You want to hear a sweet little story?
It's sort of like O Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," but in reverse. You probably remember that famous short story from your high school English class (at least if you grew up when I did). You know, the classic tale about the young newlywed couple named Della and Jim, who didn't have much money but desperately wanted to give each other something very special for Christmas. So Della secretly cut off her glorious waist-length tresses, and with the money she got for selling her hair she bought a chain for Jim's beloved watch. And Jim, not knowing what his selfless wife was up to, sold his watch to buy her a pair of tortoise shell hair combs that she had been coveting, to adorn her beautiful hair.
Oh, the irony!
My story is different. Because the story I'm going to tell you is about a time when my husband and I secretly spent money we had no business spending; but we did not spend it on each other, like those sweet kids Della and Jim...we spent it on ourselves. (As my husband said when I told him I was writing this post, "It was more like the gift TO the Magi. And we were the Magi.")
Shortly after the birth of our fourth son in as many years, my husband switched careers--from active duty Naval Aviator to civilian commercial airline pilot. During that first probationary year in the airlines, he made half what he'd been making in the Navy, and I was a full-time stay-at-home mom. To say that we were living paycheck-to-paycheck and just barely getting by financially is putting it lightly. Even though we'd never exactly been rich in the eight years we'd been married, we'd never had any real financial worries up to that point. But boy, did we have to tighten our belts!
I was alone a lot during that first year in Chicago (1988), and I'd lost the comfortable circle of fellow Navy wives I'd always had to rely on. My husband was either working for the airline or flying down to our old home in FL to serve in the Navy Reserves; and I was holding down the fort, taking care of four needy and active pre-school boys.
You know how it is, girls: sometimes, when you're feeling a tad low, you just need a bit of retail therapy. So one day I happened upon a dress at TJ Maxx that I thought was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. It had Princess Diana's uber-feminine, lace-collared, shoulder-padded, 80's style written all over it. And it was only $25! A steal! Certainly, I deserved at least one pretty thing, especially when it was so reasonably priced, to pick me up during that difficult year of privations...right?
So I talked myself into the dress. But when I got it home, I tucked it way in the back of the closet, afraid to show my husband what I'd done. I left the tags on it and kept telling myself that I'd return it for a refund, and he never had to be the wiser. But when I finally got around to returning the dress, I found out, to my dismay, that too much time had elapsed; I had to either keep the dress, or I could take a store credit.
I kept the dress. But I kept it hidden, and my feelings of guilt, remorse, and regret just continued to mount. I felt like the most selfish, spoiled woman in the universe. Here we were, barely making ends meet, and I had bought this dress that I didn't really need. Shame on me.
Well, some time went by. And then one night, my husband told me he had a confession to make. On one of his recent trips, he'd gone out with some crew members to a comedy club. The cost of admission (which included food and drink, along with the show) was only $11; but he was beside himself afterward, feeling so guilty that he was eating out, when he knew I was probably back home having peanut butter and jelly or mac and cheese with the kids. He was just sick over it, and he hadn't told me about it for the same reason I hadn't told him about my TJ Maxx purchase.
"I have a confession, too!" I admitted, getting all teary-eyed. And I told him about the forbidden dress hiding in the back of the closet.
He was actually happy that I'd bought myself a treat, because he knew this was a tough year for me; and I was glad he'd given himself a relaxing time out, because I knew how hard he was working--at two jobs--to take care of his family. So all was well that ended well. We hugged and laughed, and we both felt better after we got our secrets off our chests.
I still have that 27-year-old dress, you know. It's been up in the attic for a number of years now, because I didn't think I liked the style of it anymore...but even though I wasn't wearing it, I just couldn't ever bring myself to give it to Goodwill. It represents a piece of my husband and my shared history, a time in our marriage that was difficult, to be sure, but actually made our union even stronger than it had been before. I love that dress. I love the fabric and the color and the length, and the way it flares out at the hem. I still think it's very pretty, even though the blousy-topped look is probably a huge fashion don't these days. It's as comfy as all get-out, so I just might start wearing it again. (Yay for elasticized waistbands!)