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  • Writer's pictureCat T. Gardiner

32 Satin Buttons

There was a time when I frequented estate sales with a girlfriend of mine. I absolutely loved the thrill of finding those pieces of history that other "shoppers" ignored. Lace tablecloths, blue cornflower Corningware, vintage gloves and aprons were among my favorites. Once, I discovered a whole kitten kaboodle of knitting instruction magazines dating from 1947 to 1969. The photography within was on par with Vogue and for .50 cents apiece, the stack was a no-brainer purchase. With every visit to these homes, I hoped for priceless miraculous finds: WWII memorabilia, love letters, photographs but they, hopefully, had been set aside for the family. Family... that's a whole other topic for blogging. Living in Florida for half the year, I have met many people whose family is MIA or sadly all gone, too.

After a year of estate hopping, something had changed when I started to think of the deceased person whose once cherish belongings were being dissected and picked over for value by strangers. I'd watch with a curious eye how women dug through drawers as though shoppers on Black Friday. Tossed aside, everything was discounted, nothing considered worthy enough to create new memories with a new owner. It made me sad. Once treasured items were now being trashed, hunted and pecked through with total disregard, total lack of respect for the person and their history. I felt as though I was living "A Christmas Carol," visiting with a Christmas yet to come and watching people haggle over bed linen! I stopped going to estate sales. They depressed me too much.

Shortly thereafter, I began to look at my trips to antique shops in much the same manner. What usually happened was my seeing vintage items through the "I used to have that," or "I remember that," perspective. After the estate sale epiphany, I now saw Fiftieth Anniversary keepsake dishes as sitting unappreciated, bronzed baby shoes as disregarded, a bridal album rummaged through. Tsotskis that were once significant milestones in someone's life were sitting collecting dust and their owners lives now gone and perhaps forgotten in the passage of time, too. It didn't keep me from vintage hunting. In fact, it enhanced the experience. To me, a history and people lover, I view every item as having a personal narrative behind it. Boxes of photographs on dusty shelves have become sources of ponderance and examination, and I use many to stoke the muse in my writing. Determined not to let the lives captured on black and white paper or cabinet cards fade into history, I use them to bring my stories to life, perhaps giving them more adventurous lives than they led, but honoring them just the same.

Then one day it happened. I was introduced to thirty-two satin-covered buttons on a street corner in a little antiquing town in Central Florida. The shop was having a sidewalk sale, and my husband and I were examining the wares from bent positions.

"What are you looking for," the unkempt older man asked.

"Nothing, just browsing today," was my distracted reply.

"Everything is a dollar."

Astonished, I continued to gaze down at his booty, making our way toward the shop entrance.

"Do you need a wedding gown?" he asked.

I chuckled. "A wedding gown? No."

"Well, I have one here and it's a dollar."

I felt like I was in one of those discount stores the way he was pitching it, and with a whoosh of his arm he pulled out of nowhere a magnificent candlelight colored, satin wedding gown. He added, "It's from the 40s."

"A dollar?"



He rolled the gown into a ball. Literally, spinning it with both hands and shoving it into a plastic grocery bag.

It was then that I witnessed one of those blessed few times when the true, tender romantic emerges from my husband when he said, "Just think, someone wore that gown on the happiest day of her life." He was correct, and goodness it felt so good that in all those vintage hunting trips he's endured for me over the last couple of years he "got it." He saw these treasures as messages from the past, bits of history from lives who went before us.

I'm an optimist and I'll assume that the wearer of the gown had a beautiful marriage, which began in 1942 before her husband left for the Pacific. I'll imagine that he returned home safely in late 1945, a little worse for wear, but soothed by the daughter he had never met and his loving wife who made up for lost time. I'll pretend that they had two more children and ten grandchildren, and somewhere out there is probably a great-granddaughter who would have loved to wear this gown on her wedding day. Maybe she cherishes the photographs from that momentous occasion.

The bridal gown is made of luxurious "Skinner Satin" heavy rayon by Miriam Originals, New York City. It is soft, supple, and luminous, with lace panels within the skirt and chapel train. The details are what blow me away. The delicate lace bodice topped by the soft drape of a bertha collar is stunning! Above the collar lies ultra-sheer illusion netting to a jewel neck. The sleeves are all lace descending to wrist points, an exquisite detail meant to draw the admirer's eye to the wedding ring.

Let me not forget the stunning back, 32 satin-covered buttons with delicate loops that extend all the way up to the neck upon the sheer illusion.

In my imagination, our bride was exquisite and at a time when America was entering into war and austerity had just begun on the home front, she clearly spent a lot of money for her special day. Thankfully, bridal gowns were exempt from new fabric restriction guildelines. In her rolled, chestnut locks a large star flower was nestled with pearls. Wearing victory red lipstick and carrying a bouquet of white orchids, star flowers, and stephanotis, the bride walked down the aisle on her father's arm to meet her groom as though in a fairy tale. Her smile was a glorious as the euphoria she and her Marine felt when they said "I do." And although the hem and the underside of her magnificent train became soiled in the rain as they ran to his father's car waiting at the foot of the church steps, it was still the happiest day of her life.

Some of her friends, those she later met when working the swing shift at the New York Naval Shipyard would marry wearing their finest suits in impromptu civil unions. Years later, her girlfriends would have gowns fashioned from their G.I's keepsake parachutes, cherishing the silk and the gift of his safe return.

Now, the gown hangs in a garment bag awaiting a trip to a specialty dry cleaner in the hope of restoring to its orginal beauty. The hem is filthy and the inside, from where it was hiked using finger loops is spotted, but it in no way takes away from the beauty of the history. For only a dollar, our nameless bride and the happiest day of her life will live on in this gown and that is priceless.

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