The security clerk pretended to check tickets on the dress rack nearest the door. Her eyes carefully scanned a woman who stood hesitatingly just inside the boutique door. The clerk took a quick mental snapshot—old shoes with run-over heels, a small run in her right stocking, out of-style leather handbag, crinkly black nylon dress at least fifteen years old and straggly hair. Not the image of this store’s usual clientele. She approached the woman, asking the mundane, “May I help you?” The elderly woman smiled and whispered, “Yes, I need a dress.” The surprised security clerk quickly signaled a nearby salesperson who hurried over to the waiting customer. Store policy toward the less desirable was, “Wait on them quickly; get them out of sight.”
“How may I help you?” the sales clerk asked. This would only take a moment, and then she could go on her morning break. “My only granddaughter is getting married. I need a complete outfit for the wedding. I want her to be proud of me. Just tell me what I should wear.’
“You mean you want to see a bridal consultant?” the clerk asked incredulously. The woman nodded her head and followed the clerk to small oval room filled with fancy clothes.
“Why did you bring her in here?” the consultant whispered angrily.
“She wants to be outfitted for a wedding,” the clerk said as she laughed and walked away.
The bridal consultant had been a model in her younger years and still affected the haughty look she believed implied sophistication. She asked the woman to sit down at the small desk opposite her and took out a pad and pen.
“First, I must know how much you are prepared to spend,’ she said. She was eager to get this over with and might as well cut to the chase.
“I have been saving my money for this outfit ever since their engagement was announced last spring. Annie sent me an airplane ticket so I can spend it all on something nice to wear.” Her slightly palsied hand pulled the envelope from her handbag. “I think there is seventy dollars here. you may count it if you like. I can spend it all if need be.’
The consultant quickly counted the money. “Actually, there are seventy-two dollars. Perhaps you should visit our basement thrift shop. They have a few dresses for around fifty dollars.”
“I went there first. Miriam suggested I come to see you,” she said smiling. “They said you would be glad to help me.’
(Oh, that Miriam. She loves a good joke. Wait until I get the chance to pay her back for this, the haughty one thought to herself.)
Just then the elderly woman spotted a powder blue dress on a nearby rack. She stood and walked quickly toward it. Before the consultant could stop her, she held the dress before her in a mirror.
“Now, this one I like. It is beautiful, but not too showy!” It was a plain dress with a long-sleeved jacket edged with just a touch of matching lace, “I should have matching shoes, of course. I will wear my strand of pearls. Afterward, I will give them to the bride as a wedding present. They belonged to my grandmother. Look, the dress is just my size!”
The consultant gulped. She was suddenly feeling a mix of frustration, sympathy and anger. How could she tell this sweet old lady that the price of the dress she wanted was three hundred dollars? Matching shoes would be another seventy-five dollars. Sometimes life just wasn’t fair.
A young, beautifully dressed bride-to-be stood nearby watching the scene. She had just picked up the custom veil she had ordered for her own wedding next week. Her family was well-off and had told her to spend whatever she wished on her wedding. She interrupted the consultant before she could speak to the grandmother about the dress.
“Excuse me a moment,” she said as she led the consultant a side and whispered. “Let her have the dress, shoes, whatever else she needs. Just add it to my bill. Tell her they are on sale. Just take fifty dollars of her money. That will leave her with a little spending money—and her pride.”
“But why?” The consultant asked. “You don’t even know her.”
“Just call it a wedding present to myself. I never knew either of my grandmothers. As I walk down the aisle, I will think of her and pretend she is my grandmother, too.”