It was just a little less than thirty years ago when I found out I was having my second child. I did not know until she was delivered that she was a “she”. But, just the same, for nine months, I’d been working on a long white dress. I’d wanted very badly to buy imported Swiss batiste to sew this dress, but that was way out of my budget. My great Aunt Rosa, who lived a very meager life in a very small, old and run-down mobile home had died during that year when I was expecting Hannah. I loved “Rosie” because she lived a totally simple life and she liked to play games and repeat funny rhymes with us. She lived without pretense and she love the same way. I was sad when she died.
But Aunt Rosie left me (and every other niece and nephew) exactly one hundred dollars. That was just enough to buy the batiste for my baby’s dress. And so I did. I bought a book from the Martha Pullen Company called “Sewing the Heirloom Dress” and I spent many hours designing and sewing that long white dress. I bought expensive (to me, anyway) lace and entredeaux and ribbon and even Victorian beauty pins for fastening it in the back. As the days grew warmer and July approached, I could hardly wait. I think I dreamed at night about stitching lace to fabric and I know I dreamed about holding a baby in that dress. There were lots of late night hours to dream while stitching on that dress. I’m sure it had lots of flaws, but still, it was the most complicated project I’d ever undertaken and it was also the most fun. I made a pretty slip to go underneath it.
After Hannah was born, I embroidered near the bottom of that slip: “For Hannah Lee Colley. With love, from your Mother and Aunt Rosa, July 2, 1987.” Hannah wore the dress on her very first Sunday when she was ten days old and several times during the first months of her life. Then her cousins…about five of them…wore the dress through the years. That sweet dress hung on my bedroom wall for years and I would often take it down and wash and press it. My good husband made a shaker-style wooden hanger and a peg-board for hanging it. Being the sentimentalist that I am, I’m sure I became far too attached to that dress.
Now it’s time to pass the dress down to my Hannah’s first daughter. She’ll be born, Lord willing, almost exactly 29 years after the first little girl wore the dress. Of course, I’m all about adding her name to the slip, hanging her picture in the dress beside the one of Hannah. She can wear the same little gold bracelet and even the same tatted cap that her great grandmother, her grandmother, and her mother all wore.
But, alas, when I went to find that little dress to give it a final press and wrap it in a box to give to Hannah on the night we found out that a little girl is coming, the dress was gone. It’s not on the wall where it hung for so many years. It’s not in the closet where I might have hung it when pressed and clean. It’s not in the box where I’d remembered wrapping it for the original gender reveal two years ago (when it turned out we were having a boy). In fact that box is nowhere to be found. I’ve turned my house upside down and I’ve asked every friend and relative who might have a clue. I’ve racked my feeble brain and retraced weary steps. I’ve called a hotel and I even dreamed the other night that I found it. In the dream it was yellowed and had an unseemly texture, but I did not care. You know, it was a dream.
Now, as I said, I know I became far too attached to that little dress. After all, it is a material thing and I know I cannot take it with me when I go. (But I think I’d just like to take it with me till then!) But because that little dress has traveled far and near to ladies days (as an illustration of redemption, of all things) and because it has been a decoration at a couple or more baby events, I just want to make one more internet hunt for it and then I’ll give up the baby dress search. If I should find it, I’ll do the Luke 15 thing and call my friends in, saying “Rejoice with me, for I have found that which was lost.” If I don’t, I guess, I’ll do the Matthew 6 thing and stop being anxious about what (the baby) will “put on”. Here’s the dress from a 1987 photo. At the top of this page is the box that might contain it these days (it’s the pink chevron one), and, finally, here’s the poem about that little white dress.
I know there’s a fine line between sentimental and obsessed…between frustrated and mentally ill. I think I’ve probably looked for this a little too long and hard in the last few weeks. Still, if you have a clue…if you have seen either of these (the box or the dress) in the last two years, I’d love to hear from you!
Each stitch was so carefully sewn.
Behind every one was a dream for a time
When the child who would wear it was grown.She picked out a pattern so carefully
And traced every piece on the straight
Of the best piece of fabric that she could afford.
Each step took so long, but she’d wait.She worked with the scissors until at the last,
All of the scraps cut away,
She assembled a bodice with ribbon and lace.
She lined it so it wouldn’t give way.And soon she was busy gathering batiste
With delicate thread, but yet strong;
Attaching the bodice of ribbon and lace
To the skirt that was flowing and long.
As she waited for the birth of her little one,
She’d smile at the tiny white dress.
She was happy to know it was finished in time,
And to know she had given her best.
One warm summer day a little girl came.
She wore the little white dress.
The mother’s heart swelled with contentment,
But she knew it was not time to rest.
She worked with the fabric of the little girl’s heart–
Made sure it was soft and yet strong.
She knew it would have to be durable,
For some days would be trying and long.
She once again found the best pattern
In a very old book, tried and true.
She applied its instructions to the little girl’s heart
As she dreamed of the great things she’d do.
She carefully clipped away all of the scraps;
Sinstains and flaws thrown away.
She took the strong thread of God’s loving care
And carefully stitched day to day.
Stitches of holiness, meekness and faith;
Kindness and hope formed a lace.
Stitches so tiny and beautiful;
The tiny heart grew in His grace.
And finally the days were stitched into years.
The mother had seen the child grow.
She’d relished the coming of each little dream.
And now it was time to let go.
But the mother had carefully pressed and preserved
In a bureau, the little white gown.
And now, as they wait for a new little one,
And these heirlooms are the best;
And patterned from truths from above,
They’re all bound together with heavenly thread.
These heirlooms are gifts of pure love!