It is today. November 26th, 1966.
Everything is ready. The bridesmaids, and my mother have all gone ahead to the church with my four brothers. My four brothers who are altar boys at the service.
That leaves me, my father and my little sister who’s nine, in the house by ourselves.
“Aren’t you ready yet?” I call up the stairs to my sister.
Silence. I can hear the clock ticking on the mantelpiece of the front room. The hall is cold, my hands are cold. My father lights up a cigar and paces, trailing blue smoke behind him, fogging up the glass on the front door.
“Deirdre!” He bellows up the stairs between puffs, “Get down here at once! Don’t keep your sister waiting!”
There’s a sob from the top of the stairs. My sister’s blond curls tumble over the banisters framing her tear streaked face.
“I grew!” She cries, panicked, snot running from her nose.
I have been stuck in place by the front door by my vanished bridesmaids. My train has been carefully placed over my arms, my hair upswept into my veil and flowers, my bouquet arranged in my slowly freezing fingers. My sister has insisted on getting herself ready, borrowing pale pink lipstick from me, mascara from my cousin.
“Come down!” I say, forcing a calmness into my voice that belies the beating of my heart.
She sniffles her way down the stairs. Forget about it being my big day. This is the day my sister has dreamed about for the last six months. She has clutched a piece of her flower girl fabric to her chest before falling asleep every night. She wouldn’t let anyone cut her hair even though it was a mass of curls and took a half an hour every day just to brush it out. She wanted ribbons running through it and on down her back.
I throw my train at my father even as the limousine driver is knocking at the door. And suddenly it hits me.
The final fitting of my sister’s dress had been two months ago. She is a growing child.
Oh Sweet J----
Cheerfully, I take the dress from her trailing fingers. The dress that had hung so perfectly starched and covered in plastic outside her closet door for months now.
“Do not touch it until the day!” We had reinforced this to her over and over as she brought all her envious friends in to gape at the dress, “No one is to touch your dress!”
And this one time when she should have broken the rules, she didn’t.
And because she didn’t, here we are. On a cold November morning. On my wedding day. With her too-small dress in my hands.
I smile at her. I give her that confident, I can take care of everything Big Sister smile that she has known since her birth and her mother was so sick for a long time.
The gorgeous puffy sleeves will not go over her newly developed upper arms.
I stifle my inner scream.
Dad opens the door to the now franticly fist-thumping driver and tells him to wait in the car. There is a slight emergency.
“Get me a scissors and needle and thread, Dad,” I say still smiling, explaining to this completely undomesticated creature where these mysterious items are all kept, “You can dump my train on the floor, Deirdre will take care of it when we fix her up.”
“Nobody will notice the inch you grew with the hem,” I say to her tear streaked face, “And right now I’m going to take care of the sleeves!”
Taking a deep breath and a muttered Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I cut open the underseams on the arms and manoever her slowly into the dress and tack a few lines of cotton threads underneath to hold the sides together.
I fetch her posy of flowers from the kitchen sink and place it in her hands.
“The only trick to today,” I say to her, “Is to remember not to raise your arms, ever. Can you remember that?”
She nods as I wipe off her face with Dad's hanky, beginning to smile.
“Like in my Irish dancing class?” she says, delighted with herself, “I can dance my feet but not my arms?”
“We have two very smart women in this family!” I reply, “Very, very smart. And beautiful too!”
And we both giggle, and can't stop, as she catches up my train, so very carefully.
And my father, a most punctual man, resplendent in his morning suit, and now almost apopletic at this explosion of his timetable, impatiently hustles us out the door, down the front steps, and through a bystanding parade of neighbours who spontaneously applaud and stomp a little as we fold our giggling selves in our gorgeous dresses into the waiting car.