20th century, childhood, family, ohio

Wedding dress, 1920

gram wedding

I promise this isn’t going to become a blog about weddings. But it turns out that when you’re planning a wedding, you end up thinking about weddings a lot. Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes you want to plug up your ears and sing “I can’t hear you!” when the next person asks about your colors. (For the record: we don’t have colors.)

And sometimes you get to look at your great-grandmother’s wedding dress.

My mom’s cousin had been keeping Gram’s dress safe. She’d used some of the extra fabric in her own wedding dress, and it was time to pass it on. So she carefully packed up the gown and its accessories, and sent it to my parents in Ohio. When I was home a few weeks ago, my mom and I finally got to unpack it.

Here’s the short version of the story, as best I know: Elizabeth Kingsley Brooks (Gram), got engaged to David Knight Ford (Grandfather) right before he marched off to join World War I. Lucky for him, the war ended right after that, so his time in Europe was spent peacefully working on reconstruction. When he returned in 1920, he and Gram married, and they proceeded to have four boys (including my grandfather) and live quietly in Ohio well into their later years. I was lucky enough to know Grandfather, and maybe even Gram, though she had died by the time I was old enough to know. I remember going to Grandfather’s house when we were little to swim in his pool, and each time, before we left, we had to go inside the dark, cool house where he sat in his wheelchair and say hello. All my other memories I’ve built from stories and photographs, so they’re not even true memories, but they feel right. That’s what happens in my family, where people tell so many stories that we’ve developed a shared past.

It’s a love story, plain and simple, but made meaningful because they’re my great-grandparents. And looking through the box of keepsakes brought it home.

gram dress 2

gram shoes 2

The dress itself is a simple shift, with lace cap sleeves and a self-sash at the waist. Underneath we found the stockings and shoes Gram wore, all carefully preserved from the day itself. She’d saved her Bible, too–the Book of Common Prayer, as it turned out, embroidered on the cover and labeled on the inside “Elizabeth Kingsley Brooks, 1905.” I imagined her carrying this little book with her down the aisle, one she’d had with her since girlhood.

gram prayer book

Finally there was the veil, cathedral-length and gauzy with only a few rips and tears. The wreath of wax flowers was still intact. Hesitantly I lifted the wreath and set it on my head, barely breathing for fear of ripping something or the flowers falling apart. I imagined the photograph of Gram on her wedding day, the one where she looks ethereal and hopeful. I wondered if I looked anything like her.

gram veil

We decided not to use any of the leftover fabric, although the dressmaker had clearly saved every scrap of fabric she didn’t use in the gown itself. It was too old and fragile. But I don’t think it matters. What I’ll keep are the photographs of the dress, the memory of unpacking it on a rainy day in Cleveland, and the feeling I had, just for a moment, of connection to my long-gone great-grandmother.

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3 thoughts on “Wedding dress, 1920”

  1. While we don’t have my nana’s wedding dress, we’e keepers – in my family we’ve got old leather suitcases full of photos from about 1900 onward, jewelry – costume and real deal, and our dress ups (a favorite past time for us kids) were all hand me downs; platform shoes from the 40′s, shift dresses from the 60′s, a gauzy ballgown from the 50′s… hence my love of all things old! I was really excited to find your blog – I’m a total history nerd, live to read, and I’m a food lover. Lucie x

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