The Dress

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I didn’t recognize it at first—it was white in the pictures, with blue flowers embroidered into the lace. This dress looked as if it had been hung in a pool hall for fifty years. But yes, it had to be the one I was looking for. Sure enough, the lace coverlets were pinned to it, as was the veil and a small box which, upon further inspection, revealed a dessicated flower of some sort—perhaps his boutonnière? Attics are no place to store wedding dresses, especially if the house is old. Although the house was only twenty years old when they bought it, forty-five years had passed since then. Still, I wondered why her dress hadn’t been covered when other insignificant things were–old dresses from the ’60s, shirts from the ’70s, all pretty much worn out. Perhaps if it had been covered, her gown wouldn’t be so dirty now, so faded, so close to being thrown into a dumpster.

I brought it home and tried to hide it from my husband at first. Not the sentimental type, his response was as predicted when the dress was finally discovered hanging in a corner of the guest room : “Why do you want to keep that?” Men, if you have to ask the question, you won’t understand the answer anyway, so just shake your head and chalk it up to the mysterious. That said, I’m not sure I totally understand either. All I know is I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Every time I look at it I think of her, and miss her, and feel as if I still have a piece of her in my life. Then again, I married a piece of both of them, and shouldn’t that be more than enough?

A stop at the dry cleaners on the way home about knocked my socks off. The guestimate for cleaning/restoring it was $175. Did I dare try to clean it myself? I did! Not a total success, but some Woolite and a trip through the delicate cycle of my front-load washer took a large majority of the grunge away, and what was left of the blue in the flowers peeked through the faded thread. Now it hangs in the hallway until I prepare a place for it next to her husband’s old Navy uniform (that I DID dry clean). Against my husband’s objections (my bad), I brought home an old gun cabinet, and I plan on placing them in there. My sister just finished carving the McCarty crest into the glass door, and it adds a nice touch (my husband likes it, too). Eventually the old Navy scrapbook and the letters from their love story will join the clothing as well. I’ve become the family historian, and I’m okay with that. Someday, though, they will probably have to go.

My wedding dress lies in a box under our bed, cleaned and preserved because that’s what brides are supposed to do, thus ensuring that the problem never goes away, it only gets passed on to the next generation. I don’t think my daughter-in-law is very sentimental, so one day all this stuff will probably have to disappear. For now, though, they are saved. Perhaps someday I’ll have a granddaughter who would like to see something other than pictures from those special days. Maybe she’d even like to try one of them on :)

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4 responses »

  1. This is terrific. I read it this a.m. but had Monday’s tasks all over the place; just sitting down now at twilight Colorado time.

    A vintage wedding dress is an ideal springboard for what we used to call “free association”– you brought it back to life both on the page and literally, in rehabilitating it. The gun case with the dress and uniform sound wonderful! I am struck in your posts by your love for your family and how connected you feel to your husband’s family too.

    Thanks for commenting on my piece. What has happened for me in the past few years is that I have gained perspective on what a brave, resourceful little girl I was. I do have in mind a memoir the theme of which is more than survival– resilience and courage in the face of a stacked deck. My own feelings toward my family are divided. For years I protected my mother’s wedding dress as a way of staying connected to her, and wore it at my own wedding…I may discuss the fate of that dress in my memoir; stay tuned.

    I think that the joy of writing has to do with starting out with one small thing in our lives, a moment or an object, and not knowing where it will take us. Blogging lends itself to that; here we are writing in a personal way, yet aware that someone will happen by and read us or that we have people we know will read us, however few. That creates a kind of pressure to convey something and bring it to life. Every woman can relate to the dreams and loss of a wedding dress rescued from an attic. Great job! xj

  2. Thanks, Jenne. It was fun to write again, and I know I need to make more of an effort to do so. “Free association” is it? Well, I’m not very free. My inward critic/editor is constantly stopping me to go back and revise before I’ve said all I want to. Guess part of that is the secretary in me always wanting to correct her mistakes as they’re made….

    In any event, yes, you were a very brave, resourceful little girl. I look forward to reading more stories from your life. Interesting how different people respond to a “stacked deck” as you put it. Some play the victim card and drag it behind them like a ball and chain their whole lives. You seem to have allowed it to spur you on to bigger and better things, to make something out of impossible circumstances (or at least what others may call impossible).

    Stay warm out there. And cover that air conditioner with something!!! :) ~p

  3. Here is something wonderful I found, that has been motivating me in part. It would be fun for each of us to try this and share our efforts….

    “Go to your desk on Monday morning and write about some event that’s still vivid in your memory. What you write doesn’t have to be long — three pages, five pages — but it should have a beginning and an end. Put that episode in a folder and get on with your life. On Tuesday morning, do the same thing. Tuesday’s episode doesn’t have to be related to Monday’s episode. Take whatever memory comes calling; your subconscious mind, having been put to work, will start delivering your past.
    Keep this up for two months, or three months, or six months. Don’t be impatient to start writing your “memoir,” the one you had in mind before you began. Then, one day, take all your entries out of their folder and spread them on the floor. (The floor is often a writer’s best friend.) Read them through and see what they tell you and what patterns emerge. They will tell you what your memoir is about and what it’s not about. They will tell you what’s primary and what’s secondary, what’s interesting and what’s not, what’s emotional, what’s important, what’s funny, what’s unusual, what’s worth pursing and expanding. You’ll begin to glimpse your story’s narrative shape and the road you want to take.
    Then all you have to do is put the pieces together William Zinsser, Writing Well, commenting on NPR.

    I’ve been reading and reading this because every time I think about writing an entire narrative, it has felt overwhelming. I think that’s true for many writers. I don’t know about spreading stuff out on the floor or a table, but certainly writing vignettes and putting them away for awhile, or posting them, and then going back after some time and distance is a good thing to do.

    The school of plein air painting– don’t ask me why it’s spelled that way– requires one to try to complete a painting a day. I have a few such paintings. It seems that would be very difficult where painting is concerned. I confess that I make beautiful heirloom dolls and to make one in one day wouldn’t work very well because the acrylic washes applied to the vinyl have to cure before adding another layer. Once done they are beautiful, but they are a lot of work!

    I just drafted a piece about a horse I had; I’ve written about this many times but the challenge of condensing it into a blog post is of interest to me, as I tend to be very wordy and over-tell a story.

    I’ll probably work on it in the morning and post it…. shine on and hope to touch base manana…xj

    • No writing today, Jenne. I’m just sitting down now and the day’s nearly gone! My husband’s due home from work any minute (he’s been putting in some majorly long days) and I’d like to join him at the table. But I like the idea Zinsser suggested, although I must confess to some difficulty remembering things. My family life growing up was dysfunction (not nearly to the extent yours was, but there was an absence of affection and both my parents had baggage of their own). Anyway I was unhappy and I spent a lot of time wishing I were someone else, or perhaps imagining I was someone else. I really don’t remember much. It takes one of my siblings starting to talk about something to conjure up a memory. And then there’s that part of me that doesn’t want to go back for some reason…

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