The sight I was about to behold was nothing new. Every few years my mother took out her mother’s delicate wedding dress to check on its aging process, kept in its original box and wrapped in its original aqua blue tissue paper. It sat patiently waiting to be taken out, glittering and smooth, wise and beloved in its age. To put it plainly, it was beautiful, and save for the few times my mother took it out, it also was often forgotten.
I found myself desperately drawn to the dress in a way I hadn’t experienced before because I was actually planning my own wedding.
My mother carefully walked toward me, her arms enveloping the familiar cardboard box I had seen several times before. Stepping back, I waited until my mother told me it was safe to touch the contents inside. She removed one layer of tissue paper and then another, carefully refolding each piece inside the removed top. For her, the paper was just as important as the dress and she was meticulous about putting everything back just the way she found it.
The closer she came to unwrapping the layers of tissue paper, the faster my heart beat inside my chest. I needed to see that dress for some reason; I needed to know it was OK. It seemed as though everything hinged on the moment the silk was exposed once again.
“There,” my mother indicated as she gingerly bit her lower lip, “here’s the veil.”
Constructed entirely of pearls, the crown that once sat on my grandmother’s young forehead now rested in my mother’s shaking hands. I moved forward and examined the headpiece. With my mother’s instruction, I straightened the tulle attached to the crown so we could get the full effect.
Sure, the tulle had yellowed a bit and some of the pearls were now loosely dancing in the bottom of the box, but the essence of the piece was still there. It was delicate yet it stood perfectly erect, ready to be worn once again.
“OK. Now for the main attraction.”
I inhaled the mustiness as my mother began unfolding layers and layers of silk. As I waited, I imagined I could smell the clean lavender scent of my grandmother. It felt as though she could be standing next to me: her presence was that palpable. I opened my eyes.
Standing there before me, almost like some magical act that defied gravity, was my grandmother’s wedding dress. For a moment, I almost forgot my mother was standing behind it, holding it for my view. Looking up, I began with the sleeves and neckline that plunged into a modest V in the center. Made of delicate lace, each tiny cutout made a pattern against my mother’s skin. The puffy sleeves, though embellished, seemed so tiny as I imagined them adorning my grandmother’s little frame. The topping of lace traveled down to a V that once sat at her petite hips, followed by an enormous skirt and train made of the softest silk I had ever touched. It was perfect, absolutely perfect, just as it always was.
To stand there with such a dress unveiled before me was just like standing before my grandmother one more time. To touch the silk and the lace and the tulle felt just like touching her soft, warm skin. To package the dress up, one layer of aqua paper at a time, meant tucking her away in my memory once again. My mother carefully put the dress down and hugged me, gently at first, and then more strongly as my walls of stress came tumbling down.
That day was exhausting, but I would soon after make an important realization: The dress always seemed perfect, despite flaws that may actually be there. The “perfection” was created from the moment the dress made us feel something profound. My mother always seemed to trudge into the basement when I needed to see the dress most, when no other cure could ease my troubled heart. I needed her then, the beauty of the dress, but most of all, I needed to visit my grandmother one more time.