Sister Josephine was preparing the younger boarders for their First Holy Communion. Six little girls were fortunate to have doting mothers who supplied them with brand new white dresses and veils. One little girl, Cathy, didn’t even have a mother, let alone a doting one. She did have a loving father though, but he lived a long way away.
Cathy was shy and unsure of herself. She wore spectacles with lenses so thick they were ugly and gave her only slightly improved vision. She withstood the taunts of the other children by withdrawing so far within herself it was hard to reach her.
“Jillian,” Sister Josephine said, “see if you can find a white dress for Cathy. Look on the spare rack.”
At the end of the girls dormitory there was a large closet which housed a rack of ‘best’ clothes, suitcases and a big box containing costumes and other ‘dress-up’ paraphenalia. There was a second rack of clothing left by girls who’d moved away.
Jillian, being one of the older girls, was Sister Josephine’s helper for the Holy Communion class. Obediently, she went at once to the rack and very soon came across a dress that sent her reeling back to her birthday six years before. The soft blue had faded to white and it was creased, but it was still the prettiest dress in the whole world.
It was her eighth birthday and Jillian recalled that wonderful Saturday morning when her mother came and took her out of the Convent for the day. “Come Jillian,” she said, taking her hand. “we are going to have a lovely birthday.”
They had morning tea in the town’s only coffee shop-come café. They had iced chocolate and cream puffs filled with a delicious vanilla custard topped with a blob of mock cream. Fresh cream was only for those who owned a milking cow or goat. Even milk was the reconstituted variety. It came in powered form in tins with bright green labels. A big, yellow smiling sun declared the contents ‘Sunshine Milk’.
Next door to the café were two shops. One housed the local hairdresser and beauty salon, and the other was a fashion boutique catering for all ages. The window display was changed daily. On this day the theme was party wear designed to tempt the town’s girls and ladies to buy a chic new outfit for upcoming events on the social calendar. The frothy blue organdie dress trimmed with fine lace and embroidered rosebuds, stood out like a beacon in the display.
Marion gazed at the dress in the window and imagined her daughter’s delight. It was very expensive but she threw caution to the winds, and entered the shop pulling Jillian behind her. The dress was a perfect fit and to complete the outfit she was fitted with a pair of white patent leather shoes and white socks.
“Look in the mirror, Jillian. You look so lovely, darling. Isn’t this the prettiest frock you’ve ever seen?”
Jillian didn’t recognise the figure in the mirror. “She doesn’t look like me, Mummy. It is the prettiest dress in the whole world. Can I keep it on?”
“Of course you can, darling. Just wait until Miss Golder sees you at lunch; she will think she has a princess at her table. She is making you a special birthday cake and other nice things which you can take back to the Convent to share with the other girls.”
Hazel Golder owned a boarding house, providing quiet and homely accommodation for people coming to town from outlying stations. When she learned of Jillian’s birthday she offered to put on a special lunch for the occasion.
Normally a shy girl, Jillian beamed with confidence. She had that warm, fuzzy feeling of happiness and felt very much like Cinderella must have felt when she went to the ball. She couldn’t wait to hear the ‘oohs and aahs’ when she went back to the Convent.
It was such a lovely day, Jillian remembered as she held the dress. A lovely day forever spoiled. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she recalled. Marion handed her over to the sister in charge of the dormitory and kissed her goodbye. Sister Veronica’s smiles changed to sneers as soon as her mother was out of earshot.
“Well, you vain little miss. You can go at once and get out of that… that creation.” Sister Veronica hissed angrily. “Vanity is a mortal sin and God will punish you. Get out of my sight NOW”
Jillian turned and ran. Tears fell down her cheeks like rivers and her sobbing made it hard for her to breathe. She didn’t understand why God would punish her for the birthday dress her mother gave her. She couldn’t understand and she thought it must be bad to have a pretty dress. She found a coat hanger and put the dress on the spare rack. She didn’t ever want to see it again. The white patent leather shoes she put in the dress-up box at the back of the closet.
“Jillian,” Sister Josephine called,. “did you find a dress for Cathy?”
Jillian was jolted back to the present. “Coming Sister,” she replied as she wiped her eyes. As she started out of the closet with the dress clutched to her bosom she suddenly thought of the shoes. Hurriedly she opened the dress-up box and, right at the bottom she found them.
“I found these, sister. These shoes might fit Cathy as well.”
Sister Josephine took the dress and turned it this way and that. “It is quite pretty really. I’m sure we can bring it back to looking like new, and the shoes are just right. Lets see if they fit her Jillian.”
Both the dress and the shoes were a perfect fit. Sister Josephine was pleased. “Now all we need for Cathy is a veil. I will ask Sister Berenice to make one for her.”
On the day of the First Communion there were seven little girls, dressed in white, sitting in the front pew of the little chapel. All through the special service Jillian’s thoughts and eyes were on Cathy whom she knew was experiencing the same warm, fuzzy feelings the dress gave her so long ago. It is not bad to feel and look pretty, she thought. It is not bad at all.