Mary Pflum Peterson’s White Dresses: A Memoir of Love and Secrets, Mother and Daughters reads like a novel. White dresses are the thread the story is strung upon—christening gowns, graduation dresses, wedding dresses. To Mary Pflum’s mother, white meant “cleanliness, innocence, simplicity, sophistication, and above all, possibilities.” As Pflum write, “for her, white—a blank canvas—was the embodiment of hope and the promise of new beginnings and good things to come.” The memoir’s opening scene finds the author searching through a disaster-struck house for the white dresses from her childhood.
Pflum’s story is remarkable. Her mother, Anne Pflum, was an outstanding student who turned to religion to salve a broken heart. Following her short stint as a nun, Anne met and married Mary’s father, who never seemed able to meet the family’s needs, often absent, angry, or moody. After the marriage disintegrated, Anne Pflum began a downward spiral that wasn’t apparent to others. She became a hoarder, and her home became off-limits to everyone, including her children in order to hide her disorder.
Mary Pflum herself became a successful reporter, working for a time for CNN, and an awarded television producer. Despite her personal successes, she was pulled back home, only to find she was unwelcome in the home she grew up in, her mother preferring to meet at a local hotel.
Pflum bares all in this memoir, bravely exposing her family’s struggles so that others might find strength in their kinship or learn compassion. White Dresses was published in 2015 by Harper Collins.