My paternal grandparents were married in the midwest in the early 1940s, as young college graduates. Grandma's dress was long and made of ivory silk, and her smile glows and her eyes shine from happiness in the photos I've seen of that day. I think most days with my Grandpa, they probably shone just the same.
She was on the shorter side of our family tree, and birdlike in so many ways (I remember her laugh like birdsong, her light hands and their feathery movements). She was small enough that the seamstress overestimated the length of her gown, and several inches had to be trimmed from the hem. Several inches that she, a saver like me (only with more attic space), stashed away through fifty-six years of life after their wedding day, and which Grandpa, unawares, stashed away for an additional fourteen long years after her death.
And so the trimmings of Grandma's silk wedding gown lay undiscovered until, cleaning out some hidey space after Grandpa followed her into the unknown, my dad and his siblings found them again. The pieces must have been labeled, or they might not have recognized what they were. Or possibly Grandma stored the pieces with her dress, and my dad and aunts and uncles knew them on sight. Somehow it came from my dad to me, to split in some way between my sisters and I.
They came as two oddly shaped pieces, maybe five inches at the widest point and tapering, at the ends, to nothing. I imagine the nervous hands of the person making the alterations, wanting to get it just right in one try. This was someone's wedding dress, after all. No room for error.
Though long, the odd shape of the two pieces made it hard to decide how to use them. I sat on the project for another year, cut a piece to try to make a silk flower, and abandoned the project as too ugly to live.
Thrown off by my craft fail, I stashed the silk away for another six months before inspiration struck in the form of clothespin dolls.
Grandma was crafty like me, too. Really, a number of us (aunts, sisters, cousins) share the affliction. For Grandma, it was mostly knit and crochet. An afghan for each grandchild was our birthright, and I remember very clearly a baby blue sweater she once made for me when I was a kindergartner. It was knit in a checkerboard weave pattern. I loved it. I have exactly one photograph of it. This one. (We were camping with some cousins, one of whom is, in this photo, regretting her offer to share her chair with her stocky five-year-old cousin with the bloody knee.)
I have more photos of my Grandma and Grandpa than I have of this sweater, but not many. After marrying, my grandparents moved to Southern California where my Grandpa made a name for himself as an aerospace electrical engineer. Grandma raised five kids and managed a house using her degree in home economics, and she did a good job on every one. One of them (my dad) married and moved north to pursue a career as a a civil engineer. After that, they saw him (and later, us) only once a year or so. I don't have as many photos or memories of them as my SoCal cousins do, and I didn't get as much time with them while I was growing up, but oh, there was so much love. We felt it from a distance of hundreds of miles.
I made the dolls first, carrying their bouquets of buttons from Grandma's button box. It came time to cut the silk for their dresses, and my hands weren't sure I meant them to do it. Seventy years that silk sat untouched. Seventy years since it had been cut from the hem of her wedding dress. Back then, the act of cutting this fabric had kept my grandma from tripping on her hem. Now? I was cutting into her dress again. Her wedding dress. There was no room for error.
I kept my cuts as few as possible, sewing six little wedding dresses (two-layer tubes, really, cinched at the waist) from the remnants. I had painted the dolls' hair and eyes to match Grandma's on her wedding day: dark hair, blue eyes; and now, I dressed them one by one.
One of my step-sisters got married a month ago, and my younger sister will be getting hitched in a couple of weeks. It's all a cycle, you know. This has happened before, and it will happen again. Seventy years from now, some grandchild will be chopping up some memento of one or the other of them to make into something new. Just in time.
Thanks for reading.
(p.s. you can make these photos larger by clicking on them.)
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