I was just thirteen years old, a girl in Communist Yugoslavia growing up under Tito. We all lived in constant fear. At this time, everything was in short supply and I was pleading with my mother for a dress, any dress. I had no new clothes, ever, in my young memory.
My mother scraped together enough money and through contacts managed to buy some clothing coupons, which allowed her to purchase four meters of fabric - just enough for a dress. She left early one morning and waited in line all day, at last arriving home with precious, navy blue fabric, of light wool to make my first new dress.
My darling aunt offered to sew it and, after a lot of consultation around the family, it was decided to make it with deep front and back pleats, able to be 'let out' as I grew. The dress was pretty with three-quarter raglan sleeves and suitable for all occasions. I loved it.
As I grew, the dress grew with me. The waist and hem were lengthened, and small, extra patches were added. Over the next six years, the dress was patched and let out more and more. Each year, in order to update my dress, I would save up enough money to buy just one meter of white fabric with blue dots or flowers to make new collars and cuffs. The dress was my pride and joy from my early teenage years until the time I met my husband.
I got married to my husband, a New Zealander, and on leaving Yugoslavia, took my precious, only dress with me. One day, after I had been in New Zealand for about six months, I brought the dress out of the small wardrobe and got enough courage to turn it inside out and show the patches to my husband. He was speechless and, with tears in his eyes, said, "You must keep that one forever." I began to cry and replied, "What would make me very happy would be to have a burning of the dress and a celebration of thanksgiving and prayers, for now I have several dresses."
On Thanksgiving, we made a special day of it and in our small backyard lit a fire under an oil drum incinerator and ceremoniously burnt the precious dress. That was 55 years ago, and the celebration and thanksgiving is still in my heart and the treasured memory continues to live on with me. Invaluable moments like these have been the spark to ignite my imagination into a great symbol of "Love & Peace" - a monumental flower which will be shown around the world, bringing love and joy to all needy hearts.