Rosemary Laughlin/Voices | Dress fit to walk down the aisle again

Rosemary Laughlin/Voices | Dress fit to walk down the aisle again

By ROSEMARY LAUGHLIN

It lay in a white box for 52 years.

It saw the light just once. When our first son was born, my sister detached its short lace sleeves to work into a baptismal gown and bonnet. These journeyed on to two more sons, then passed on to the babies of friends.

We had no daughters who might want to wear the dress.

After my husband died, I continued to live in our house until I made the decision to move to a retirement residence. I loved the house, but I did not want the imperative of leaving one day because of physical debilities or memory loss. I did not want to transfer the burden of management and closing down to my sons.

Having made my decision, I began shedding the accumulations of living in the same house and raising three children. I'm not strongly sentimental, and I'd rather have fewer rather than more possessions.

A favorite recollection from Thoreau's "Walden" is his depiction of economy in his cabin: "I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out of the window in disgust."

Every so often, I told myself to check on the wedding dress packed in a department store box. I was afraid I would find it had become yellowed with age. I invariably thought of a friend who had her dress professionally treated and sealed. I had done nothing of the sort. Now I was a coward who could not bear to discover that something both beautiful and significant had turned shabby.

I considered taking the box with me unopened. I rejected that option. I asked my daughter-in-law to open the box with me. She was sympathetic and willing.

I showed her my bridal picture and explained that the dress material was peau de soie, a variation of silk with body created by a slightly nubby texture called slubbing.

We took the box from the high closet shelf and opened it to the sight of blue tissue paper. I caught my breath and separated the layers. The dress lay ivory white. Not a trace of yellow.

"Oh, it's beautiful!" said Maribel. We lifted it out and compared it to the photo. It had a scoop neck above a high-waisted A-line skirt, a variation of Princess style. A sleeveless Cardinal coat with a short train made it a bridal ensemble.

We admired it, then carefully refolded it and returned it to its blue tissue protection. We discussed what to do next. Maribel suggested a vintage resale shop. I agreed. A bride who did not want extravagant expense and who appreciated a distinctive touch of the past might search at such.

We went online. Dandelion Vintage Clothing stood out. A favorable omen was that it is in the old Illinois Central Railroad Station. As a girl, I'd noted the station's impressive Romanesque architecture from the train window as we paused in Champaign en route from Chicago to visit relatives further south.

On a sunny morning, I walked in with my box. I was greeted by the proprietress, a petite blonde woman wearing full-moon dangling earrings. Above her on one wall under the high ceiling of the old waiting room were gracefully attached wedding dresses and formal gowns in styles from the 1920s on. Oh! This was the perfect place.

Ms. Hudson told me she would accept and display my dress. She said brides always want to know if the dress started a happy marriage, hence promised a boost of luck. Of that I could definitely assure her. Memories and tears flooded.

A coward once again, I have been yet unable to return to see my dress displayed or learn of its sale. Until I do, my imagination will serve me. After all, don't I have another 50 years?

Rosemary Laughlin is a writer and retired English teacher from University High School.

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