Tuesday, June 26, 2012


     I just entered the ELLE Essay Contest: The ___ That Changed My Life.  The guidelines read as follows: “[c]alling all ELLE readers who are also writers: You could be published in ELLE’s October 2012 Personal Style issue! We’re looking for essays of 500–750 words in length about a treasured piece from your wardrobe. It’s about more than just a favorite item of clothing, because a cherished dress is never really just a dress: It’s a reflection of where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished, how you see the world—a reminder of definitive moments in your life.  So here it is: your chance to write a humorous, poignant, heartbreaking, or shocking ode to the clothes that made you who you are today.”
     Wish me luck!  Looks like I’ll find out in October.  My ELLE Essay entry is below: 
The Skirt Suit that Changed My Life
     When Mrs. Adams informed me that I’d have to go write an essay for her in the next room, my right hand clenched into a fist and crumbled my chocolate chip cookie amidst an abundance of nervous, 10 year old sweat.  Only minutes earlier, I’d gingerly chosen the prize cookie out of the assortment in her red tin.  Now, I wouldn’t even get to eat it.
     I’d arrived at the writing sample stage of my secondary school interview.  I was a fifth grader hoping to gain admittance to my town’s elite private school that enrolled students starting in the sixth grade.  Well, I think my father wanted me to get in more than me.  But when you’re 10 years old, what your dad wants is what you want, especially if your mother had died months earlier at the age of 39. 
     Between the time Mrs. Adams offered me a cookie (and told me she was known as the Cookie Lady around the office) and enlightened me that I’d have to provide a writing sample, she’d asked me about my family.  I told Mrs. Adams about my mother and how the doctors had diagnosed her with leukemia three years ago.  I saw true empathy in Mrs. Adam’s blue eyes.  And then she told me how she’d lost one of her own sons to a debilitating disease and how her second son was confined to a wheelchair with the same condition. 
     As Mrs. Adams handed me The Blackfeet Indian brand No. 2 pencil, I opened my palm of crumbs to her.  Unfazed, she scooped out the morsels of my uneaten cookie and I wiped the remaining crumbs on the side of my plum, micro suede skirt.  While in remission the year before she passed away, Mommy had sewn that plum colored skirt and matching jacket for me.  Cream piping traced the neckline, sides and sleeve holes of the suit’s jacket.  I loved that skirt suit.  I felt like a grown-up when I wore it. 
     If a 10 year old could have a power suit, that one was mine.  The jacket fit perfectly and closed at the neck with an intricate, cream frog closure that matched the piping.  The skirt looked great, especially when I wore it with cream, cable knit tights.  Like most of our clothes, Mommy had sewed the entire suit on her Singer.  But she’d re-stitched the frog several times by hand to make sure it lay perfect on the jacket. 
     By the time I sat down in the annex to Mrs. Adam’s office to write an essay about a bear in the woods, I felt proud and I was ready.  I had this.  Mommy’s memory surrounded me in my plum power suit and it made me invincible.  I wrote and wrote until that pre-sharpened pencil transformed into a nub.  I wanted Mrs. Adams and the admissions committee to know that I’d be a great addition to their school.  I wanted them to know that despite my family’s recent tragedy, I was prepared to get to work and attain a top notch education. 
     As it happens, whether by wearing that plum colored skirt suit, good genes in the brains department, my killer essay, a little luck, some smarts I picked up along the way or a mix of all of those things and more, the Albuquerque Academy admitted me to its incoming sixth grade class.  I attended that school from sixth through twelfth grade.  In two years I’ll have my twentieth high school reunion.  And while I no longer fit in my perfect, handmade, plum power suit, it still hangs in my closet.  My mother had sewed what she thought was a needed garment in a little girl’s wardrobe—something dressy, but more mature than a party dress; a piece that gave a girl poise without seeming haughty.  Little did she know that I’d use it to open one of the many doors in my life and think of it always as a work of art.

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