The early morning sun was blazing in the bedroom window as the young woman awoke with a start. This was the day! She had waited many years for just this occasion, and it was doubly important this time. Just a dozen years ago the ivory colored dress, which hung so carefully pressed in the guest room closet, she herself had worn for a very special day with indescribable joy and pride.
Herb-like fragrance floated in the bedroom window, and she soon realized it must be coming from the golden marigolds planted and growing just beneath the window. How fitting it all seemed! The many shades of yellow, orange and gold seemed made for the plan she had in mind to make a bright arrangement for the center of the table, where they would be sitting for dinner. She arose quickly and dressed carefully in her own blue summer frock. There was so much to be done before noon, but she was eager to begin what had been looked forward to for so many weeks.
She moved softly so as not to disturb her sleeping parents, and tip-toed down the hall toward the guest room, quietly took the dress from its hanger, and held it in her hands. The silk was still soft and smooth, yet with a slight feel of crispness. The little star pattern was just as clear and sharp as the day the dress had been first worn on that hot afternoon so very long ago. How wonderful to know that the woman who rested quietly beside her husband would still fit into its many folds and tucks!
The passing years had been kind to them, though not without some crushing disappointments, some patience-trying setbacks, but all was balanced now by the day that had been so long awaited. The young woman glanced toward the bed, with its double wedding ring quilt covering the resting couple, and saw that the slanting rays of the early morning sun were golden against the sparse fringe of the man’s white hair. The rays then reached over toward the left hand of the woman and touched the gold circle on the wrinkled finger. How fitting it all seemed for this day of days! She knew that the inscription on the inside of the gold band read “Schoolmate, Sweetheart, Wife” and it, in itself, told the story of the couple’s long life together.
Almost as if on a pre-arranged ethereal signal, both the man and woman opened alert, wide eyes, and their gaze fell upon the younger woman. Their glances met, and magically, a knowing smile spread across each face. This was the day! They had made it! Together! This was the milestone that had been so long awaited, talked about, and so carefully planned.
“Good morning, Mother and Father. Happy Golden Anniversary!”
The Dress ~Part Two~ The Dream
She got up stiffly from the breakfast table, eager to start the task before her. It would take some time to press the dress which hung in the hall closet, much longer than it had taken her on the previous occasions when this same task she had performed with such loving care and anticipation. Her fingers were thin and gnarled and her shoulder would undoubtedly bother her she knew, but it would be worth every bit of effort to do this one last thing before she gave the dress away, never more to see it worn as it had been so many times before.
Could it be possible that the ivory, silken folds were nearly one hundred years old? It had seen that first glorious day when it had been worn by the other woman, now long gone, but fondly remembered; worn again for the same purpose more than three decades later, then twice more to celebrate half centuries of the closeness the two women had experienced with their chosen life-companions.
She got the ironing board from the pantry and connected the new iron with its fancy gadgets. She was careful to set the heat at a temperature which would not harm the delicate fabric. She thought, as she worked, how sorry she had felt when none of the daughters had shown any interest in wearing the gown on their own special days. Well, never mind, they had each asked to have a dress made which she herself had cut and sewed. That gesture had somehow helped to overcome her disappointment. Now, however, the time had come when she must give up what she had so carefully kept and preserved these many years, and pass on to younger hands the guardianship of a tradition that might, in years to come, hold for the wearer the mystical influence of love and devotion which seemed to be such an important part of so many lives.
The iron passed softly over the yellowed skirt, across the tucked blouse and down the tight sleeves. There! It was finished! The petticoat with its embroidered ruffle was folded carefully and placed on the kitchen chair beside the pointed kid shoes with the funny shaped heels and ribbon ties. She returned the dress to the hanger and gave it a last tender pat. Its shape blurred a bit before her eyes and she turned reluctantly away just in time to see the very young woman with the exuberance of a little kitten come bounding through the kitchen door. Her long golden hair bounced against her slender shoulders as she threw her arm around the older woman and gave her an affectionate hug.
“Thank you so much for giving me the wedding dress, Grandmother. I’ll always take care of it. Wish me luck today and perhaps I’ll be wearing it again fifty years from today.”
The Dress ~Part Three~ The Reality
Dreams do sometimes come true, at least in part. The real-life version can be more inspiring, more beautiful, more memorable than the plans that had lain dormant in the woman’s heart and mind for so many years.
The dress had made another appearance! Perhaps it was not quite in the same way than she had envisioned it, but it was unforgettable just the same in a more real and visual form.
Fiftieth anniversary parties were not too common. In the present day and age the woman and her husband had vowed to make the most of the occasion and to share the celebration with as many relatives, friends and acquaintances as could be gathered together on a busy summer Sunday.
A few disappointments were inevitable; the couple who recently had lost their oldest son could not make the long trip from a distant state because they had, just a few short weeks ago, had to make their sad journey to the same area. Another friend from years before was now a widow and lonesome in a far-distant town, but she sent part of herself woven into the bright and colorful handiwork. Still another couple who lived too far away to join the party telephoned with their message of love and remembrance. The thoughts of the long-time friends were with the recent widower, who in his own poor health, could not be numbered with the others who gathered in the spacious hall.
