Sunday, June 6, 2010

Memories of a Wedding Dress by Linda Griffith

My Mum and I aren’t exactly in the same dress camp. One might say that our tastes are a little different although far from worlds apart. We do, however, share a mutual admiration for each others ‘style’ except on a very few and far between occasions when one of us might be heard uttering, “you aren’t wearing that are you?”

My childhood memories are scattered with images of my Mum getting ready for a night on the town, standing in front of a long narrow mirror, left foot in gold sandal, right in silver, turning her body fluidly from East to West as she judged the angles, or the curves or the flounces, the fabric swirling like a life-force around her slender frame.

Wear that one Mummy. Wear the pink satin. Please, please wear the pink satin,” I pleaded from the double bed, kicking my feet by way of emphasis on the bobbled coverlet. There would follow a list of unsatisfactory reasons as to why my first choice wasn’t suitable: neither warm enough, nor long enough nor comfortable enough. Fashion fob-offs, which meant little to me and seldom swayed me from my shiny choices, but cemented her selection as non-negotiable.

Standing on the bed I could help with the zip, pouting belligerently over her shoulder and into the mirror, looking like a grumpy parrot. In an effort to compensate she artfully left the choosing of the jewelry to me, and easily diverted I would delve with determination into her jewelry box, and retrieve my favorite baubles from the velvet encased wooden jewel box, which was unceremoniously stuffed under the bed.

There were a few dresses I almost coveted, but not many. I liked them on her, but didn’t think I would like them on me. Except for one – her wedding dress. This dress I wanted above all else, with a passion so intense it could reduce me to tears. I would stand in front of the only picture she had of her wedding day with my Mum and Dad in black and white standing shoulder to shoulder, the serious smiles on their faces misleading compared to the passion and spontaneity that marked their half-century as man and wife. My Mum’s dress hovering just barely on the very edges of her shoulders and three wide tucks sweeping to interlace like fingers near her breastbone. I imagined the fabric meeting there, like a material metaphor for their lives joining right at her heart. Somehow the photographer managed to blur the lines so the edges are shaded which leaves me eternally squinting to see which tuck lies under and which lies over, as though they are caught in an embrace and one can’t see exactly where one body ends and the other starts. And then it stops. The portrait is taken waist up, and barely that.

Many times my Mum has described the dress to me - the ballerina length,  the tight waist,  the full skirt creating a perfectly inverted V, the lack of bows and scallops and fringes, and the clean simplicity of line. She has drawn it for me as best she can remember. She has pointed out satin backed taffeta, which replicates the feel but not the shade. She has measured on my longer legs where the hem would fall. She has draped sheets and tulle, and pulled them in tightly cinching my waist, but her efforts leave me hungry for more.

She lent this dress to a friend whom I presume over time became a distant friend and then an acquaintance and somewhere in the decay of their relationship the dress vanished from a tangible treasure and became a single picture of history.

Five years ago I had the photo enlarged to mark the occasion of my parents 50th wedding anniversary and it stands behind me, reflected in my computer screen, so I catch glimpses of my parents smiling at me over my shoulder as I type. Occasionally, I swivel my chair and lose myself in thinking about them, and their marriage, and what their wedding was like. Many of my questions have been answered either by experience or by interrogation, but the dress remains a mirage. It’s like a sealed letter, which I cannot open.

The irony here lies in the fact that I know with unshakable certainty that I would have LOVED that dress, wanted it, worn it, adored it. It is exactly me, more so than perhaps anything I ever saw my Mum wear in full length, 3-D form. It’s a fairytale dress with a magical hem, and although I often change the ending according to stylish whimsy, the top third of the dress confirms that it is indeed a beautiful ending.

by Linda Griffith, Toronto, Ontario