53: The Legacy of a Little Dress

53: The Legacy of a Little Dress

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

The Legacy of a Little Dress

What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.

~Helen Keller

I remember the day so clearly: standing in a fabric store in Florida with my future mother-in-law, Mozelle. We were shopping for fabric for the flower girl dress for my wedding. Mozelle was an accomplished seamstress and would be making the dress for her granddaughter, my future niece, Annette. My wedding would take place on September 3, 1977, during Labor Day weekend. The wedding colors were to be burnt orange and chocolate brown. The bridesmaids were going to be wearing long chiffon burnt orange dresses, and the groomsmen would be wearing tuxes of dark chocolate brown. Our three-year-old nephew, Will, would be the ring bearer and would wear a miniature beige tuxedo to match my future husband, Clay’s. So, the only decision left to be made was the color and style of the flower girl dress.

“I was thinking of a simple, sleeveless, empire-waist dress with maybe some ribbon the color of the bridesmaid dresses at the waist,” I said.

She replied: “I have just the perfect pattern! I have made several dresses for Annette from it, and they come out beautifully. We can make it in any fabric and use any ribbon for trim.”

That day, we decided on a soft beige fabric and lining for the dress. It would be a simple, sleeveless dress with an empire waist and a burnt orange ribbon at the waist encased in beige lace. This was a special time for us as a future mother- and daughter-in-law working on the dress. When the dress was finished, she sewed a label in the dress, “Handmade by Grandma.” We didn’t know it at the time, but this would be one of her last sewing projects. Shortly after completing the dress, she began to develop the signs of Alzheimer’s, and a few short years later, our family was robbed of the gifts of this lovely and talented woman.

The day of my wedding, my little niece was a perfect flower girl in her pretty dress with her blond hair cut in a pixie. She took her job as a flower girl very seriously and was especially attentive throughout the wedding ceremony. I remember her diligently picking up and straightening the train of my gown. Her mother, my sister-in-law, Anne, had coached her well in the proper duties of a flower girl.

Now, thirty-three years later, my daughter Natalie was planning her wedding. Her wedding would take place on October 30th. As fate would have it, she chose the same colors for her wedding as mine: burnt orange and brown. Only now, the modern term for this shade of orange is paprika.

Her choice for a flower girl was my great-niece, Bailey, the daughter of Annette, my flower girl. On the day we were driving home from shopping for her wedding dress, we began to discuss the type of flower girl dress she wanted for Bailey.

“I want it to be something simple, like what Annette wore in your wedding.” Then she added, “Mom, do we still have the dress? I wonder if Bailey could wear it.”

I tried to recall when I had last seen the dress. We had moved to Alabama twelve years earlier and I hoped that we still had it. It seemed like I remembered seeing it in a container with other keepsakes from my children’s childhood. When I returned home, I began to search in earnest for the little dress. I located the plastic container and knelt down and opened it. At first glance, I didn’t see it, but about halfway down, I saw the “Handmade by Grandma” label. So far so good, but what would the rest of it look like? Would it be in any condition to wear in another wedding? As I held it up, shook it out, and carefully inspected it, I was amazed. It looked just like it did on the day of my wedding thirty-three years ago. There was not a blemish on it.

I sat down to think about the remarkable condition of the little dress and how it came to be in my possession. It was because of my sister-in law, Anne, Annette’s mother. She had saved the dress for me. I thought of Anne. She had lost her battle with a devastating illness several years before, and was no longer with us. I missed her. I remembered how we used to tease her about being a pack rat, but I am so glad that she was. She had a knack for seeing the intrinsic value of things. Most flower girl dresses are used as costumes and become torn and tattered. But this little dress was carefully preserved and passed on to me. Later, in a special family ceremony, Natalie gave Bailey a gift box containing the dress and asked: “Bailey, will you be the flower girl in my wedding like your mom was in my mom’s wedding?” And Bailey said, “Yes!” She excitedly opened the box, put on the dress, and danced around the room just like her mother had thirty-three years ago. It fit perfectly and only needed to be hemmed since Annette was five when she wore the dress and Bailey would be three.

The day of the wedding arrived, and as we gathered in the bridal room before the ceremony, I looked in wonder at my beautiful, radiant daughter surrounded by this wonderful group of women. Her bridesmaids were there. Some were from childhood, high school, and college, and also her new sister-in-law, Caroline. Annette, Anne’s daughter, my former flower girl, now a beautiful young mother herself, presented Natalie with a lovely monogrammed garter made from the hem of the flower girl dress after it was altered. And smiling, but choking back the tears, she said: “Natalie, I have a gift for you from my mom. She wanted you to have this sixpence to wear in your shoe on your wedding day.” At that time, all of us lovingly remembered Anne, Grandma Shearer, and my grandmother Hazel who were all definitely there with us in spirit in the room.

There were other special women there in the room, too, like my mother, Jane, who has always been a special part of Natalie’s life. My sister-in-law, Evelyn, a seamstress like her mother, continued the legacy and gave Natalie a beautiful handmade lace handkerchief to carry down the aisle. It brought back memories of how her mother had made the flower girl dress for my wedding, so many years ago. Some women in the room had held my daughter as a baby, some had grown up with her, and others were just coming into her life, like her new mother-in-law, Judy, who already loved her as a daughter. These women will always be a very special part of my daughter’s life.

All the women in our lives mold and shape us. And they always leave us a legacy. Like beautiful, multi-colored threads woven into the tapestry of our lives, they are forever part of us.

~Tanya Shearer

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