Hanging in our guest room closet is a yellowed and torn lacy dress that has undoubtedly seen better – and happier – days. And it carries memories that I wish I could see and hear.
I found the dress in my mother’s attic many years ago. It had been hanging there since my mom and dad moved into their first and only home sometime back in 1940 or so. They were married on June 18, 1938. 76 years ago this June. And the dress hung there until I had to clean out her home several years ago.
I wish I knew more about their wedding day. But my mother was an extremely private person, and as much as she loved my father, I don’t know a lot about their early days together. I never had the nerve to ask, because my dad passed away when I was only eight years old. And even though I was an adult in my fifties’ with a teenage daughter when my mom left us, I had never asked her much about her wedding, because I knew the memories would make her cry. Because of all the special times she never got to share with the only man she ever loved.
And although I don’t totally know all of their story, I want to share some of what I know, and some of what I can only imagine.
My mom fell in love with my dad the first time she saw him in high school. I can imagine them laughing together after school, and him coming over to see her at my grandfather’s farm. I’m sure they spent a lot of time together on that big front porch, and rocking in that old porch swing I wish we still had! Times were different in the 1930’s, and I can imagine that my grandfather kept a close eye on the young man who was “courting” his daughter.
I’m sure when my dad left for college, my mom was unbelievably lonesome for him. She went to college at a school close to home, but he attended college in Williamsburg, which back then was a long way from their homes! Although I’m sure they wrote letters back and forth to each other a lot, since phone calls were so expensive, one of the regrets I have is that I never found any of their letters to each other, and my mother kept almost EVERYTHING. What a treasure that would have been!
It must have felt like an eternity for them until college graduation happened. And my mom and dad were finally able to start seeing each other regularly again, in between her teaching school and my dad working as a salesman for his uncle. Obviously, they both knew they were meant to be together. And like every young girl totally in love, she dreamed of her wedding day!
On Christmas Eve, 1937, my dad brought her Christmas present over. She was expecting (and hoping for) a ring. And I can only imagine the disappointment on her face and in her heart when my dad handed her this big box, beautifully wrapped I’m sure, that was her gift. My mom being the lady she was, opened it, and tried not to show her disappointment when she saw it was a hand-crocheted pillow with the initial “C” on it. (Since her name started with an “L” she should’ve known something else was coming, but…) Evidently her disappointment really showed when she told my dad how much she liked it, and he asked her what was wrong (smiling to himself, I’m sure). And then he pulled out the REAL gift! And that ring was…and still is…beautiful! Because I have it now (and the pillow)!
Knowing my dad, and the times they lived in, I’m sure he’d already talked to my grandfather and had his permission. And he’d probably been a lot more nervous asking him than our future son-in-law was when he talked to Ashley’s dad! So now they were officially engaged! And here’s the young bride to be!
From that evening until their wedding six months later, I’m sure all my mom did was count the days until she was a bride. Her two brothers and her older sister were already married, and I’m sure she’d dreamed of her wedding day since the day she first saw my dad.
Weddings in that era were usually quite simple and for the most part, included only family members, and maybe a few close friends. Being a farming community, money was tight, and wedding expenses were kept at a minimum. A few flowers, a wedding cake, and food made by family and friends, and that was basically it. Sometimes there was another couple standing up with the bride and groom, and sometimes there wasn’t. And even more unfortunate, there were very few wedding photographers to memorialize the day. I’m happy to have the one picture! (Just as I’m happy to have this picture of my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary couldn’t resist sharing it!)
Mom and Dad also had a small, simple wedding, but nonetheless perfect for them. I do know a few bits and pieces, but here is where my dreams step in, as I imagine her on her wedding day as a young woman of 25, the same age as my own daughter….
My mom was an excellent seamstress, and most likely she made her wedding gown, sewing every stitch carefully because it was the most important dress she’d ever make. (I so wish it had been better preserved.) She wanted to look absolutely perfect when she stepped down the stairs to meet her husband-to-be.
I’m sure she woke up that warm and sunny morning quite early, because she was so excited. Downstairs, her mom, and probably some other relatives, were already preparing food for after the ceremony. I’ve never found a picture of their wedding cake, but I can imagine that someone in the family, most likely her sister-in-law Ruth, who was an excellent cook and seamstress, made it herself as a gift for them.
As the bride-to-be, I can imagine my mom sitting in front of her vanity mirror, carefully arranging her hair and putting on just a touch of makeup. Her hands probably shook a bit, and even though I never remember my mother wearing nail polish, I can see her applying it for that day. After all, her engagement ring was about to receive its mate!
The wedding was set for early afternoon, at my grandparents’ house. Her older sister Mary was there, wearing a light blue dress, and would hold her bouquet for her during the ceremony. Although she would have been called the Matron of Honor today, back then she was just there standing with her sister, and most likely her husband was standing with my dad.
How I would love to have heard the conversation between the two sisters that morning! It’s hard to imagine my mom as the young woman she once was, and I’m sure she was just as nervous and scared and excited as brides are today. I can also imagine their younger sister, who would have only been 13 at the time, rushing into the room and wanting to be a part of the action as well. And most likely being shooed away because they had important things to discuss that she was too young to hear!
As she put on her wedding gown, and her sister helped her zip it up, I can picture her turning to the mirror and watching as her veil was attached, and wondering who that woman in the mirror was. She was becoming a different person…no longer a single lady, but now a WIFE! Wondering what changes that would bring…
Rachel and Clay were married in the living room of her childhood home. Everyone was standing, because there wasn’t a lot of room for extra chairs, and she had a large family, who were all in attendance. I can picture her walking down the stairs on my grandfather’s arm, dressed in his best Sunday suit, nervous but smiling, my mom with her veil over her face, and carrying a huge bouquet of roses, as was the style for brides at that time. All she could see was my dad’s face. And as she walked down the stairs, all he could see was her.
And they were married. No fanfare, no row of bridesmaids or groomsmen. No sit-down dinner with champagne toasts and dancing. No elaborate decorations. Just a simple ceremony, cake cutting and pure happiness. A dream come true for a young bride and groom. A brief honeymoon, and then on to start their life together.
And yes, until his premature passing a brief twenty years later, they did live very happily ever after.
Photo Sources: Personal files