Wednesday, June 8, 2016

My Newbery Dress Story: Part 1

I've got this fun little dinner party coming up in a few weeks. It's the American Library Association's Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Awards banquet, where I'll be receiving the Newbery Honor for The War That Saved My Life.

I found out about the Honor last January, and, naturally, the first question that sprung to mind was, "What will I wear to the party?"

Readers who actually know me are ROFL right now. I'm not much of clothes diva. ON THE OTHER HAND, if there were ever an excuse for a party dress, this would be it. I may never get another big ALA award, and I am going to make the most of it. I'm making my husband dust off his tux.

"What are you wearing to the banquet?" I asked Carole Boston Weatherford, in February. We were eating lunch together after both being honored with the Josette Frank Award. Carole's book, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, also won a Coretta Scott King award, a Caldecott Honor, and a Siebert Honor. It's a good year for Carole and me.

"I haven't even thought about it," Carole said. (We both looked good for the Josette Frank ceremony. We both wore stylish dresses, heavy tights, interesting jewelry and good footwear. All without coordinating with each other first. Her bracelet was super cool.)

"I want to wear a ball gown," I said.

"Then you must wear a ball gown," she said, instantly and very firmly. I really like Carole.

"Full Disney Princess," I said to the saleswoman at Nordstrom's. It was mid-March and I was in Nashville with my daughter. The Nashville Nordstrom's had a small and very select array of ballgowns. Each style came in precisely one colorway and size, to ensure, I suppose, that the elegant women of Nashville never accidentally wear matching gowns to the same soiree. This made things difficult: if a gown wasn't my size, or my color, it was out--and there were only about a dozen gowns to choose from all together.

The first thing we realized was that Full Disney Princess was out. It turns out that if you wrap a wide poufy skirt around what is already the widest and poufiest part of me, the overall effect is unflattering. It works for Belle, but not me.

Undaunted, I took a lovely blue sheath off the rack and tried it on. It didn't quite fit--wasn't quite my size--but the overall look was very nice, and the gown itself felt lovely. Wonderful heavy fabric. "Perhaps I can order a different size," I said to my daughter. We checked the gown's price tag.

Eight Thousand Dollars.

Uh-uh. No way. My husband later pointed out that, technically, I COULD afford to buy an eight thousand dollar dress. I mean, if it were necessary to save my life or something. Possibly if wearing that specific dress were the only way I was going to allowed into my audience with the Queen. But probably not even that, I mean, really. There are some things that are just not right, and me, who can't reliably eat a meal without spilling something, wearing an eight thousand dollar dress is one of them. I spilled red Jello down my wedding dress. (The flowergirl, my sister, was only two years old.) I've acquired eight good horses in my lifetime and only one of them cost more than eight thousand dollars. I once bought a car that cost eight thousand dollars, and I drove it for nearly a decade.

I eased my way very carefully out of the eight-thousand-dollar dress. I left Nordstrom's. My daughter and I headed off to our favorite bookstore, Parnassus, with light hearts, unconcerned--because I had an ace in my hand. The very next weekend, I was going back to New York City. I was pretty sure they sold nice dresses there.