Her face was bright, and she walked like a queen. I don't think I had ever seen her that happy before. She could hardly contain herself; my first reaction was surprise, but I began to smile. Her obvious happiness seemed almost contagious.
Then I heard them. The whispers. These were not usual quiet, secretive whispers, but the kind of whispers that were meant to be heard by all. The pastor's daughter, Mary, leaned over and whispered loudly.
"Sue is wearing a dress! Now I know why she always wears pants. At least the pants didn't show how fat she was!"
Then I heard Jane whisper even more loudly, "What an ugly dress! Have you ever seen anything like it? I bet her mother made it!" Sue's face instantly hardened. She was probably used to the name-calling, the teasing, the cruel laughter of children. She looked down at the ground, trying to fight back the tears, fighting not to let anyone see that she did have feelings, that words do hurt.
Suddenly she looked up and glanced at me. In that glance, her eyes were pleading with me, pleading with me to defend her. To somehow take back what was said. To give back her happiness. But I was frozen. Frozen by my own fear of rejection. My fear of being an individual. I did not want to be different and alone, but was satisfied being a clone and accepted. I looked away to avoid my own guilt and remained silent.
Sue continued to come to church, but she never went to Sunday school. Instead she went to class with her parents. And she never wore a dress again. And I never saw her smile again. Though I know she may not ever remember the incident, it deeply affected me. I realize that an incident like this not only occurs in the lives of nine-year-olds. Every day, people are shunned because of color, religion, lack of education, and, yes, even when they are wearing homemade dresses. And we remain silent.