There was no sign but we all knew that Mam and Dad’s bedroom was a forbidden area. Of course that made the temptation to enter even stronger when they were not at home. They both worked, so there were lots of opportunities to trespass when I was young. Once across the threshold it was difficult to see what secrets it held. It was only as I grew older that I understood. This was their private domain, an escape and sanctuary from an overcrowded home. A place where they could rekindle their love and lasting partnership.
Mam’s pride and joy was a dressing table, which always stood under the window. It had three mirrors which if angled correctly would reflect my image to infinity. I rarely opened the drawers for fear of being discovered. Nothing was disturbed on that sacred table. When I dared, I found mainly clothes. Some were old, some new, and some never worn. In the bottom drawer was her treasure, wrapped in old crepe paper. Inside was the salmon pink dress that she wore on the day she and Dad were married. It had faded over years. Their marriage never did. She had kept it, as she kept many things, as a memory of that special day.
The old family wedding photos show how she looked in it on that July day in 1942. A beautiful 18 year old bride standing arm in arm with the man she loved. He is wearing army uniform. On special leave from his wartime posting in the south of England. The rest of their families stand on either side, supporting them. She looks so happy and so young. Usually, we only remember our parents as they age. We forget that they were young once. We forget that they were full of passion and excitement as they took their first nervous steps on a lifetime together. For four years they were parted by the war. When he returned, they were never parted again, until he died in her arms, as she bathed him for the last time.
I remember taking her to see him as he lay in his coffin. I entered the chapel of rest with her and stood beside him. The coffin was open. I could see that she wanted to be alone. I kissed him and left. I could hear through the door the sound of her gentle sobbing. Her only words were, “I will see you soon, Tom.”
It was not as soon as she had expected. She lived another six years without him. I visited her regularly. I would spend the night with her often in silence. She would always ask me to help her change the sheets on their bed. Her room was no longer forbidden. I discovered that she slept with a pair of his pyjamas but it was never mentioned. When we had finished making the bed she placed them carefully under her pillow.
It was not a surprise when she died in July, 2003. She had survived Dad’s death. She could not survive the death of my two sisters in January and May in the same year. She gave up after that. I was with her during her final hours. She lay in a hospital bed, a frail echo of the beautiful young woman looking out from the wedding photo. There were no words as she went but I felt that she was no longer alone.
I visited their bungalow once more before her funeral with my brother to begin the painful process of removing their belongings. The contents that made it our home, even though we had both left to be married many years before. We joked as we entered their bedroom. It continued to hold its spell, the forbidden place. Dad’s pyjamas were still under her pillow. The dressing table stood under the window. I looked into infinity for the final time. I opened the drawers. I was surprised to find the wedding dress had gone. I thought she must have removed it after Dad had died. I opened the wardrobe to begin to pack her other clothes. At the end of the rail hung a dry cleaning cover. I opened it. Inside was the newly pressed salmon pink wedding dress. She had sent it to be cleaned before she became ill.
I will never know why? She had not mentioned it. I just knew that she had been preparing it for her death. I carefully took it from the rail and placed it in the back of my car. It was 61 years old and had only been worn once.
We decided that she would wear it again for her funeral. I am not a religious man. I struggle to believe that there is life after death. Mam and Dad did believe. As she said, she was convinced that they would meet again. I believe she had prepared the dress for that moment. The dress she wore on the happiest day of her life when she married the man she loved. The dress she wore when they were reunited in death. The dress that had lain hidden at the bottom of a dark set of drawers for 60 years, in a forbidden bedroom, waiting for its time to come again.