No. 11: Wedding Dress

Artist: St. Patrick
Title: Wedding Dress
Date: 2009
Culture: American (maybe Spanish?)
Provenance: Purchased at Brides ‘n Maids, Santa Rosa, CA in 2009

Ten years ago Wednesday, two imperfect people married in a nearly perfect place. They said “I do” in front of a roaring fire in a 1920s fishing lodge tucked into the woods overlooking a frozen lake in the North woods of Wisconsin. Just beyond the reach of this lodge and its lake were magical sounding places like the Namekagon River and the Chequamegon Forest, places where it seemed possible that you might find a nymph or a snowflake queen.

Outside the world was covered in glittery drifts of snow and temperatures were dipping well, well, well below zero. (It reached about twenty-five degrees below zero, I believe.) The officiant, whose initials were WWW, drove his less sensible car on the snow-covered dirt roads and was late, leaving the room full of expectant guests to listen to the bereted violinist play “Auld Lang Syne” and haunting Irish fiddle music for longer than was strictly comfortable. But then WWW showed up, as did the bride. One of the bride’s sisters wept. The other read a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The mother of the bride wore pink cashmere. In an adjacent room, the recently divorced bartender cried, remembering his own wedding which had taken place in the same perfect spot.

That bride, of course, was me, and I still have my wedding dress, a powerful reminder of that moment in time. I bought the dress in Santa Rosa, California, at a decidedly unfancy bridal boutique. I wasn’t even really looking for a dress, but the dress kind of found me. It was the only one of its kind hanging on the rack and it was precisely what I had pictured for myself, even if I hadn’t put that idea into thought yet. It had capped sleeves and an empire waist and lovely golden lace details and a scalloped train. So I bought it and had it fitted, even though I hadn’t a clue what shoes I planned to wear, nor did I know that I’d lose a bit of weight after that fitting, so that on my wedding day the dress was a bit too long and a bit too loose. After I bought it, my family commented on how much it looked my mom’s own cap-sleeved, empire-waisted wedding dress from 1967. Everyone loved to joke that I was her double, so this only added fuel to that fire. In fact, when my dear aunt first saw the dress, she laughed at how much it looked like my mom’s dress.

I loved how the candle- and firelight glinted off my dress’s golden threads inside the lodge, and I loved how it looked a shining bright white when I stood outside in the sparkling white of the frozen woods. It was romantic and captured something of the dreamy fantasy of oaths and love and wintertime and magical forests on New Year’s Day. If I flitted off into the woods, I’d fit right in with the nymphs and ice fairies, so it seemed. It was a beautiful costume that might allow me and my husband entry into that magical world.

But with ten years of marriage comes some small measure of wisdom. I realize now that more magical than ice palaces and winter sprites is loving and having someone who truly loves you. Someone who knows when to bring you a cup of tea and when to tell you to snap out of it. When to tell you to stop being lazy and go for a run, and when to bring you something gooey and sweet to eat under a blanket on the sofa. Someone to laugh with, no matter what life throws at you.

I am so lucky. My dress is a reminder of that just as much as it’s a reminder of the beauty of the North woods in winter with all of its magic and mystery.

2 thoughts on “No. 11: Wedding Dress

  1. Oh, Ellen, I remember so much about your beautiful wedding! And, it was about 27 degrees below zero! And, Liz, Charlie, Emmett, Maggie, and Mac were in the hotel with us. Do you remember Emmett just danced and danced. Your Mom and Dad looked so terrific as did your sisters–and of course, Kevin and everyone else! So amazing to think it has been 10 years already. It seems like yesterday in so many ways. I remember the lovely meals we ate together over the few days, and I think of your Mom so lovingly as she was just entranced by everything, and the lodge itself was beyond compare, and her talent with flowers was always just perfect. I loved pulling up larger pictures of your dress, and you were such a beautiful bride. And, truth be told, you are right–having someone beside you, whom you love, through thick and thin is remarkable. Here’s to many more happy years together. Love you and miss you all so much. Sandee

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