Friday, October 12, 2007

Three Generations of Wedding Dresses

When I became engaged in January 1987, I began to look around for a wedding dress. My mother, I knew, had rented her own wedding dress back in 1965. I never thought much about that; I simply figured there weren't any family wedding dresses passed down for her to wear. I assumed my maternal grandmother wore a nice Sunday dress at her wedding in 1943 like my paternal grandmother had at her own wedding in 1940; it wasn't unusual for brides to wear a simple nice dress or skirt suit at one's wedding in those days. Most of my extended family lived in Western Michigan, and I was living and getting married in Eastern Washington, some 2000 miles away, so I didn't have much opportunity to have a conversation with relatives about this, anyway. My future husband and I were working with a limited budget and although (and especially since) we were planning a very nice church wedding and reception, I didn't want to burden my parents with a dress that cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars...the practical side of me knew I would only wear it once, anyway. Although my bridesmaids' and flower girls' dresses were handmade by friends as their wedding gifts to us, making a wedding dress wasn't an option at that time; so I began to look for a nice second-hand dress to purchase. Because I'm not very tall and was about a size 3 in those days, I wasn't having a lot of success finding one that fit me. Finally, a solution was reached when a girlfriend of mine loaned me her dress. It was somewhat too big for me, but I took it to my aunt and my paternal grandmother, who was on an extended visit to this area, and they determined that the style of the dress would allow for easy and subtle altering in such a way that it could be undone and returned to my friend. I borrowed a Madonna-style veil from Norm's sister-in-law, and purchased shoes, accessories, and jewelry. At the time, my fiance and I attended a small, independent church that did not own its own building. We were married in a historic Lutheran church building that had been converted to a wedding chapel. In the photo below, I'm waiting in the back room, seated in front of a vanity, waiting as the guests arrive to walk down the aisle, accompanied by my father:

Miriam Joy Robbins, 30 May 1987
Gretna Green Wedding Chapel
Spokane, Washington

My own parents were married in the chapel of the Grand Rapids (Michigan) School of Bible and Music (now Cornerstone University), where they were students. As a little girl, I loved looking at my parents' wedding album, and always wished my mother had been able to keep her wedding dress, so that I could wear it, too:

Faith Lillian Valk, 25 Jun 1965
Grand Rapids School of the Bible and Music
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Just last year, my mother received a little wedding book that had belonged to my maternal grandmother, Ruth Lillian HOEKSTRA. It was from her first marriage, to my biological grandfather, William VALK. My grandmother had traveled to Junction City, Kansas, to meet my grandfather who was probably stationed at nearby Fort Riley. They were married at the Methodist Church at the corner of Jefferson and Eighth Streets in Junction City. Tucked inside the wedding book was the following photo:

Ruth Lillian Hoekstra, 11 Sep 1943
Possibly the backyard of Mr. & Mrs. Fred B. Johnson,
or of Cristel Kiver
Junction City, Geary County, Kansas

When I remarked to my mother that I had not known that Grandma had had a wedding dress when she married my Grandfather Valk, she replied, "Oh, yes, but I didn't want to wear it at my was too old-fashioned." !!!!! Apparently, my grandmother kept this dress for years. My mother's sister never married, and so because no one seemed interested in it (or--as in my case--didn't know about it), she either sold it or gave it away, I believe at some point after I was married. Yes, this story has turned into one of those "genealogy groaners"! If only I had known, I would have gladly worn this dress at my wedding, and saved it for my sister and someday for my daughter to wear! My daughter may not be quite 17, but seeing her lately in her formal dress for her homecoming dance, it's not hard to imagine that sometime in the next 10 years (hopefully later, rather than sooner!), she'll be wearing her own wedding dress and walking down the aisle. I hope that it will become an heirloom one that she can pass on to future generations!

This post was also originally started with the intention of submitting it to the 33rd Carnival of Genealogy, whose topic was "Weddings!" Due to illness, I ran out of time to fully research and write it before the deadline.


Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

You were a very beautiful bride!

It's sad that you didn't have the opportunity to try your grandmother's gown. I didn't know that bridal gowns were ever rented.

Miriam Robbins said...

Thank you, Apple. I've not noticed if bridal gowns are still rented or not. I don't believe they were available for rent here in Spokane at the time I was married, either.

Terry Thornton said...

Miriam, Three lovely ladies each wearing a beautiful gown! What a wonderful essay.
Terry Thornton
Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi

Miriam Robbins said...

Thank you for your kind words, Terry.