In front of the head table there hung the contribution of life-long friends. The handsome hand-crafted picture in gold and green and cream said “50 years” and represented so many hours of tedious work. Verbal appreciation seemed too terribly inadequate, but was voiced just the same.
Flowers were everywhere, in every conceivable shade of yellow and gold. Two tall white vases held those blooms which had just recently graced sanctuary of the small town church only hours before. Dear friends with loving thoughtfulness had brought other floral arrangements to the hall. On each of the nine dinner tables which were tastefully covered with gold colored tablecloths, a small white vase held some very special flowers. Who would have believed the impossible coincidence that had led the celebrating couple to stop in their mid-morning shopping trip and introduce themselves to an older man and woman who stood by a huge clump of the old fashioned flower “Golden Glow.”
“You don’t know me, and we don’t know you,” the woman had said with her heart in her mouth (for who welcomes strangers in their driveway in this day and age?) “but we have admired your flowers for several years. The same kind was used to decorate our home fifty years ago when we were married. We are able to celebrate our anniversary on Sunday and would like so much to be able to cut a few of yours to put on our dining tables.”
With a beautiful smile and gracious gesture, the older woman said that she, too, had had “golden glow” at her own wedding many years ago, and would be very willing and eager for the visitors to pick some. The coincidence didn’t stop there, however. Their family name was the same as the name of the one who had provided the flowers for the inquirer’s wedding! The dream had taken a most unexpected turn and the coincidence was almost more than could be believed.
Seventy-seven mouths were fed, seventy-seven hands shaken, hugs and kisses exchanged, the toast given and yet there was more to come. The duties of the master of ceremonies were superbly handled by the only son in the family. He introduced each of his three sisters and thanked them for their part in the festivities. One had provided the artistically decorated cake; one the little gold and white bird favors, and the other was still taking many still pictures which would go into the gift album.
The buzz of conversation quieted as the announcement was made that one of the younger granddaughters would soon be walking among the guests and she would be wearing “The Dress!" It was explained that several times before, the dress had been worn since its original appearance eighty-eight years before. Would it hold together? Would the stains of age and use spoil the effect? Would the lovely young girl wearing it feel silly and self-conscious, trip over the long skirt, or refuse to make an appearance at all? All these thoughts and fears went through the mind of the grandmother as she waited expectantly for the next move. Then it happened!
Gliding into the center of the hall she came as majestically as a queen to her court. Tall and slender, her brown hair in soft waves across her neck and shoulders, the young girl was the very picture of her great-grandmother, though not one among the assembled group could say, “I remember when she wore that dress.”
The neck of the two-piece deep ivory colored gown was held at the throat by a round old-fashioned hand-painted pin trimmed in gold, the proud possession of the original bride. The tight sleeves ended in a ribbon cuff and bow at the wrists. In her slim tapered fingers she held a small bouquet of the same golden flowers that were on the tables. This added touch, spontaneous in its originality by an interested helper, brought tears to many eyes. Under the skirt, though not seen by anyone, was the original petticoat with its many tucks and hand embroidery. The skirt itself hung smoothly and nearly touched the floor. It swayed gently as the model walked with slow measured steps with the practiced air of a trained mannequin. She smiled confidently to each admirer and then quietly left the hall.
The afternoon was over. The guests had gone. Once more “The Dress” has been carefully put away, to appear yet another time, we wonder? Will it be an inspiration to someone yet to come, to be worn at another celebration, another wedding? Who will be there to remember?
Pauline F. Nulton
*Notes by GMR, daughter of author, Pauline Nulton.
Young woman refers to Pauline Nulton who had worn the dress on August 12, 1934 at her wedding. This was in preparation of her parent's celebration at her home in 1946.
Dinner refers to the 50th anniversary gathering for her parents at her home on August 12, 1946 in Morristown NJ.
The Dress ~Part Two~ The Dream
Pauline’s fantasy thoughts and wishes written…
The Dress ~Part Three~ The Reality
Refers to the 50th anniversary gathering for her and her husband in the Masonic Hall in Flanders NJ.
…one of the younger granddaughters… refers to Laura Leigh Reed who wore and modeled the dress.
The dress was donated to a historical society in the Budd Lake, NJ area according to what she told me around the year 2005.
The Rudbeckia, a/k/a “Golden Glow” mentioned in the story was once a perennial common ‘outhouse flower’ to screen the privy for late summer and fall bloom. It was also called the ‘shithouse daisy.’
Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’
Lovingly known as the Outhouse Plant, this old heirloom selection of Coneflower is still seen in gardens today. Plants form a tall clump of bright-green leaves, bursting into color in summer, when loads of fluffy double chrome-yellow daisies appear.
Another source about the flower. Click on link below...
This was a really nice read! I very much enjoyed it!ReplyDelete
Again so lovely.......ReplyDelete
How wonderfully this story was told. I enjoyed it so much. The dress was undoubtedly meticulously sewn with tucks and folds and hand embroidery, which I find exciting. It's amazing how a dress of cloth and thread can long outlive the one who created it. Your daughter modeled her grandmother's dress beautifully. She, like her mother, was a beautiful young lady.ReplyDelete
Exceptional!! Worthy of an award.ReplyDelete