On December 21 I received the most amazing news. I was attending the Christmas Day Ball! For those who don’t know, the Ball is a fundraising gala attended by Lewes, Delaware’s wealthiest townsfolk. Just so you know, that’s not me. My boss contracted the flu and requested I go as his representative, which was almost as good. As I danced around the house clapping in glee, my mind wandered to the practical: what was I going to wear? This kind of event required elegance. It required an actual evening gown.

I raced to my closet, ripped through clothing for anything that might do. I flung one useless garment after another over my shoulder. Pants, blouses, and the occasional dress piled until the closet was empty and a mountain of poor taste and dashed dreams lay behind me. I collapsed onto the heap and bemoaned my lack of enchanted animal help. Why, hadn’t that damn hummingbird paned out?

Let me backtrack to this past summer and explain. 

It was a perfect July morning: seventy-six degrees, low humidity, and a cornflower-blue sky. I sat on my back steps lazily sipping tea. I watched as maples swayed in the breeze and puffy clouds floated past. A hummingbird zipped by. It came back and hovered inches from my face. It zagged right, then left; a questioning tilt to its head as it studied me. I gripped the stair. Holy cow! This was my Princess Moment. Finally, after forty-nine years, wildlife had come to help me construct the perfect dress.

I don’t know about you, but a childhood dream of mine was to be a princess. I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. It wasn’t about riches or Prince Charming or even a fairy godmother. It was about having animal friends help me make a gown—you know, like the fauna in Disney’s animated Cinderella. How can you beat mice who sew, and birds who drape and embellish? Why not go for the fairy godmother, you ask? She could whip up a dress lickety-split, you say? True. But I was a creative, hands-on type of gal who preferred collaboration to handing over the reins. Also, I knew fairy godmothers were make believe. But helpful wildlife? They seemed entirely possible.     

Ever so slowly I raised an outstretched finger toward the hummingbird. I hoped it would land and confirm my induction into the ranks of princesshood. It looked at my finger, then my face . . . at my finger, then my face. It shat on my foot and darted away. 

Disappointment curled around me like smoke from a forgotten cigarette. Magical help had crapped on my dream.

My girlhood dilemma was that princess regalia was only available at Halloween, and even then, the offerings were dull nylon sheaths that completely lacked the grandeur my seven-year-old imagination required. Left to my own devices, I constructed beautiful (uh, frightening) fluffy-layered concoctions from fabric scraps and sheets held together with safety pins—hence the appeal of animals with needle skills. One October my mother took pity on me, or perhaps it was her desire to have clean sheets at the ready, and put pattern to cloth to create a dotted-Swiss organza frock. It was pretty. Much better than anything I’d put together. But, it was yellow and stiff and had those fuzzy dots. It was not the shimmering loveliness worn by my beloved Cinderella.

Back on the steps, I took up that imaginary cigarette and contemplated my place in the world of fairytale princesses and birds with fashion sense. Maybe I was going about this wrong. Maybe a fresh perspective was in order. Maybe, instead of looking for birds or mice to fulfill my dream, I should try a stroll along the beach. It might yield something like the knowledgeable seagull or singing crab Ariel had in Walt’s Little Mermaid. Perhaps not the exact help I desired, but who knows, they might have friends. I dashed inside to pack a beach bag, and clean my foot. 

While gathering necessities, I blathered to my orange cat, George, about my Moment and how I was going to the beach to search for princess sidekicks. A perfect gown was within my grasp if I could find the right cohort. He stared at me with bright, wide eyes. Perhaps he understood. Perhaps he feared for my mental state. “If that’s what you need,” he seemed to say. “Of course that’s what I need!” I replied to his skeptical look. 

He followed me to the bathroom and swiped at my ankle when I reached for sunscreen. He meowed and walked toward my craft room, turning his head to ensure I followed. He planted himself in front of my ugly, but useful, gray dresser. “What do you want?” I asked, frustrated with the delay. With half closed eyes, he lifted his head and gave a sweet meow. I blew out a sigh and scratched his chin. “I have to go.” Teeth, firm but not violent, latched onto my hand before I could leave. He released me and pawed the bottom dresser drawer. Confused by his actions, but wanting to be on my way, I opened the drawer. He climbed inside and began to purr. “Really?” I rolled my eyes. “Now’s the time you choose to find a new napping spot?” I shouldered my bag and left him sitting there. 

Needless to say, no garment-savvy critters were discovered at the beach. A pale gray crab skittered across my blanket, scaring me half to death, but it offered no couture advice. My Moment had passed. 

So now you understand my predicament.

George ambled over to the clothes heap and gave it a sniff. I tried to rub him, pleased to have his company, but he moved out of my reach. He sat on his haunches and stared at me with something akin to disgust.

“I’ll go shopping.” I told him. 

He turned up his nose and swished his tail. 

“I’ll find something.” I said this to him, but it was more to reassure myself. There had to be something out there. Right?

George stretched, then padded toward the gray dresser. He scratched the bottom drawer. I hauled myself over to opened it. Again, he climbed inside and purred. 

“Okay, buddy. Hold down the fort while I go find something for the Ball.” I heard him grumble and sigh. When I turned back, he was definitely giving me the stink eye.

Three hours foraging through department stores, discount chains, and swanky independent boutiques, yielded zip. They had been picked clean. The few pieces in my size were either puce or goldenrod, neither shade complimentary. Or, the styles were reminiscent of 1970’s bridesmaid’s attire—simply too hideous to consider. 

I drove home and slumped on the couch defeated. It seemed I would be attending the Ball in a blue knit dress from Walmart, the fanciest item I owned. “Oof.” All sixteen-pounds of George had jumped on my belly to glare at me like a vulture. “What!” I wasn’t in the mood for his attitude.

“Meeeoow,” he crooned, and leapt down. He sauntered toward the craft room, meowing again.

“George, I’m sure the drawer is still open.”

He raced back and vaulted on me a second time. “Meoooow!” He hollered.

“Fine! I’m coming.” 

I followed as he bounded through the hall and sprang into the drawer. This time he dug around until he latched onto something. He tried valiantly to pull out whatever he had, but couldn’t get it and himself over the drawer front. A few grunts and a “merr” later, I went to help. Clutched in his teeth was a plastic storage bag containing something white.

OMG. My prom dress, tucked away and forgotten for decades. My mother, my grandmother, and I worked together to bring this beauty to life a thousand years ago—well, maybe only thirty-nine. 

I released it from the bag, shook it out, and held it against my body. A white satin gown overlaid with white chiffon decorated with small clusters of tiny rhinestones and wispy, glittering floral designs around the hem. I wriggled out of my jeans and sweater, unzipped the dress, and stepped into it. The skirt fit fine. The off-the-shoulder ruffle seemed okay, but the bodice was a problem. I couldn’t close the zipper—the conundrum of a junior’s size seven dress versus a woman’s size ten body. My eyes riveted to the clock: 3:30 p.m. The tailor was still open. This could still work. 

Two days later and two inches of inserted satin, the gown fit perfectly. The ruffle had to go, but the tailor added little straps. A quick trip for shoes, and I had sparkly silver heels. Add crystal necklace and earrings, and I looked better than a princess. I was a queen.

George sidled up beside me, rubbed his head against the gown and my leg. 

“Thank you, sweet boy.” I stroked his soft fur until he offered his belly. “I’ve been so silly looking outside for magic when I’ve had it all along.”