Wedding Dresses Get New Life

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I am getting ready to travel back to Virginia where my younger daughter lives. I had asked her several weeks ago if she would like my wedding dress or the wedding dress of my mother. Susan is a photographer and likes to use old dresses in some of her pictures. She wants both wedding dresses.

I unpacked the preserved dresses from those expensive boxes the dry cleaners put together, promising this heirloom will last as 100 years of memories. The corrugated boxes were brittle but the gold boxes inside were the promised shiny and bright and fresh-looking. The dresses were in good condition, considering their age.

wedding dress all laid out

1978 Wedding Dress

My wedding was more than 38 years ago, and my mother’s was 69 years ago, come January 5. My dress, made of some synthetic material, was a bought dress off the rack but my mother’s was satin, hand-made by her mother and grandmother. Each sequin, bead, and lace was attached carefully with neat little stitches. My mother was uncommonly thin and the thin waistline of the dress is a bit startling.

Her dress is of an old-fashioned style with long sleeves that came to a fine point over the hand, popular in 1948. Mine is much more of a sleek, modern style with smooth lines and not much lace or beads with falling cape sleeves. Hers must have fit Mother like a glove while mine hung loosely from the shoulders. Like all brides, I am sure we both were beautiful on that special day and deliriously happy, marrying the most handsome man in the world, in our eyes.

Mother's Wedding Dress

1948 Wedding Dress

Mother married at her parents’ home in Austin on Monday afternoon, January 5, 1948, her 21st birthday. I married on Friday night, June 9, 1978, in the chapel of the church I had attended as a college student and where my parents were still members. Just two attendants stood up with my parents but I had six bridesmaids and six groomsmen, all in matching yellow dresses and light blue tuxedos! Linnie Maffett Burney became the bride of the Rev. Robert George Collmer. Shortly thereafter she legally changed her name to Linn B. Collmer—thereby getting rid of the hated double name so popular with parents in Texas in the 20s and 30s. I became Carol Collmer McLaren, the bride of Dr. Donald Wayne McLaren.

The guests scattered rice on the 1948’s couple as they drove away from the house for an overnight stay in New Braunfels, not far from Austin where they had married. On Tuesday, it was back to school and work for the happy couple—Mother to Rosebud-Lott Independent School District where she taught high school English and to Baylor University where my father was working on his bachelor’s degree in English and Bible, after a stint in the army during the war. Life got down to a pattern quickly with school and the part-time pastorate my father had in Clarkson.

At our wedding decades later, we threw birdseed (to be ecologically correct) and drove to Salado, Texas for the weekend. Our honeymoon was equally short as Don had to take his medical licensing exam that next Monday and start his family practice internship soon thereafter across the state in Amarillo. Our lives, too, fell into a pattern of sorts—for a little while—Don at the hospital and me at the local newspaper.

The beautifully decorated chapel with the flowers and candles where I had married that Friday night became a much more somber chapel thirteen months later on a sunny summer Friday afternoon, when we celebrated my mother’s life. No bright candles or joyful music filled the chapel that afternoon; instead, the muted music of a funeral called each mourner there to contemplate life and death. Mother’s casket filled the front of the little chapel where Don and I had stood and pledged our futures to each other just a few months earlier. A single spray of red roses lay over the rich mahogany casket that held the shrunken body of my beloved mother, felled by ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The service was beautiful but it was startling to realize that life and death are so closely related. Many of the same guests came to both services—one of great joy and one of great sorrow.

Today, I wouldn’t change anything about giving my photographer daughter these dresses. It means these dresses will once again be useful, bringing a smile to someone’s face. The relationships of family—mother and daughter and husband and wife—can’t be given away or turned yellow with age. Such relationships that we forge over a lifetime are of lasting value. They cannot be replaced.
What do you have to share with the next generation? Do you have a treasured heirloom that has yellowed in the box but stayed beautiful and pristine in your memory? How are you sharing those memories with someone?

Check out my daughter’s website to see her beautiful pictures!

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