Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

White Dresses: A Memoir of Love and Secrets,…

White Dresses: A Memoir of Love and Secrets, Mothers and Daughters

by Mary Pflum Peterson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
362313,489 (4.06)1



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 1 mention

Showing 2 of 2
So many things can trigger our memories. Clothing in particular seems to hold our memories in the very weave of its fabric. Pull out a school picture and remember how much you used to love that oversized, geometric-print sweater in the photo and be prepared for the memories of seventh grade to come flooding in. Look in your closet at the cream colored sweater with pearl beading that you wore to Homecoming your junior year of high school when the theme was black and white. Slip on (or just try to if pregnancies have made your feet grow) the small, embellished heels that matched the bodice of your wedding dress which you wore for your wedding. Each of these articles of clothing holds not just the memory of the day they were worn but also remembrances of so much of that time in your life, the things you did, the places you went, and the people you loved. In Mary Pflum Peterson's life, it is the white dresses of christening, confirmation, graduation, marriage, and other significant life events that pull the stories from her in White Dresses, a memoir of her mother and herself.

Opening with Mary's desperate need to find the white dresses that embodied her mother's love for her amidst the dirt and hoarded detritus of her childhood home, the dresses are talismans. Each chapter opens with a brief memory of the significant day one of the white dresses was worn but then expands outward to describe so much more. Despite all of the promise of the celebratory dresses, neither Anne Diener Pflum nor Mary Pflum Peterson had the happiest of childhoods. Little Anne was an interloper in her parents’ marriage, merely a tangible sign of her mother’s deep passion for her father. Toward her children, Anne’s mother was cold and un-maternal and Anne spent her entire life striving to earn her mother’s love. Her emotionally barren childhood, followed by several emotionally abusive years as a nun and a hollow, failed marriage to an unhappy and volatile closeted gay man formed her into the mother that Mary Pflum Peterson knew. Mary was a product of this unhappy marriage and she grew up not only with the toxicity of their mistakes, confusion, and anger but with their eventual divorce and her mother’s financial struggle in a home that started off merely cluttered and dirty but became completely buried under mountains of things and filthy without being able to do anything about it. Even as Anne remained trapped with her own demons, she pushed Mary to go to college and find the success that she has today even as Anne worried that by doing so Mary would leave her behind. Their relationship was a complex and complicated one marked by deep love and failure, pride and frustration.

Peterson tells her mother's story and her own here through these special white dresses. She uncovers secrets and things she couldn't have understood about her mother at the time. She always knew that something was wrong but not the extent of it. Her recounting of history is unvarnished and honest, a loving tribute to a warm and caring mother who was forever haunted by a lack she felt her entire life. The symbolism of the twelve white dresses, their potential and possibilities, their announcement of a new beginning are poignant indeed when contrasted with the disappointments that mar many of the occasions they mark or the aftermath of those occasions. But if Anne Diener Pflum's life was crippled by depression and her later hoarding, if it was so unhappy despite its potential and the potential of all those white dress new beginnings, she gave her daughter a rare gift in her own set of white dresses: that of freedom and, ultimately, of the happiness she herself never found. Peterson writes sensitively about her mother, the past, and growing up as her mother's daughter. She captures the strong bond and love between them even as she is unable to help her mother overcome her own demons. The narrative structure is different and an interesting concept well handled. It is a little slow to start and the pain and lovelessness of Anne's upbringing is hard to witness, as is her ashamed descent into hoarding. But the love that shines through the writing and the well-researched evenhanded balance with which Peterson tells this family tale will draw the reader into this exquisite, painful memoir. ( )
  whitreidtan | Aug 26, 2015 |
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. ( )
  bookchickdi | Aug 18, 2015 |
Showing 2 of 2
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062386972, Paperback)

In this riveting, poignant memoir of  three generations of women and the white dresses that adorned them—television producer Mary Pflum Peterson recounts a journey through loss and redemption, and her battle to rescue her mother, a former nun, from compulsive hoarding.

As a successful television journalist at Good Morning America, Mary Pflum is known as a polished and highly organized producer. It’s a persona at odds with her tortured childhood, where she watched her emotionally vulnerable mother fill their house with teetering piles of assorted “treasures.” But one thing has always united mother and daughter—their love of white dresses. From the dress worn by Mary’s mother when she became a nun and married Jesus, to the wedding gown she donned years later, to the special nightshirts she gifted Mary after the birth of her children, to graduation dresses and christening gowns, these white dresses embodied hope and new beginnings.

After her mother’s sudden death in 2010, Mary digs deep to understand the events that led to Anne’s unraveling. At twenty-one, Anne entered a convent, committed to a life of prayer and helping others. But lengthy periods of enforced fasting, isolation from her beloved students, and constant humiliation eventually drove her to flee the convent almost a decade later. Hoping to find new purpose as a wife and mother, Anne instead married an abusive, closeted gay man—their eventual divorce another sign of her failure.

Anne retreats into chaos. By the time Mary is ten, their house is cluttered with broken appliances and stacks of unopened mail. Anne promises but fails to clean up for Mary’s high school graduation party, where Mary is being honored as her school’s valedictorian, causing her perfectionist daughter’s fear and shame to grow in tandem with the heaps upon heaps of junk. In spite of everything, their bond endures. Through the white dresses, pivotal events in their lives are celebrated, even as Mary tries in vain to save Anne from herself. 

Unflinchingly honest, insightful, and compelling, White Dresses is a beautiful, powerful story—and a reminder of the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters. 

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 06 Jul 2015 16:59:44 -0400)

No library descriptions found.

LibraryThing Author

Mary Pflum Peterson is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

profile page | author page

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
24 wanted

Popular covers


Average: (4.06)
3 2
4 3
4.5 1
5 2


You are using the new servers! | About | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 116,934,434 books! | Top bar: Always visible