Dressing up the past


by Rebecca Stonehill

An unimposing chipped, white wicker box; it dressed my dreams and laced the long, torpid afternoons with colour and magic.

We were amazed by the ever-changing contents of our box. It wasn’t unusual to hear that familiar groan as we opened the lid and find a new sequinned cap or pair of cowboy boots, and it never occurred to us as children that this was our mother’s doing; we assumed it was the natural regeneration of dressing up boxes the world over.

I remember my sister and I whirling around my mother’s bedroom to the dance of the sugar plum fairy, dressed in shimmery leotards and tiaras; I remember meticulously prepared plays, bellowing from behind the long red curtains ‘Stonehill family productions proudly presents…’ whilst dressed in our box’s finery; the resentment I felt at the end when my brother took the credit for being the play’s director.

I remember the realistic toy gun that came with the cowboy outfit which I planted in my sister’s holiday bag in a fit of pre-adolescent rage. After passing through security, my sister wept whilst I feigned ignorance until, broken by the security guard’s steely gaze, he took me aside and made to solemnly swear never, ever to pull a similar prank again. Why did you do it? he asked. I don’t know, I kept repeating. It was the truth. I still don’t know.

I remember choosing a particularly feminine dress one hot summer’s afternoon and dressing my unresisting brother in it. After smoothing his thick brown hair into a side parting with a clip and painting his lips crimson, we gasped at his reflection. He looked beautiful, and as he stretched one shapely leg out in front of the other, he pouted his pretty lips in the mirror.

I remember the clothes from my parents’ past – the bell bottoms; the gypsy skirts; the scent of my absent daddy’s huge shirts, lying as rumpled as our relationship; the far away smelling clothes picked up from their adventures from Bangkok to Tel Aviv, places that sounded impossibly exotic to me.

The box now sits in storage, filled with sheets and towels and other such objects that dull its previous colourful occupiers gleaming recollection. But if boxes had memories, this one would remember the texture of crinolines and cottons, of fleeces and flannels, and the excited clamour of small hands.


Rebecca Stonehill
is from Cambridge but currently lives in Bangalore, India. She blogs about life there through her 2 year old daughter’s eyes.

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  1. #1 by Fran on March 29, 2009 - 9:41 pm

    Have just found the Pygmy Giant via someone else’s blog site. I really like this piece. It’s described so well and with such specific detail, and it brings it all to life. I love the idea that, as children, we think dressing up boxes just get naturally regenerated. And I like the way the contents of the box hint at bigger issues in the family relationships. Nice piece of writing.

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