My dad and I stood outside Bergdorf Goodman’s gazing at the sparking Christmas displays in the windows. It was mid afternoon and the streets were crowded with shoppers. Bergdorf’s was THE place to shop. “Let’s go in and buy you a dress,” he said.
“Really?” I cried
Though he’d never taken me shopping before, I adored my father. He expected straight A’s from my brother but not from me. I was a good little athlete and that seemed to be enough.
The year was 1943. My father supplied wool to the government to make uniforms for the army and this required frequent trips to Washington DC and New York. Since it was business, mother rarely went along. My brother had already left Harvard to become a pilot in the Army Air Corps. I was a bored fifteen year old so you can imagine my delight when Dad asked me to join him on one of his trips ‘back east. ‘
The trip started out badly, I caught cold in Washington and Dad abandoned me to recuperate alone in a hotel room while he went off to his meetings. Not about to miss the sights, I took a couple of aspirin, blew my nose and headed off to the Smithsonian. Later I took a cab to The Library of Congress where I browsed until the doors closed. That night after dinner, Dad took me on a sightseeing trip around the city.
By the time we got to New York, my cold had disappeared. Dad had no meetings to attend. Instead, he took me to Rockefeller Center and The Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes. The next day we went to Oklahoma! and rode the Staten Island Ferry. The last day, we strolled down 5th Avenue ending up at Berdorf Goodmans.
We took the elevator to the second floor where a saleslady greeted us. “Right this way, Mr. Lyon.”
“How did she know your name?” I whispered, wide-eyed.
He smiled and followed her to a viewing area. The woman disappeared and returned with coffee for my father and tea for me. Another saleslady gathered an array of beautiful dresses for me. One by one, she showed them to us, turning them front to back and gently laying the hemline in our laps so we could feel the material. “Well what do you think?” my Dad asked me.
“I don’t know. They are all so pretty.”
“Do you like any special color?” the saleslady asked.
“Black,” I said, knowing my mother would disapprove.
Dad raised his eyebrows but nodded and the woman said, “I have just the thing.”
In a moment, she returned with the dress of my dreams, soft black material, sleeveless, knee length, with just a few multicolored sequined Chinese lanterns placed here and there.
“Go try it on,” my Dad said.
The dressing room at Berdorf’s was bigger and had more mirrors than the one at Harzfelds in Kansas City where my mom bought her clothes. The saleslady unzipped the back of the dress and I slipped it on. It fell smoothly across my shoulders and draped perfectly over my hips. When she zipped it up, the discreetly placed sequined lanterns sparkled in all the right places. The saleslady ran to get me a pair of black pumps and then I emerged from the dressing room to show my dad.
“Well. Well. Look at you,” he said
I smoothed the dress over my body, turning this way and that. “I love it,” I said
He stared at me for what seemed like a very long time and then he said, “You look lovely.”
The saleslady beamed.
“We’ll take it,” Dad told her.
That night, he took me to The 21 Cub for dinner. I wore my new black dress and felt very grown up. Maybe it was just my imagination but everyone seemed to know my dad: the maitre de, the waiter and some of the guests. That made me very proud. On the way to our table, Dad introduced me to Henry Wallace, Secretary of Commerce and I gasped when I noticed Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart seated at table next to ours.
Back home, Mom didn’t raise near the fuss I thought she would. I wore my lantern dress that Christmas season and several more to come. After awhile, it frayed but I was still unwilling to part with it. I cut off the bottom of the dress and made the rest into a top but of course, it never looked right. Eventually it disappeared from my closet but never from my heart.