In 1988, as part of my work for a PhD I chose a seminar in Hawaii: Cross Cultural Community Cooperation. To feel rested before beginning the first session I arrived a few days early. Even in my summer clothes I was too hot. I looked around at Hawaiian women, many of whom were wearing long flowing loosely fitting dresses in bright patterns. They looked a whole lot cooler than I felt. I was wondering where I might find a place selling dresses like they wore when I noticed an advertisement for a shop that made muumuus to order. I didn’t know what a muumuu was but when I saw the image of the dress, it was exactly what I was looking for.
I found the store, nestled in the corner of a group of shops in a hotel. I walked in, taken aback by the numbers of women crowded into the space, some being measured, many looking at fabric, others trying on what I learned had been made for them.
I was ready to leave, discomforted by all the activity, when a woman came up to me and said, “If you’re looking for your muumuu, we have it. It’s ready to go.”
Shocked, I told the woman, “It can’t be mine. I’ve never been here before.”
“Well then,” she said, grinning, “the universe knew you were coming and told us to get it ready for you.” Too dumbfounded to say anything, I let her take me by the hand and lead me to a dress that was hanging where everyone could see it. “How do you like your muumuu?”
It was beautiful, a bit fancier than most, with two different fabrics for the sleeves and hem. “It’s lovely, but . . . “
The woman, who looked to be in her late 50’s, unfazed by my bewilderment, took the dress off the hanger, gave it to me, and said, “I’ll show you the dressing room. I can’t wait to see it on you.”
I’ve never been in an alternate universe but I felt like I’d walked into a weird world. When we got to the dressing room she smiled, “The dressing room hasn’t been empty all morning. Your dress is waiting for you.”
I took off my skirt and blouse and put on the dress. It was the right length, the right amount of fabric, and I felt degrees cooler in it. I didn’t want to take it off. I walked out of the dressing room and the woman beamed. “You look lovely. It’s perfect.” Women close by murmured how pretty it was, how good I looked.
I was too unsettled to hide my feelings so I told her how bizarre it felt to be wearing a dress that really did seem to be made for me yet I’d never been in the shop.
She told me strange was normal there. I asked what that meant. She offered me a cool drink and sat us down in a corner. It turned out that years ago, the woman who owned the shop, now in her 80’s, had been walking along a deserted path one day and heard a mewling sound, which she thought was a kitten. When she walked toward the sound, she found a padded box and inside was a baby, newly born. She took the baby home. Washed, clothed, and fed it, then notified the authorities she’d found a baby and intended to keep it. When they told her 70 was too old to adopt a newborn, she let them know she worked in a shop with women of all ages. She’d bring the baby to work and every one of the women would help mother the child. She was so persuasive they allowed her to keep the baby.
“What happened to the child?” I couldn’t imagine adopting a baby when I was 70.
“She’s growing up just fine. That little baby is now almost 11 and everyone who works here helps to mother her. Too bad you didn’t come in sooner. You’d have met her.”
“What about the woman who adopted her?”
“She’s fine. Going strong.”
I was fascinated by the story and was about to get up when the woman said, “We made your dress yesterday. The owner picked out the fabric, designed the dress, told us how much material to use and how long to make it. She told us you’d be here to pick it up tomorrow.” The hair on my neck rose. I had goose bumps.
“How is this possible?” I asked.
The woman shook her head. “I don’t know. We tell her she dances to a tune none of us can hear.
She laughs and tells us to stop talking and start dancing.”
More than a little incredulous, wearing my dress, I danced out of the shop.
When was the last time you danced?
Stories inspired by world tales to challenge and comfort.