Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062386977
Trade paperback, $15.99, 352 pages
Mary Pflum Peterson opens her emotionally moving memoir White Dresses as she is frantically searching through her mother's closet for the white dresses that marked the most memorable days of her life, such as her Communion dress, and her high school graduation dress.
But her mother's closet was not like most of our mother's closets. Mary's mother Anne Diener Pflum was a hoarder. For over twenty years, she didn't throw anything away. The home was filled with broken appliances, bags of trash, dead animals, piles of clothes, newspapers and years of unopened mail. Mary could barely make it up the stairs to get to the closet.
Like most hoarders, there was a mental illness behind Anne's hoarding behavior. Mary sets out to discover what in her mother's life caused her to become a hoarder, and she writes her mother's story with such a compassionately clear eye that White Dresses is one of the most compelling memoirs I have ever read.
Anne grew up in a strict Catholic family, with a father she wanted attention from and a mother who only wanted the attention of her husband. Anne's mother had five miscarriages after she had had five babies in six years, Anne being the oldest.
The first trauma in Anne's life came when her mother decided it was time to throw away young Anne's security blanket. Anne considered the blanket her friend and couldn't believe that her mother took it away from her.
Anne was a good student, and was excited to be able to go away to college. She thrived there, studying hard, making good friends and finding a boyfriend she adored. Then her boyfriend transferred to a different school and Anne fell into a terrible depression and returned home.
Her parents didn't know what to do with her, other than pray, and soon Anne decided to enter the convent like her younger sister did. Her family was shocked, but they let her go.
Life at the convent was very difficult, and not a good solution for a young woman suffering from depression. Anne became seriously ill, and if not for the intervention of a young priest who insisted that the nuns take Anne to a hospital, she would have died.
Eventually Anne left the convent and returned to college. There she met Dale and as she was getting on in age and wanted a family, she ignored signs that she shouldn't have, and she married Dale over the objection of the priest who saved her life.
Anne and Dale had two children, Mary and Anthony. Life as a family was difficult, even more so when Dale finally told Anne that he was gay and wanted a divorce. Left with two young children, Anne began her hoarding behavior that would only worsen over the years.
Mary talks to her aunts and uncles and learns things about her mother that she didn't know. One thing that White Dresses will encourage you to do is to talk to your parents to find out what their life was like before they became your mom and dad. It reminds us that they had interesting, and sometimes sad, lives that we may know little about.
Mary Pflum tells her mother's story and her own through the white dresses that mark the major milestones in their lives. Wearing white meant a new beginning, a cleansing for your life. Saving those dresses was important to Mary because even if she couldn't save her mother from her hoarding behavior, she could at least save the dresses they shared.
You can feel the sadness and frustration that Mary feels about her mother, but you can also feel her love and compassion as well. Mary loves her mother and even when she is disappointed in her behavior, that love is evident. I give White Dresses my highest recommendation and it would make a wonderful book to share with your mother and with your book club.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Mary Pflum Peterson's tour. The rest of the tour dates are here:
Mary’s Tour Stops
Tuesday, August 18th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, August 19th: 5 Minutes For Books
Thursday, August 20th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Friday, August 21st: Snowdrop Dreams of Books
Monday, August 24th: Novel Escapes
Tuesday, August 25th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, August 26th: BookNAround
Friday, August 28th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, September 2nd: Raven Haired Girl
Thursday, September 3rd: Thoughts on This ‘n That