(Excerpt from my mother’s memoirs which I will be publishing soon. This is from my mother’s childhood, during The Great Depression) The woman in the picture is my Great Grandmother Elvira Perkins Holdaway. She is picture in her wedding dress, photographed just a few days before her death in 1903. She had given birth to 12 children and was survived by only 4
A humpback metal trunk of old family treasures sat in Mama’s and Daddys’ bedroom. Mama never minded if I dug through this trunk, as long as I carefully returned everything just as I found it. Over the years, I looked through it dozens of times, coming away with different impressions each time. Resting on top was Grandma Holdway’s wedding dress, a sumptuous two piece ivory satin confection of tucks and lace. The tucked bodice came just to the waist of the tiny waist band of the skirt. Even as a small child, the waist was too small for me. My grandmother had always been a thin woman, but she must have been well-corseted to have fit in that dress. Amazingly, just days before she died, there is a picture of her taken in that same dress, though she had been gravely ill for a long time. A small mother-of- button was carved with an eight point star was pinned at the center of the high neck band. Dozens of satin-covered-buttons fastened down its back, long full sleeves falling to its lace-trimmed cuffs. Tiny, high button white boots of cracked leather rested beneath the wedding dress. There was the precious tin box of special things Mama let me play with when I was sick as well as family photographs and letters. Most unbelievable, was a packet of love letters Daddy had written to Mama after they were married. These were incongruously out of character for my stooped, skinny old Daddy and round Mama with her bun and missing teeth.
Though I had free access to the trunk, I didn’t want Mama to see me reading her letters. I read them, carefully refolding and returning each just as I’d found it, all the while trying to reconcile the love Daddy expressing love like this for Mama. More often than not, he grumped when he spoke to her now.