Thursday, July 15, 2021

A Dress and a Few Simple Words

 “She just knows things. I’d really like for you to meet her,” a friend said, and that’s how I found myself at a little dress shop in downtown Pocatello.

I sneaked inside, making sure to be quiet as I peered at vintage dresses and jewelry. A few women and a young boy sat on classic velvet chairs in the middle of the room. “You need to find that within yourself,” a lady with gray hair said and then pounded her first on an eclectic table. “This is your son. You need to do what’s right for HIM.”

I studied the entire scene as the woman captivated everyone with her unusual insight. 

That’s when I decided the woman reminded me of a wise owl. “Oh!” she suddenly said, eying me, and I almost worried she’d heard what I’d been thinking about her spirit animal! “Can I help you? You’d look lovely in that dress!” She pointed to a blue ‘50s dress on the wall.

“Oh, thank you. It’s absolutely beautiful, but not quite what I’m looking for.” I’d seen the prices, and I knew I couldn’t afford it. “I’d love to get these earrings though.” Then I paid for the $10 earrings and left.

The whole experience spiked such a curiosity. Who was this woman and why did people seek her advice? I’d asked around and heard intriguing stories from various people who’d met her. 

And so, weeks later, I returned to Annie Hall’s—with my husband this time. We looked at shoes and listened to conversations. A skinny girl came into the store. She didn’t appear to have much confidence by the way she slouched and how her eyes darted around the shop. “Oh, my! Look at you…. YOU are beautiful!” Anne said to the girl.

“Me?” She almost stumbled backward, then stared at Anne.

“Who else? Of course, you! Now get over here; I have a dress for you to try on.” 

And within minutes the girl wore a gorgeous flapper-girl dress and hat. Anne had her standing straight and smiling. She started glowing as she donned a necklace and appraised herself in the mirror. 

“Now, just pull your hair back. That’s it! You’re gonna model in my fashion show. You know that?”

“Me…but…nobody will want to look at me.”

“Oh, yes they do—and they will!”

The girl stared at herself with tear-glistening eyes and stood even straighter. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll do it.” Then she hugged Anne before she could even get away.

I’m still not sure if the girl paid a dime, but Anne made sure she left with one of the most stunning dresses in the shop.

I kept visiting Anne. It inspired me to watch her size people up and then change their lives. I loved hearing about her family (her strong husband and brilliant daughter, Merrillee).

And over years of visiting her store, purchasing earrings and shoes, our banter changed.

“Anne, well, how the hell are ya?”

“I knew I’d see you today!” She’d smile and laugh. 

I started running a local newspaper and vowed to somehow help Anne. When she put on a huge fashion show fundraiser, I got my chance. 

I stayed up late editing photos and paginating so it would look just perfect. I’ll never forget Anne’s bewilderment when I brought her a copy of the newspaper and she saw one of her dresses on the front page. “Next year, YOU’LL be one of my models,” she said. 

I laughed because I’m so old. “Oh, Anne!”

Then she grabbed a black velvet coat someone had just brought in. “I want you to try this on! Sometimes I just know what people are supposed to wear!” Then she practically vanished and reappeared with a black velvet dress that matched it. “Wear this dress with it.”

It was an order. So I didn’t argue; no one argued with Anne. When I touched the dress, it felt like pure magic. But when I put it on—it felt like Heaven. I practically floated to the three-fold mirror, and my breath stopped as I caught my reflection. I felt so special as Anne told me such nice things. I’d never worn something so elaborate and expensive in all my life. 

“Elisa!” she said. “That was made for you!”

But both the dress and cape were worth a fortune, so I gently took them off, and donned my Goodwill clothes.

“Anne, you are something! Thanks for letting me try that on!” Then I left.

Months later, I received terrible news. I had the kind of cancer that terrifies everyone—stage four, in my spine and brain. After surgeries I used a walker to walk and stand. I rested at home, a bit sad just before Christmas when my husband strutted into the room and beamed. “Anne has a surprise for you!” Then I FaceTimed Anne, and Mike revealed the black velvet dress he held in his hand—the same one I’d loved months before but could never afford. I cried, so shocked and happy because she’d given me far more than the dress…she’d given me an unforgettable friendship and memories I’d hold dear forever.

Yesterday, I heard that Anne died. We’d spoken on the phone a few weeks ago, sharing our own hopes and fears. We laughed and cried. I just had no idea that would be the our last conversation. I felt like calling her last week, and now I’m so sad I didn’t. Life…can be so unpredictable.

It’s hard fighting cancer and then seeing the struggles other people have. It’s hard to understand why I’m still here and life-changers like Anne had to leave too early. I had another friend just die of cancer and two more go on hospice. The pain of seeing that…is worse than the cancer.

I already miss Anne. I loved visiting her shop and talking with her on the phone. It’s astounding that she could drastically change people’s lives with a dress and a few simply words. 

Anne, thank you for helping me see the strength inside of myself. You amaze me.