Open Mike Night Jirani Coffeehouse Manassas, VA

“Is it Vintage?”

“No, I made it.”

She was talking about the silk dress I made 46 years ago. The silk had come from Thailand, where my husband bought it on a Rest and Recreation (R&R) trip from his one-year tour in Vietnam. He had admired the long au dai (pronounced ow-zai) dresses Vietnamese women wore, so I picked a pattern that looked like them – a full-length column dress with a slit up to the waist, worn over black pants.

I’ve probably worn it three times – the last time on our 25th anniversary, in Hawaii.

This was our 49th anniversary, again, in Hawaii.

The first time we’d gone to Hawaii was my husband’s first R&R from Vietnam. He’d delayed deliberately until nine months into his one-year tour, so it wouldn’t be so hard to wait for the end to come home.

It was our real honeymoon, two-and-a-half years after we’d married. He’d left to report for the draft two days after we eloped, on January 24, 1968. When I got back from Hawaii that first time, my father, with a wink, asked if we’d gone swimming at all.

Defensively, I said, “We hit the beach for about half an hour.” That, and a one-hour trip to the mall in Honolulu, where we wandered a bit and I bought some cotton fabric with a beautiful, bright Hawaiian pattern, later made into a dress, was all the time I was willing to give up to seeing the island. We had a hotel room with a balcony overlooking the beach and Diamond Head and reveled in seeing each other for a short five days.

So, my memories of Hawaii are all romantic.

But, the question as to whether my au dai was vintage suggested to me that she thought it old – a hand-me-down, from a consignment shop.

What she really meant was the answer given by starlets when they pick out one of their own classic outfits for an event, instead of wearing a named designer.

Her meaning became clear when she seated us and turned to my husband – “She’s stunning.”

The year apart because of Vietnam, the years of a second child and grandchildren since, the cancer battle, for which we’d come to Hawaii to get all new bras from our son’s old baby-sitter, now the owner of a bra shop that specializes in post-mastectomy fittings, the Parkinson’s diagnosis – all faded, capped when the waiter brought my husband a lei.

“What’s this for?” he asked.

“For you to put on her.”

I wore the lei through the 10-hour flight home, soothed by the perfume of Hawaii.

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