Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Wedding Dress

Monday was our wedding anniversary. This day always brings about several related conversations and many, many memories. We really haven’t been married very long, yet we have done so many things together, been so many places, and shared so many experiences, that when the question of how many years came up we both agreed it seemed like about 40.

Our wedding was special on many different levels. It was not the first marriage for either of us and what we wanted was a very private, immediate family only, little ceremony and later a big party where we could celebrate with our friends and relatives. That would have worked out fine except the preacher was all booked up for what seemed like months to come. So we decided to just go ahead with the party and told the minister to stop by at his convenience. All the friends and relatives thought they were coming to a party, not a wedding. Boy, were they surprised?

I was astounded at the prices folks were charging for party rooms, wedding cakes, flower arrangements, food, and anything remotely associated with a wedding. I refused to spend that much money. I found a club house at a nearby condominium complex for only $50. That was so cheap I rented it for 2 nights so I could get a head start on the decorating. Even the local grocery wanted a few hundred dollars for a cake. Cake mixes on their shelves were 89¢. How hard could it be? Let me just say I learned a lot making that cake. You don’t have to have 8 varieties of flowers in every shade of yellow to have a nice arrangement. I ordered about 10 dozen miniature iris and some baby’s breath and gathered up every crystal vase from all my relatives. The flowers may have been my favorite thing. I come from a family of cooks—we pride ourselves in our ability to throw a great party. Everybody got a job, including the groom. The minister got there about 30 minutes into the fun. We got folks to gather around and we had a wedding ceremony with Gene’s daughter as the best man and my brother as the maid of honor. Our friends are still talking about it.

One of the best memories, however, was the wedding dress. My mother’s dream was for her daughter to wear her wedding dress. Since I hadn’t done that for my first wedding, she was still holding onto that dream. I was touched by her suggestion, but I looked at her and I looked at me and I pointed out that that dress just would not fit. It was about 4 sizes too small and I am about 4 inches shorter than her. I took the dress out of the cedar chest anyway and we looked at it. It was still in pretty good shape except for a few stains which could probably be gotten out by the cleaner. You can imagine my surprise to find out that the cleaner wanted a few hundred dollars to get those stains out with no guarantee. I went back home with the dress. Mother and I mulled over the stain problem for a few weeks and finally decided we would wash it in the bathtub. I really couldn’t wear the dress anyway so if we ruined it, so what. We dropped that long flowing gown into a tub of lukewarm water and let it soak for a while. It came out spotless.

Washing the dress didn’t make it fit any better. That was the next problem to solve. I kept looking at the dress and I kept looking at me. I needed either to loose about 40 lbs or I needed more dress. More dress seemed easier. It occurred to me that this was a June wedding and I really didn’t need those long sleeves like my mother had for a winter wedding. I took the sleeves off and cut a wedge from each, opened up the side seams of the dress and inserted my wedges. Perfect! Well, maybe not perfect, but good enough.

I had spent a lot of time with that dress and I had noticed that it was a really fine dress. The satin was still almost like new; even the threads that held it together had not rotted over 50 years. So I asked my mother, “Where did you get that dress”? “At Bloomingdale’s in New York City” she replied. Thoughts whorled through my mind. Was I speaking to MY mother—the woman who was born and raised in rural Hickman Co, TN, who didn’t have indoor plumbing, who wore flour sack dresses, who picked and sold May apple for spending money? When I recovered enough to speak, I asked how she came about having a dress from Bloomingdale’s in New York. “I was up there to work because there were more jobs to be had in the north during the war.” Why didn’t I know this stuff? Then I wanted to know where she had lived? “In New Jersey”. So how did you get to Bloomingdale’s in New York? “Well, the people I lived with, the man was a taxi driver. Whenever I wanted to go to the city, he would take me.” And where did you work. “I worked for the Army in the Department of Civilian Services in the office that sent the letters to the families of soldiers killed in action.” I cried. How could I not know this about my mother. The dress had cost her $300 at Bloomingdale’s in New York in 1944. It was an honor to wear it on my wedding day.

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