Have you ever ordered a dress for a party and then sensed (a little too late) that it might not arrive on time? That’s what happened to me when I was checking my to-do list in preparation for a long-awaited party last week.
This party was going to be with my book club, as the members and their spouses gathered together for the first social event since the pandemic. It was organized as a “launch party” to recognize the release of my first book. We wanted it to be memorable, so we picked a 1950s-style cocktail party theme.
My girlfriend offered to host the party in her recently renovated historic home. The house was known for its blast parties back in the day. In fact, when she and her husband purchased it, they found the garage walls covered with signatures from past guests.
It was fun to hear my friends chatter about the era-appropriate hemlines, petticoats, and hairdos in preparation for the party. We texted each other pictures of the dresses we found online as we debated the best ones. The menu slowly took shape as well. A spread of finger foods would be displayed in the dining room, including pimento cheese sandwiches cut into triangles (no crusts), stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, meats, cheeses, crackers, and Bundt cake. The punch bowl would take its place at the head of the table with a crown of sherbet and Sprite foam floating on top.
I reviewed my to-do list:
Signature cocktail recipe
I had placed my dress order more than a week before. It was a darling tea length number with a full skirt, small waist, and capped sleeves in a sky blue sateen. I was excited about slipping on the elegance of a lost era. When it didn’t arrive on the anticipated day, I began to scramble.
Luckily, I live in my hometown, where my parents still stashed prom and bridesmaid dresses in the upstairs closet. I flipped through the options, hastily grabbing an armful to try on at home as my four children waited in the car. Then I thought of my Nana. I wondered if she had any vintage dresses handy.
Nana always carried herself like English royalty, though she came from a farming family in South Dakota and later married a welder. Maybe it was because of her stylishness, or maybe it was the tilt of her chin and proud arch of her back, but she had class. My Nana was 101 and still lived in her home. It was entirely possible that she had a cocktail dress saved in a back corner.
All I had to do was ask, and voila — two vintage cocktail dresses in mint condition.
I pulled into the driveway of her townhouse. My children and I had spent the afternoon playing on the banks of the nearby Missouri River, and sand shook from our bodies as we climbed out of the vehicle. I worried about tracking dirt into my Nana’s pristine house, but we were welcomed inside nevertheless. I breathed in the familiar smell of her kitchen.
Nana loved clothes, and every piece she owned had a story. She laughed about the good times she’d had in her dresses as I admired them. One was a brown sleeveless dress with black stitching, boat neck, and smart waistline. The other was a black tea length dress with a fitted waist and lace covering the shoulders.
My young children visited with Nana one at a time as she sat in her chair. It was obvious to me that she loved them. She said, “Oh, Molly. They are so special.” Something in her eyes told me that she was referring to me, too.
Before I left, I turned to her and said, “Nana, you have given me so much. I am lucky to have a grandma who has always had my back.” A twinkle in her eye and her mouth scrunched into a half smile, she balled up her fist and gently pounded the air as if to say, you bet I do.
She sent me home complete with a black sequin clutch and sparkling crystal earrings.
Everything about the party was lovely. My husband and I toasted our friends for their ongoing support. They had helped us through the most difficult experience of our lives after my husband was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome on Valentine’s Day 2019. This sudden and unexpected disease had caused him to become a quadriplegic on a ventilator in mere days. He had been ventilated for fifteen weeks and completely unable to move (even to blink his eyes) before his miraculous recovery nearly a year later.
The party was a true celebration of my husband’s physical recovery, but also paid tribute to my book, The Other Side of Us: A Memoir of Trauma, Truth, and Transformation, that describes the deep perspective we gained amidst the traumatic events.
The party had taken place on Saturday evening. The following Monday morning, my dad called to let me know that my Nana had gone to heaven. My grief was instant, although logically I knew all was as it should be. She had lived a long life.
I thought back to the weekend.
I was disappointed when my party dress didn’t arrive on Saturday. I soaked in the bath and felt sorry for myself. I didn’t know it at the time, but it had been a gift. If my dress had come, I wouldn’t have seen my Nana one last time. My children wouldn’t have been able to walk into her room to say hello to her — or goodbye, as it turns out. We wouldn’t have been able to remember her as she was that day, sitting in her chair and smiling at us. I cherish that memory, her honest love radiating from her glowing face.
I will forever be grateful that my dress didn’t arrive. The coincidence was too serendipitous. It reminded me that the universe is always at work. It is constantly in the process of connecting invisible dots. Sometimes it feels exciting, joyful, harmonious, and wonderful. Other times it feels irritating, painful, unjust, and heartbreaking. But, while things may look incomplete in the moment, the bigger picture tends to reveal itself with time and perspective.
We are called to trust.