It was a Les petits Parisiens advertisement in bazaar, a few issues back, which triggered a childhood memory – of a dress I once had. The lovely child in the photo was wearing a white Bobo Choses’s sleeveless Saloupette with orange stripes. It reminded me of a nightdress I once had some 20-odd years ago, very much her age at the time, although I honestly cannot remember when I had first come to own the dress.
What I do remember, though, is wearing it well past its time, until it was neigh up my ankles and looked utterly shrunken on a growing girl.
Mine had been white with red stripes and would have been insignificant, if not for the bold black letterings printed on it. It read: ‘Daddies Are Girls’ Best Friend’, and for that very reason, it became one of those dresses I was reluctant to part with. I think I had it until the Gulf War of 1990, when life, as we knew it, came to an untimely end.
My dad was very fond of purchasing dresses for me, being his second born and first daughter. Consequently, I had an inexcusable number of dresses bought for special occasions, for not so-very-important times, and for no reason at all. As I recall it, I was a flaunter with a gift of the gab. I would wear each of my dresses (at least the latest additions) and pander around the house when uncles and aunties visited, basking in their praises, their ‘ohs‘ and ‘aahs‘ and all the exaggerated sweet things that grown ups say to little kids. I often concocted stories – where there was none – to go with the show, as along as I had an audience. But this particular nightdress was my own, one the worth and charm of only I could fathom and cared little to share it with others.
Until date, the phrase is stuck in my psyche, as if it some how had been a forerunner of sorts. It comes in flashes (like in this instance); evasive feel-good memory of a time I had been truly happy. My relation with Dad was turbulent over the years – just one of the many interpersonal fall-outs of a post-Gulf War world we were fast-tracked into without preamble. Life as refugees in a homeland that did not feel like home; through a decade of careworn living; his depression, my growing pains – we were witness to each other’s life. It created an unequivocal understanding between us, which earned me the charge of mediator between Dad and the rest of the family. Yet, Dad and I were not friends in the conventional sense of the word.
During one of these most difficult years of my teenage life, I found myself published in a local newspaper for the first time. My youngest sibling sneaked the cutout to Dad in spite of my protests. I hid in the other room, while he read it; waiting for the reprimand that was to follow. Done reading, he folded the cutout and without turning to me said, “Don’t write your name – indicating the first and last name that was printed – like that.” My heart sank. “Add my name, too. Otherwise, how would people know whose daughter you are?” Just like that I was a little girl again, glowing in her father’s appreciation. Acknowledged.
About a year back, he was visiting, when I told him one day he would forget me, too, because of his infamous self-imposed isolation. “No,” he said vehemently. “Not you!”
I blinked, taken aback. I remember laughing at the time to ease the suddenly awkward and tense air between us. The solemnity in his voice had evoked emotions I did not want to dwell upon.
Definitely, father and daughter.
The phrase on the nightdress was back again in the present. It then occurred to me that maybe, in picking it so many years ago, my dad had showed me what I would never hear him say out loud.