My Mother's Wedding Gown
I didnt realize that a satin wedding gown could impact me all these many years later, but it did
It seems as though growing older refreshes our memories of long ago while most days I can't even remember what I had for dinner the night before.
Lately I am remembering myself as a little girl and Im re-visiting some of the things I did and the ways I was and the things that impacted me.
As children, we are so heavily influenced by our parents and in so many ways. Obviously if there wasn't enough love or if there was abuse, that affected us. Or if you were one of the lucky ones and had great parents, that also affected you.
But what I am talking about are the little day to day things that we grow up observing that might not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but when you look back and then consider who you are now, you begin to see that who you are now, is a culmination of all of those little things which seemed to happen almost without thinking about them.
I was, for lack of a better word, a precocious little girl. I was an only child and only children learn to rely heavily on their imaginations. And I had a very vivid one!
My parents were big into Broadway. They loved the musicals and so I was always surrounded by the songs and music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin, Cole Porter, Lerner and Loewe. I grew up listening to all sorts of music, but the Broadway musicals were my favorite because I could easily transport myself and become Anna from the King and I or Maria from Sound of Music or Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady.
I was mesmerized by the stories from the plays and even at a young age, the music and songs, had the power to take me away from my own world and transport me to a different time and place. I could often be found, standing in front of a mirror, hairbrush in hand, belting out a Broadway show tune and for all the world being sure that I sounded exactly like Julie Andrews or Deborah Kerr and I was sure I sounded far better than Ann Margret saying goodbye to Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie.
At that young age, I had already developed a passion for singing and it would stay with me for the rest of my life. I loved to sing! I still do and while I never realized the dream of singing professionally, I am OK with knowing that not every dream has to be fulfilled and that sometimes just having a dream is good enough.
It wasn't just Broadway that grabbed my attention either. I was very impressionable and when I saw Peter, Paul and Mary on the Ed Sullivan Show, I knew I had to “be” Mary Travers. Back in those days, record clubs were all the rage. They lured you with promises of 10 albums for $.99 if you agreed to stay in the club and purchase 5 more albums over 2 years. So of course, I had a great library of PP&M music courtesy of Capitol Records!
And along with the albums had to come a guitar because no self-respecting folk singer could sing without also playing the guitar. So I would sit for hours and learn the chords to Blowin' In the Wind and Stewball and All My Trials.
Looking back, I remember at those times, feeling like I was no longer Sallie Anne Raymond from Cincinnati Ohio. I was always someone else and even when I had to do boring chores, I lived in a fantasy world of make believe. And as I did dishes or scrubbed the tub or ran the sweeper, I was Cinderella or whoever I was currently enthralled with.
I will never forget how I acted after seeing the movie Cinderella. I invited neighborhood kids to my backyard and I danced and sang for all of them. Considering these were mostly boys and the only girls were younger than I and probably had no idea what the hell I was doing, I wonder that any of them sat there as I “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo-ed” around my yard and waved a pretend magic wand at all of them, promising them whatever dream they had would come true.
I was either VERY good at singing A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes or the crowd of kids were putting on a good show. Either way, I remember not only doing all of that, but actually believing that everything I sang, would come true.
As I said...I was precocious.
My mother had a Lane cedar chest. For anyone of a certain age, you know that these were pretty prized possessions in the 40s and 50s for young married women. They were a modern day hope chest and used to store linens and blankets and anything else which might need protecting from moths and dirt and dust.
Buried underneath layers and layers of blankets and sheets and STUFF! Was my mother's wedding gown. I don't know how old I was when I discovered that it was there, but I knew that at some point, when timing was perfect, I would have to pull that gown out and inspect it from top to bottom. No matter that it weighed a ton or that getting everything back in, on top of it, exactly the way my mother had it arranged would prove to be an exercise in futility....seeing that wedding gown, holding it in my own hands, touching the satin...oh yes! Nothing would stop me.
I have no idea what my age was or how I happened to be alone in the house, but the day came when I could no longer control my urge. That wedding gown called my name and I found the key, unlocked the cedar chest, threw caution to the winds and dug thru til I reached the bottom and my hands felt the smooth, silky satin of my mother's wedding gown.
What a heady feeling! I gently pulled it up and out of the cedar chest. I was in absolute awe as I looked at it. I had seen photographs of my parents wedding, but to hold this gown in my own hands and to think about my mother wearing it and walking down the aisle in it and being full of hopes and dreams as she began her life with my Dad, was just about more than I could take. Even at my young age, holding that dress felt almost reverent.
It smelled like cedar and the satin was cool to my touch. I rubbed it against my cheek and for a moment I was overcome with what I now realize was pure emotion at the thought of being so close to something that I was not a part of and would never be a part of. A part of my parent's history that I could never know.
I put the gown back, tried to put everything back in place, closed the lid, locked the chest and never said a word about it to anyone. But the lure was strong and the next time I was alone, I dug the gown out and this time....I put it on! I also dug out a pair of my mother's high heels from her closet, put those on and I tromped around the house in my mothers satin wedding gown and high heels. There were no full length mirrors in our house and I tried to climb up on the telephone stand to see myself in the dresser mirror but the inevitability of falling and breaking my neck was obvious, so I had to be content with swishing and sashaying around the house and of course, singing.
It was again....a world of make believe, conjured from a lonely, little girl's make-believe mind and while I am sure I looked hilarious teetering on my mothers high heels and stumbling around on hardwood floors, I, nevertheless, know that as silly as those moments might have been, I felt a closeness to my Mom that I had never felt before. And I was able to use my imagination to think of her in a way I couldn't have ever known before seeing that wedding gown.
There were moments of unbelievable clarity where I recognized that I was in a moment that mattered. I recall my parents putting their favorite records on the “hi-fi” and dancing around the living room. They were both Sinatra fans and the one they identified as “their” song was “It Had To Be You”.
I would be sitting on the sofa as my 6ft Dad would open his arms and my 5 ft nothing Mother would melt into him and she would close her eyes and they would dance into another world. They were back in another place and time. A 1940s kind of place where Glenn Miller's Moonlight Serenade played and where young love was discovered.
I didn't exist for them in those moments. Those sweet, sweet moments when all that mattered to them was the voice of Sinatra and their memories.
I was keenly aware of the emotion and sentiment passing between them and I knew enough to sit there, quietly and just take it all in. And I knew to remember.
It wasn't too many years later, that those times would only be memories and after my Dad had died, whenever she tried to sing that song, my mother could barely make it thru the first few lines.
And so, all these years later, the little girl with that undeniable imagination, looks back and understands that we are all the sum parts of all of those things that happened to us as children. There is the good, the bad, the painful and the beautiful. There are the moments we didn't think were stellar because they weren't a holiday or a birthday or a vacation or even a new dress and yet, it is most likely that it is those moments, which fashioned much of what we are in our adult lives.
It all began with a little girl and her Mother's satin wedding gown.
The satin wedding gown is long gone as is the woman who wore it. But, in my mind, I can still feel its silkiness, smell the cedar and remember the time when a little girl connected to her Mom without a word passing between them.