The Red Dress


It’s one of those conversations that comes up naturally in the most unusual of circumstances. Well, “unusual” as defined by mainstream American culture: I’m giving Mrs. R a shower and we’re talking about my Amazon wish list.
I tell her about this beautiful dress I found, how it is just gorgeous but I’m just not sure where I would wear it.
“I don’t know,” I sigh. “There’s probably a better use of $50 than a dress I’ll probably never wear.” She doesn’t reply and I keep talking. “It is beautiful, though. Say, if you could wear anything you wanted, anything at all no matter how out-of-style or out-of-place, what would it be?”
She looks up from washing her chest, a sad little smile twisting her face into a look of deep longing. “I had this dream,” she says quietly, “had it since I was a girl. I was going to buy this red dress, like what they wore in the 1950’s, tight bodice and full skirt that just hits the knees and swirls when you walk. I was going to put on the dress and go dancing through a door to meet my husband. But Mom and Dad were poor and my husband…he always said we had better use of that money than a fancy dress. Always had bills to pay and money to save for retirement. We’re working for our future, he said; now he’s dead and I’m in a nursing home. Some future,” she sighs.
For someone who prides myself on my skill with words, I often find that I just don’t have any.
“Little girl, if you want that dress, you buy that dress. Don’t ever assume the best is yet to come. If I could do one thing over in my life, I would go back and buy that damn dress. If you do buy yours,” she adds wistfully, “would you wear it here so I can see?”

Maybe it’s funny, maybe it’s not–but in my experience, the elderly do not preach caution. My residents rarely tell me why I shouldn’t do something (except if it’s why I shouldn’t get them out of bed for breakfast). No…their advice to me, plentiful and often unasked-for, is to live and live bravely. Do things, go out and make memories. Try something new. Don’t work to hard.
Don’t wait for good things to come in the future, because your future might be a wheelchair in a nursing home. “Live now,” they tell me, “live now and tell me the stories.”

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