Your dress needs a little filling out in the top.
As soon as she left my room, I pulled out the offending wads of tissues my mother had pushed into my bra. Even without the extra padding, the dress looked fine, thanks to fittings with a seamstress who had, for weeks, silently suffered the infinite sartorial suggestions of my mother. Make the skirt a bit more A-lined. No, try a narrow taper instead. Maybe remove the last row of beads on the sleeves. It’s too short in the front; too long in the back. The tiny silver haired woman, who pinned and unpinned; took in seams and let then out again; added a ribbon trim and then removed it; must have thanked all the saints in heaven when we finally took the dress home.
I did not like the dress. My mother loved it. Thinking that buying a dress in the city and traveling back and forth for alterations would be a hassle, she decided we should try the Long Island bridal shops. A neighbor suggested Bonwit Teller’s on Manhasset’s Miracle Mile, a store way out of our league. However, knowing how important it was to my mother to tell the neighbor we had taken her suggestion, I agreed to go. Also my mother, the ultimate bargain hunter, bet me that even such a high-end store as Bonwit’s would have a sale rack. And she was right.
We walked in without an appointment, subjecting ourselves to the puckered lips of the annoyed saleslady immediately summoned to assist us.
“Is anything on sale?” my mother asked.
“How lucky,” answered Miss Puckered Lips in a condescending tone, reserved, I am guessing, for people like us, ones she knew had never before stepped foot into Bonwit’s. “The dresses from our bridal show, all small sizes, are specially priced. Several of them will fit you daughter.” With her words, my fate was sealed.
The first dress was the one. “Less than half-price,” we were told. “A one-of -a –kind for $100.” Still more than we could afford, but a bargain I knew my mother could not resist.
The dress was “different,” not one bit like what I wanted. Not the empire waist, long lace sleeves, and slightly scooped, neckline featured in the latest bride magazines. What was being pushed on me was an off-white, silk file dress with a squared neckline, short pearl encrusted sleeves, and a bustle train. “So simple, so understated,” my mother sighed, echoing our saleslady.
“She can wear a tiny beaded crown,” suggested the Italian born seamstress now called into the dressing room.
“Maybe a wreath?” I asked.
“This dress is for a “principessa,” not a farm girl!” she responded, so authoritatively, that I dared not say another word.
My mother, the saleslady, and the seamstress were right. The dress was unique and suited my figure far better than the type of dress I thought I wanted. And, besides, I no longer cared. I just wanted to get the wedding day over and start living my dream life.
“Happily ever after,” however, lasted only sixteen years. On the day my “prince” left his “principessa” and our children, I hysterically searched for my wedding dress which I remembered stashing somewhere in its “sealed forever” thick plastic bag. Finally, finding it in the back of the guest room closet, I angrily ripped it from its protective sack, rolled it into a fat ball, and stuffed it in a brown plastic garbage bag. I didn’t, however, throw it away, but flung it into the basement to land beside boxes of toys, books, baby clothes, and never- used wedding silver. And there it sat until today.
I know my sons, grown men now with families of their own, do not know that today is their parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. That’s okay. Even close friends and family who toasted the bride and groom on that pretty August day in 1966, have forgotten. And many who were part of my own special joy on that day, my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a few cousins and friends, have been gone for many years.
Life continued, as it always does, for me and my sons. We knew good times and bad, happiness that made us cry, and pain that threatened to destroy us. The “you gotta be kidding me days,” seemed to be more than our share, but somehow we managed those too. Yes, we lived very full lives in the rooms above, while the dress I had never liked lay abandoned in the dark, dusty basement.
Later tonight, by myself, I will lift a wine glass to the memory of my wedding day. — And specifically to the dress I so disliked. I will touch the now yellowed silk, trying, perhaps, to smooth out a few of the deepest wrinkles, and run my fingers over the intricate pattern of the pearls. And I will laugh, remembering my mother, in a most matter-of-fact voice, telling wedding guests, that she “found it at Bonwit’s.”
And then I’ll put the dress back in the basement next to the toys, books, baby clothes, and never-used wedding silver. Back where it belongs.