The dress I wore when Tim and I celebrated our marriage in 1988 originally belonged to Katherine Hinman Schultz, the mother of my grandfather, Charles. While I know that it was her dress, I don’t know whether she wore it when she married Emil Schultz, or whether it was simply one of her pretty dresses. She was the family artist–a music school graduate, organist for the Congregational Church for forty-one years, enthusiastic photographer, writer of humorous verses to adorn collaged place cards for festive dinners. Here she is, standing with her third and youngest child, Isabelle (who later clipped the last two letters from her first name in a burst of modernity), and the doll and buggy which appear to be aimed toward the Fox River that bordered their back garden in Menasha, Wisconsin. Kate, as she was known, was born on March 20, 1879. Her daughter, Isabelle, was born November 20, 1915, when Kate was thirty-six. My guess is that this photo was taken about 1919.
Below is the earliest picture I have of the dress, about the time I was born, decades after it was made. It is worn by Isabel, then a college graduate (first attending Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, then University of Wisconsin at Madison) and the girls physical education teacher at Menasha High School. As Grandma Kate’s journal confirms, Isabel graduated from college on June 17, 1940, just forty-nine days after her father’s pharmacy closed its doors forever. Living at home ever after, Grand-aunt Isabel began her teaching career on September 3, 1940 when she was twenty-five years old. It wasn’t easy for elderly parents to pay for college during the Great Depression–in the 1930s, you were elderly in your sixties–and I’ve heard that a neighbor who was impressed by Isabel’s quick mind helped to finance her college education. She had red hair and, like her mother, a love of theater. This photograph was taken in Menasha, at a local history pagent, in about 1960.
And here is the dress on the day of its reconstituted glory on August 6, 1988. Our niece, Nicole, wore a flower girl dress made of the same fabric as the brand-new under-dress I wore. (One of my early quilting efforts can be spotted in the background.) When the dress came to me, it was yellowed with age, ripped in a number of places, stained, and the lining was completely tattered. This Phoenix-dress shined anew after a seamstress had made a completely new under-dress of peach cotton lined with silk and replaced all the edging with bias tape made from the same fabric as the under-dress.
Actually the theme of twin dresses chimed in twin ways: not only did this old dress transform from a lined confection to a lacy frosting over the newly fashioned sleeveless peach dress lined with silk, it was the second dress I wore for our wedding.
Tim and I were legally married on August 4, 1988, by a justice of the peace in Hastings, Minnesota. The ceremony for friends and family was celebrated two days later at the home of Sally and David Tellekson in Kenwood, Minnesota. Our dear friend, LaNelle Olson, officiated. Below is a photo Tim took of me (with witness Jim Herzog in the background) after the legal ceremony. That August was a record-breaker for high temperatures, but I felt cool in this new-but-retro-styled sundress. Ah, the days of daring to wear bold horizontal stripes!
Fast-forward to 2010. As regular readers know from my post a few weeks back, this was the year I faced facts regarding the “glory rag” stored in my basement. Even in 1988, refurbished, it was too fragile for another wearing. Like many a nonagenarian, its fibers didn’t have any give. And twenty-two years in storage hadn’t helped. The silk netting upon which the heavy crocheted string was appliqued was rotting, rips and tears abounding. It was time. The dress travelled with me in my neighborhood, to the headwaters of the Mississippi, to Little Sand Bay in Lake Superior (where Tim and I plan to have our ashes scattered someday), even as far as Jamestown, Virginia.
Under the August full moon, we travelled to New Ulm, Minnesota and took the dress to the highest point above the Minnesota River Valley, climbing the stairs of the “Herman the German” monument, allowing the dress to bell out over the tops of the trees.
At Red Oaks Farm, his boyhood home, Tim and I set up a tent for ourselves, a tripod for my camera, and a funeral pyre for the dress. Tim created a support of apple wood pruned from trees he had planted when Julia was a toddler. The fire ring was made from the foundation stones of the old barn, demolished decades ago. I decorated the dress with fresh roses. We offered toasts–to ties that bind, to old friends and new beginnings, to love, to letting go. When the moment felt right, we lit a match.
Today, I have vivid memories of this beautiful carapace of a dress as well as about 1,000 photos of it. It stands apart from our wedding day with a life of its own. And one day, when the time is right, I know it will enter into a poem. Meanwhile, the peach-colored under-dress (The under-study? The daughter? The Cinderella?) is now a stand-alone diva of a gown safely packed away in case Julia ever wants to wear it.
Below is a (believe me) small selection of the wedding dress adventure photos that are now in my hands. If you scroll through quickly, perhaps you can make a flip book!
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