It skulked in a high cupboard for decades, in a cream and black-striped box that used to hold a nice women’s coat, from back in the day when women’s coats used to come in nice big boxes. Mom had first brought it out to show me when I was six or seven, then reverently packed it away again. I forgot about it – marriage was in the far mists of my future.
I saw it again after I got engaged, and Mom and I talked about my wedding dress. I tried hers on, to make her feel useful (I was such a brat). It was pretty, but at the time a bit too old fashioned for me – stiff satin with a square neck and 3/4 length sleeves. In my defense, I was a very young bride-to-be – only 19, and with no concept of fashion outside of my pointe shoes and tights. In retrospect, I’d have looked killer in that dress after a fitting or two.
Time marched on. I had my wedding (during that awkward year, 1980 – slap between the hippy beach weddings of the 70’s and just prior to the huge, lavish, DYNASTY-type affairs of the mid-80’s) and a lovely brief honeymoon, but I didn’t wear Mom’s dress. Instead, it languished in its cupboard. The delicate headdress for the veil slowly turned yellow with age, and the heavy linen underskirt grew just a tiny bit brittle. They were in their own box, one that used to hold a blanket. The dress, like the boxes, was from the early 1950’s.
Decades passed. I had two children and many different careers, and only thought of Mom’s wedding dress when I saw my parents’ wedding picture. Then Mom died in 2007. After some time, we boxed up her clothes, divided up her jewelry, tossed out her makeup. But the wedding dress still waited in the high cupboard in the hallway, forgotten and much too high up for an old man and woman to worry about what was actually in that cupboard.
I didn’t think about my Mom’s dress again until one day this spring, when I visited my Dad. His roommate and caregiver had been doing an unusually thorough spring cleaning, and had found the boxes in their place in the hallway cupboard. Dad proudly gave them to me. I was at a loss. I had two young men at home, and not a daughter (or prospective daughter-in-law) in sight. But it was important for him to give them to me.
So I took the boxes home, thinking perhaps a successful costumer I know would like the dress. But somehow, the boxes stayed with me. First in the back of my car for weeks. Then they moved into the house, and in the heat of summer took up residence in front of my cold fireplace. Magazines and guitar picks and sheet music eventually got piled up on the boxes, and they were obscured – we became unsure about what was sitting there on the hearth.
Time passed and autumn approached. This past week, a fire was asked for, which meant the dress was unearthed from its resting place on the hearth – this time, to be moved to the end of the couch. As the hubby prepped the fireplace, I took the dress out, admired the length of the train, the stiffness of the satin, the cut of the neckline. I didn’t bother to hold it against me, as the waist was impossibly tiny for my now-middle-aged figure; and I knew finally a deep reluctance to part with it.
“Perhaps my niece Sara would appreciate it. She has two girls,” I offered. My husband gave a noncommittal grunt. Perhaps Sara would want it. It would at least stay in the family that way.
But I didn’t contact her. I know the dress deserves better. I know there are places that will clean and then preserve the dress in a vacuum-sealed bag (which is how my wedding dress is packed – it hides under my bed). I know some costumer would probably drool over this dress.
As the last bit of my mother’s youth, though, and as I look at my own long-gone youth in the rear-view mirror, my mother’s wedding dress has become a symbol of all her love, hopes, dreams, wishes and desires.
I am never sentimental about my mother; but I find I just can’t part with it. So for now, and my guess is until it becomes imperative at Christmas, the boxes containing my mother’s wedding dress, underskirt and veil will remain on the edge of my couch, making her once again a part of my life.
Love you, Mom. Always.