by LORETTA MILLER MEHL
In preparation for our 60th wedding anniversary celebration, I removed my wedding dress from the box and placed it on a light-blue satin hanger. Displaying the gown in an alcove window, I opened the album to our wedding pictures on the window ledge below.
Fascinated by the full skirt that fell from the tiny fitted bodice, a friend asked, “Are you planning to wear your wedding dress for this celebration?”
“Oh no,” I exclaimed. Most people considered me slender, but after four children, I would never squeeze into that dress again.
On the day of the party, women and young girls gravitated to the gown to examine the white satin, now aged to a soft, ivory sheen.
Completely on my own since I graduated from high school at age 17, I escaped from the family farm to work at a job in Little Rock, Ark. Later I transferred to an office in Los Angeles, where I met my husband. The chance seemed slight the two of us would ever meet, since he had spent most of his life in Pennsylvania and I grew up in Arkansas.
My wages from the telegraph company covered rent, food, bus fare and little more. My fiancé Bill, a returning WWII veteran, had barely enough money for our first and last month’s rent. Neither of our parents could contribute for the expenses of our wedding.
As my wedding day approached so many years ago, I longed for a formal gown but had almost no hope of wearing one.
After gazing in the window of a small bridal shop during my lunch hour one day, I mumbled, “Guess it doesn’t cost anything to look at wedding dresses.” Dazzled by the rows of gorgeous gowns, I headed for the sale rack and found my size in a classic style with a sweetheart neckline and long sleeves tapered at the wrists. I turned the tab over and could hardly believe the price slashed to a fraction of the original cost. The saleslady said, “That dress is a huge bargain. Why not try it on?”
I slipped into the heavy satin finery and stood before the full-length triple mirrors, feeling like a queen. The flawless fit needed only a minor alteration to shorten the length in the front of the skirt. “The dress is perfect for you,” the saleslady gushed. “We’ll include the alteration in the price and leave the back of the dress a bit longer to form a small train.”
“It’s beautiful. What a wonderful find,” I said, removing a 20 dollar bill from my purse as payment. The exact amount escapes me, but the receipt for the picturesque Chapel of Roses where we were married has been saved. Friends are astonished each time they examine the complete cost for the use of the sanctuary. Forty dollars included the huge baskets of beautiful flowers, potted palms and tall candelabras with white tapers that banked the altar.
I slipped into the heavy satin finery and stood before the full-length triple mirrors, feeling like a queen.
On our 50th anniversary we returned to California surrounded by long-time friends, where we had spent most of our lives. During the celebration, our son, Dave, gave a speech challenging us, “Remember, Mom and Dad,” he said, “to reach your goal you only have to take one step at a time.”
Now, 10 years later, as I waited for guests to arrive for our 60th anniversary, my mind drifted through those long ago days when we were so young and planning our future. The years that followed held some wonderful memories. Somehow we were able to live on the $80 allotment per month given to WWII veterans to attend college. We rejoiced when our first child was born in time to attend his father’s college graduation. We were blessed with two more sons and one daughter.
Bill was hired for a teaching job he loved and pursued for 32 years, and in the meantime completed masters and doctorate degrees. I spent 18 years as a stay-at-home mom. After our first child entered college, I became a working mom and spent several years as a secretary at a city hall. Taking only one or two courses each semester, I completed my Associate of Arts degree during night sessions.
Those were busy years as we watched our children excel in school and sports. The time seemed short until they grew up, married and presented us with thirteen grandchildren, each one exceptional in our eyes. Many of those grandchildren were now grown and had graduated from college.
Now, in our 80s, it has become increasingly difficult to keep our minds focused on the path ahead. We chose to celebrate our 60th anniversary in our home in Oregon. As they did for our 50th celebration, our children planned the activities. My husband and I were delighted that two of our sons, Bob and Charlie, played their guitars and Bob’s wife and daughter joined them in singing. Their music brought back memories of their younger days when the two boys performed in church.
Dave, who challenged us 10 years earlier, brought another message for everyone attending, but directed especially at his father and me. He told us the story of running his first marathon and compared it to life’s journey.
“The beginning of the race was easy but became more difficult with unexpected difficulties along the way.” He said, “Many times I wanted to quit and asked myself ‘what difference would it make?’ But then I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and eventually reached the finish line.”
“Mom and Dad, I see the journey you’ve run as a marathon. As you continue, I challenge you for the next decade with a new charge found in Matthew 5:14 and 16, ‘You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.’”
“I’ve brought you this light as a reminder,” he smiled as he handed us a small lantern with a battery-lighted candle. I glanced at my husband, recalling Dave’s advice given us 10 years ago. We had completed another part of our journey, one step at a time.
This celebration for our 60th anniversary had been more relaxing as people were free to visit one another in a casual atmosphere. Friends lingered, reluctant to leave, and requested information about our 60 years together.
Even though our grandchildren had heard the stories before, they asked that their grandfather tell them about our dating and how we met at church.
“I teased your grandmother a lot about her southern accent,” Bill smiled. “I kept asking her to say something—anything. I just wanted to hear her talk. She was so pretty and her eyes sparkled when she knew I was kidding her. I can still show you the exact spot on the sidewalk where we met, near the open door of the church.”
I felt elated he still remembered and told everyone throughout the years who might listen.
After only family members remained, Mikayla asked, “Grandma, do you mind if I try on your wedding dress?”
“I’d be delighted,” I smiled at my 15-year-old granddaughter.
My wedding gown fit her perfectly.
Her face glowed and brown eyes shone as she glided and twirled back and forth, exclaiming, “Grandma, I love this dress!” Her father grabbed the camera and clicked away to preserve the magic of the moment.
My son Bob mused, “As I watched Mikayla, I could almost imagine Mom as a young bride, 60 years ago.”
LORETTA MILLER MEHL is a freelance writer from Oregon.