Winning Essays

First Place Winner

The Perfect Wedding Dress:
Sometimes Good Things Come in Trash Bags
By Christen Yates

She was beaming and holding a black trash bag. How was I going to tell her that I wouldn’t like it? She seemed so proud and confident of her find, as if she knew exactly what I wanted.

My Nana loved thrift stores.  She volunteered at her Episcopal church’s thrift store once a week and every time would scour the incoming donations for her grandchildren. I would always smile and thank her for the gifts. I knew she meant well, but never did anything work. They either didn’t fit right or were simply not to my taste.
So, on this particular day, celebrating the news of her first grandchild’s engagement, she was particularly excited about her gift: a wedding gown that cost her a whopping twenty-five dollars.

I hesitatingly looked at my mom and forced a big smile, hoping at least that it wouldn’t fit so I’d have an easy way out of this gift.

But, as she pulled out the crumpled dress from the bag, I became mildly curious. It didn’t look that bad. I cautiously held it up. It was actually…kind of …nice.

I ran upstairs to try it on. With utter disbelief, I found that this dress was well…perfect. I mean, exactly what I would have wanted in a dress: simple empire waistline, vintage ivory coloring, delicate and tasteful lace and embroidery. Sure it was a little short and a tiny bit big, but it could work!

I thanked Nana profusely! She was delighted, but not surprised; some special intuitions      ( and a little luck, perhaps) told her that this was the dress for her granddaughter.

My mother knew immediately the one fit for the task of repairing and altering the dress. Immie Thayer was an elderly seamstress in our church, and back in the day, worked at Priscilla’s of Boston, one of the top bridal designers in the country.

I imagine Immie felt similar forebodings when we walked into her shop with the dress, still in the same black trash bag. But, as we pulled out the dress, Immie’s eyes widened. She gingerly fingered the laces and turned it around slowly. “Why, it’s a Priscilla dress!” she exclaimed breathlessly. “I know this very style. I remember it from when I worked with them in Boston. This dress must be worth thousands.” We shared a laugh when we told her the price.

Another $150 and the dress was cleaned, repaired and perfectly fitted to my frame. It was accompanied with a hand-me-down engagement ring from my great aunt, the veil my mother wore and the diamond necklace my mother-in-law wore on her wedding day. I felt surrounded by great women who had gone before me. Although, I have always wondered: who wore this dress before me and how did it come be in that thrift shop the day my Nana found it?


Second Place Winner

The Second Time Around
by Randee Dutton

The second time I wore my wedding dress was even more memorable than the first time.

In truth, I hated my dress. I had never seen anything like it in the wedding magazines and it certainly wasn’t my dream dress. It had capped sleeves—the dresses I saw had long sleeves, and I got married in January, so long sleeves seemed more appropriate. It was very plain—my mother didn’t want to spend a lot of money on (it cost $200), plus her rationale was that I was too short (5’3”) to wear something embellished and heavy. My dress looked like a long version of something to wear to a summer backyard party.

So there I was on January 9, 1977, during the Blizzard of ’77 that has gone down in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania record books as the worst storm of the century, getting married in what I felt was a summer frock.

The second time I wore my dress, I was thrilled to be wearing it. I decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary at home, with our children, with my husband and me wearing our wedding attire. The night before the big day, I set the table with our good china and crystal in the dining room, which was reserved for special occasions. I cooked dinner ahead of time, so it felt like a catered meal. Everything was ready for our big celebration.

The weather Gods were laughing at us again on the 20th anniversary of our wedding day! Philadelphia was in the midst of another blizzard! The city closed early, but my husband was fearless. He gathered our songs, ages 10 and 6, and brought them to the store where I worked. The boys were snow-covered; each clutching ten brilliant, red roses bundled in their little arms. They seemed a bit mystified, but excited to be included in our grown-up event.

Upon arriving home, we changed into our wedding clothes; I wore my wedding dress, which still fit through the ups and downs of weight gains and married life. My husband looked charming, if a bit stuffed into his wedding suit.

My dress now stood for something completely different than it did on my wedding day—it didn’t hold my future in its simple folds; instead it symbolized a good life shared with a man I love and children I adored.

I can’t tell you why I saved those clothes—I’m not a saver and I hated that dress. But I’m glad I saved it, so we could share our 20th anniversary with our sons, and be living proof that marriage takes hard work, forgiveness, compromise and humor.

Our 35th wedding anniversary is quickly approaching—maybe we’ll celebrate in a similar fashion, this time adding our new daughter-in-law to our family festivities. She asked me to join her on the day she bought her magnificent dress. I hope she will learn, as I did that marriage is more than a dress.


Third Place Winner

The Dress I Never Wore
By Linda Pronkowitz

I met the love of my life on January 15, 1967, Fifteen months later and even though we were both only 19 years old, we got engaged on April 6th. I immediately began planning my wedding…church, reception and finding the perfect wedding gown. After setting a date in early December, the most important thing to me was finding that dress. I purchased bridal magazines and found my dress! It was a Priscilla of Boston and John Wanamaker’s, a local Philadelphia department store, was listed as carrying their dresses.

My mom and I made an appointment and, after trying it on, we knew it was perfect. It was candlelight silk-satin, and had an empire waist, long Alencon lace sleeves, and a high neck. It was Victorian which was the style at the time,

What I especially loved was the train. It started at the shoulders, which I thought was very unique. I couldn’t wait to wear my beautiful gown!’

Unfortunately, Uncle Sam had different plans for us.

My fiancé was drafted that spring and left for basic training in early July. This was during the Vietnam War. After graduation from basic training, he was told he would d have one weekend of leave, but any future leaves were cancelled indefinitely. He came home in late August and we had a decision to make. Do we postpone our wedding and the beginning of our life together or do we get married right away? Because we couldn’t bear the thought of being apart, we decided to get married over Labor Day weekend. I never got to walk down the aisle in my beautiful dress and have my dram wedding. The only person who ever saw me in my “dream” dress was my mom.

Instead, my grandmother took me downtown to the Blum Store, were we purchased a short, white, brocade dress with a matching coat. My fiancé told me I couldn’t’ have looked more beautiful in any other dress. Within a week, we were living on an Air Force base in Tucson, Arizona.

My husband passed away this spring, leaving my daughter and me absolutely heartbroken. We had almost forty-three wonderful years together and even thought I never got to wear the dress of my dreams. I was blessed to have the man of my dreams. Through the years, I often thought of my dress and the wedding I never had, but I wouldn’t have traded a minute of my life with him for even the most exquisite dress or the most extravagant of all weddings!

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