Yellow Dress Woman

“Enter each day with the expectation that the happenings of the day may contain a clandestine message addressed to you personally. Expect omens, epiphanies, casual blessings, and teachers who unknowingly speak to your condition.” ~ Sam Keen

I never forgot her. The young woman wore a yellow dress and her smile seemed to glow in the sunshine. I’m pretty sure she was with a young man, but as a child that didn’t interest me. I was on another of our family’s summer trips. These were starkly frugal, multi-week affairs meant to educate us at every free historical site possible. Our days were spent in a hot car, our nights in our tiny travel trailer. Much of the time I was carsick or asthmatic, or both. I longed for my library books, my pink bike, and all the other comforts of home.

On this day I stood in a crowd of tourists watching a demonstration of colonial candle-dipping or blacksmithing. Trapped at armpit height behind people holding cameras, I couldn’t see a thing. That’s when I noticed Yellow Dress Woman strolling on the grass nearby. I squinted at the aliveness she radiated.

It occurred to me that she wanted to be there and I realized with a sudden full-body shiver that growing up wasn’t an abstraction. This was a revelation — that a time would come when I too could make my own choices. Her image stayed with me like a beacon through the rest of my growing up years.

I shared that story with my regular Wednesday class as I asked them to think of an image that made a deep impression on them, then write about it. A lengthy pause. No pens hit paper, no fingers tapped keys. Oh no, I thought. I came up with a writing exercise that’s not working. This has happened a few other times over the years. I usually jump in to expand the concept. But heads began to bend over their stories and I relaxed.

It’s strange how fleeting images manage to plug into a waiting receptor. A man stopping to help an elder or a woman unselfconsciously nursing her baby may expand your awareness, give you new resolve, or offer clarity. We gather and hold these moments, none of us knowing what moments from our lives are carried by others.

Fifteen minutes later it was time for class members to read aloud. As always, powerful original stories were shared to rapt attention. Then on to discussion, finding insight in each other’s words. I’ve seen stories connect and uplift us so many times that I’m convinced listening to one another’s stories is the most healing thing we can do for each other, and for the times we live in.

What images do you carry that have changed you?

8 thoughts on “Yellow Dress Woman

  1. I was eight years old when I realised that making art could be a way to live, not just a hobby to be tidied away at the end of a frugal session. She was in her sixties, her halo of riotous curls was dyed a flaming scarlet, she wore a purple sweater over a green tweed skirt with a saggy bottom and red gumboots “because I’m always having to go out into the yard, darling”. Her house was misted with a generous layer of dog hair, plaster of Paris dust and powdered dye, the red tiled floors were filthy and there were ashtrays everywhere with the gold and black stubs of Sobranie Black Russian cigarettes. She was a sculptor and made acclaimed animal art. Her yard was full of chickens that laid dark chocolate brown eggs, a pack of high pitched Jack Russell Terriers, and 4 or 5 chestnut Shetland ponies in a couple of loose-boxes. I can still hear her deep, cracked voice booming out some tart repartee to a platitude my brother had offered about the scarcity of ‘women sculptors’. I can equally remember my glee at his utter defeat at her hands: he was 16, and lord of all he surveyed, and his downfall (though temporary) was delicious to my downtrodden, younger-sister self…

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  2. I love this. Most of my best childhood memories that stand out to me as vivid were at a tiny house we rented in the country. The landlord had a big, fluffy white dog named Char that we loved and a gigantic tree that shows up in my memories. One of the saddest days was of Char dying.

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