When I was in Fourth Grade, our class got the best assignment for our Christmas concert. We were going to dance to Jingle Bell Rock while holding large, neon, bell-shaped cardboard cut-outs. And black light. We were going to be up on stage, overhead lights off, using black lights to make our bells glow. Black light was the most amazing thing ever. They used it at the roller skating rink and now I was going to use it to make art. ART.
Quick Sidenote: It was a Christmas concert. I lived in Texas in the early nineties, so let’s not play at “it was a Winter Holiday concert.” It wasn’t.
So, black light! Because we were using such special stage effects, we were instructed to wear black sweats to the concert so we wouldn’t outshine our bells.
Instead, I wore the red silk dress previously used for piano recitals and other fancy events.
And I glowed on stage.
How did this happen? Well, there the story diverges.
Just one of history’s mysteries, my friends.
My outfit caused a small stir backstage. Didn’t I know we were supposed to wear black sweats? I deflected and made sure the other kids knew that my mother made me wear this inappropriate get-up.
The conversation turned to my shoes – black leather penny loafers usually worn to Church. My classmates hadn’t seen me wear them before and were curious. Why did I have such fancy shoes?
For Church, clearly.
Only for Church?
Well, and Christmas concerts.
A discussion ensued about the merits of such single-purpose shoes. While we lacked the terminology, it was clear this small group of classmates found my shoes completely impractical. A solution was proffered: Perhaps these weren’t really my shoes? Perhaps I was borrowing shoes from my Mom?
No! They are my shoes!
I was fuming. While I generally loved being the center of attention, this time I was pretty sure I was being teased for owning penny loafers. I desperately wanted the conversation to switch to something (or someone) else. Another classmate stepped in and I thought I was saved.
“Helena’s teasing us,” she sagely explained to those questioning my footwear, “of course those aren’t her shoes. No one owns more than one pair of shoes.”
I wish I could say that I was truly humbled by her observation and said a silent prayer of thanks for my Church shoes, but I was nine. It’s very hard to be both humble and nine.
As parent volunteers passed out cardboard bells and ushered us on to stage, I furiously whispered a list of all the shoes I owned. There were the blue Keds, the Keds with purple stripes, flip flops, fancy sandals, those white Church shoes I wore on Easter… I kept going until we heard the first notes of Jingle Bell Rock.
The Night of the Red Silk Dress is a bit of a family legend. We will never really know who is at fault for the wardrobe mix up. I immediately knew to be indignant at having to wear something different from the other kids. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that being different from the other kids was, at times, a blessing.