WHEN I WAS SIX YEARS OLD I WAS MOVED INTO MY FINAL FOSTER HOME. I WAS TOLD TO CALL MY NEW FOSTER PARENTS NAN AND GRAMPY. THEY UNDERSTOOD THAT I WAS TRAUMATISED BY THE PHYSICAL ABUSE I’D RECEIVED FROM MY PREVIOUS CARERS.
During these times, most people had three outfits. One to wear, one in the wash and one for best. Occasionally I received second-hand clothes from my real family. They were always expensive and of good quality but not new and not mine. During a bed-making session, Nan asked me to describe my dream dress. I dreamily replied it should be a floor-length blue taffeta dress. I wanted the opposite of the industrial-strength hard-wearing clothes I normally wore. I knew about the Lord Mayors annual junior ball and wanted to attend, but knew it would never happen. There was no money for such extravagances and anyway I had no ball gown. I forgot about the conversation and carried on with the bed making and dusting.
The long-awaited Christmas day arrived. I wasn’t allowed in the big front room until Christmas morning, then I saw the ceiling height Christmas tree loaded with tiny presents, fairy lights and baubles. Big, beautifully wrapped presents lay on the floor around the tree. On the tables and sideboards were once-ayear bowls of fruit and dishes of chocolates and a roaring fire would burn all day. It was a magical Christmas Cavern.
I asked Nan what I should wear for Christmas lunch. She told me to wear the horrible heavy wool green pinafore dress and blouse donated by my real family. This made me feel glum and took the shine off the day but I did what I was told and changed into the hated second-hand clothes.
After a huge roast lunch and Christmas pudding with thruppence in it, we went into the front room to open the big presents under the tree. I tore the wrapping paper and ribbon off my biggest present. I took the lid off the box, pulled the tissue paper aside and sew some clothing. I pulled out the dress and more and more kept coming out until I realized it was a floor-length dress. It was my beautiful blue taffeta dream dress with a Peter Pan collar and a big bow on the back. It was perfect and exactly how I’d previously described it to Nan. I eagerly asked if I could change into my dream dress and was given permission. I was indescribably happy. I felt like a princess, a brand new dress specially made for me. I never imagined that Nan had listened so carefully to my requirements and then had it made up for me.
All the family came over on Christmas afternoon to play traditional games like passing an orange down a line of people but using no hands. We also played charades. In the evening 33 rev. records were put on the record player so we could dance. A favourite was the Blue Danube Waltz, which Grampy danced with me whilst I stood on his feet and he carried me around. I felt very grown-up and happy in my new dress. On Boxing Day the family always took a box at the theatre to see a pantomime, so that was the first public outing for my dream dress. I never did make it to the Lord Mayors ball, but I got so much pleasure from wearing a dress that for once wasn’t sensible and hard-wearing. It was and still is the best present I’ve ever received.