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The Communion Dress by Olga Maughan

Article by Olga Maughan ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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I remember it like it was yesterday. The postman arrived with a large parcel wrapped in brown paper and handed it to my grandmother. I could hardly contain myself as she carefully cut into the paper with large kitchen scissors. Taking her time so as not to cut into its contents. To this day I can still hear the sound of the black tissue paper as she unfolded it to reveal the lovely white dress. My mother was in London and had bought the dress for First Holy Communion. I loved it at first sight and thought I would never get to try it on. I was told “absolutely not” The lovely white dress was covered up once again in its black tissue paper. I would not be allowed the privilege of trying it on until I’d had a bath and my hair was shining.

Well, that won’t be today, I thought. It was only Wednesday, I did not have a bath until Saturday night just like every other child on the street. It was carefully hung in my grandmother’s wardrobe so I could not get to it easily.

Every so often when visiting the bathroom, I would sneak a peek, making sure that I had washed my hands thoroughly so as not to get a speck of dirt on the lovely dress. I remember hearing my grandmother saying that there would not be another child in a dress like mine, it was unique. A one-off design.

Now all she had to do was get a veil and a headdress for me. The final crowning glory was to be made by a neighbour. A very plain veil as the dress was decorative enough on its own, and lovely little white roses in a ring to sit on top of my head. Shoes, bag, gloves and white socks were purchased in Arnott’s Department Store.

At last, the day came and I was so proud as I put on the beautiful attire. It was 1958, I was eight years old and had no idea about religion. For me, it was all about the dress and how much money would fill the lovely handbag I carried that day. After we had received Communion we were walked in pairs back to the school hall where breakfast waited for us.

The tables were covered with white linen and lace tablecloths, and if my memory serves me well, we were served with cornflakes, orange juice and bread. This was lovingly prepared by the Holy Faith Nuns who ran our school. I do remember one or two children spilling their juice on their clothes, so had to be rushed to the nearest cold water tap by an irate nun to wash it off before their mother saw it. A photographer was waiting outside and no photos would be taken if there was an orange stain running down someone’s dress or cardigan. I don’t remember how much money I had at the end of the day. But I do remember being very happy so I’m assuming the amount was acceptable. The following day, being Sunday we got to wear all the finery again as we went to ten Mass. After the weekend was over the dress was carefully put away for special occasions only.

It was June now, we had the whole summer ahead of us. Now every Sunday I was brought out to Howth where we would sit and listen to the pipe band on the seafront, and then to the Saint Lawrence Hotel for lunch. Now I’m sure you’ve guessed it; I got to wear the dress every Sunday. So there was no question of going to the beach; my grandmother would not allow me as the sand could be wet in places; it might destroy my white sandals. And what about the dress?

At first, it was a novelty. I enjoyed getting dressed up in all the finery, a lovely dress, and sandals that were whitened the night before and left out on the windowsill to dry. Summers were always warm back then. I would walk along the promenade with that pleasant smell of seaweed that I loved so much, and I would inhale the air through my nose to get the full benefit of the aroma.

One Sunday the tide had gone out. I was walking towards the slipway; looking back occasionally to make sure my grandmother was still in my sights. The seagulls were picking at the wet sand, probably looking for bits of fish the fishermen had left behind. No fishing boats were there that day, only rowing boats that had seen better days. I decided to walk down the slipway that was covered by algae at the edges. I could hear my grandmother shout, “mind the dress.” It made me jump, almost knocking me off balance. I pulled myself back quickly, my heart pounding at the near miss I just had. The seagulls, as if feeling my stress took to the sky, all thoughts of scavaging for fish bits gone. I had almost stepped over the edge. My grandmother’s voice ringing in my ears, “mind the dress” not, mind yourself you might fall over, but mind the goddam dress. From that moment on I hated the dress.

Every Sunday after that I tried so hard to avoid putting it on. She would repeatedly say those words on a day out when I would have to painstakingly watch what I was doing instead of enjoying myself. It became a joke in our house; every time it was mentioned that we were going out for lunch to Howth or some other destination; someone would say the very words I hated to hear, “mind the dress” and laugh at me, knowing full well how much I was becoming to despise the dress.

Now I have to be honest here, I have to tell you that I was not a very good child, so one day I took the kitchen scissors to the dress, the very one that my grandmother used to open the parcel sent to us by my mother, and carefully opened so as not to damage the contents. I put the tip of the scissors to the bottom of the dress and I ripped it right up the front. I denied all knowledge of ripping the dress. I said I didn’t know what could have happened to it. I even had the nerve to look as if I was very upset, even asked if it could be repaired. I felt no guilt whatsoever. At last, I felt freedom and looked forward to our Sunday outings from then on.

I had four children, three girls, one boy, I never put them through the torture of asking them to mind their clothes instead of enjoying themselves, I hope they realise how lucky they were.

(c) Olga Maughan

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I was born in London and raised In Dublin and spent a lot of time in Kildare and Carlow when I was growing up. I worked for 3Com Ireland for as many years as they were in Dublin and loved every minute of it. With two members of the staff there, I walked across the Sahara Desert for charity, for seven long hot days, great experience. My husband and I moved to Cavan in 2004 where I worked for an Educational and Rehabilitation Centre, retiring last year at the age of 66, but I still volunteer with them in my spare time. Since I retired I have a lot more time to sit at my laptop to write and have had short stories published in Woman's Way Magazine. My interests are reading, writing and swimming, although I don't swim as much as I should.