Wednesday, December 11, 2013

THE DRESS

by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Tradition has always been a part of my life. My family had holiday traditions, vacation traditions, and even a lunch-with-my-siblings-every-week tradition.

One tradition which began even before I was born was the baptism dress. Ninety-seven years ago last summer, when my grandma was pregnant with her firstborn—my father, she made a baptism dress for the child she expected.

After my father was baptized in the dress, it was put away for his first sibling. Aunt Rita was the second baby baptized in that dress and a tradition was born. Dad ended up having eight younger siblings, and all of them were baptized in the dress. One of his cousins was also baptized in it.

That made a total of ten babies baptized in the family baptism dress. Until the next generation came along. Aunt Rita’s children, my brothers, Aunt Ruth’s first son, and then ME! I was the 18th baby to be baptized in the same dress my father wore.
Kathy in "the dress".

The list of my cousins and siblings grew and grew. After each baptism, Grandma’s instructions were to return the dress to her unwashed. She trusted only herself with the care of the garment that had carried a tradition through two generations of Cannons (41 babies). In the 1950’s, she re-enforced the dress’s yoke.

When I gave birth to my first child, my daughter became the second member of a third generation (Baby #43) to be baptized in the family dress worn by both my father and me. Grandma mailed me the dress with a letter telling me of its history and those instructions to return it unwashed.

When Grandma died, Aunt Rita took over the care of the dress. She also kept a list of every baby who wore it. The list grew longer and longer. My second daughter was baby #48, and my sons were #52 and #55.

My parents had seven children, and by the time we were having our own children, the dress seemed to spend much of its time in Cincinnati. At one point, when Rita sent me the dress for a Cincinnati family baptism, she included the list, written in her beautiful handwriting, and the washing instructions. “Don’t send it back,” she wrote. I had been made the new custodian of a valued—and fragile—family tradition.

I called for a vote at a family reunion about the future of the dress. Should we have it refurbished to keep it usable or put it away under glass? We were one vote shy of unanimous to keep using it.

When MY first grandchild was born, she became Baby #91 to wear the dress. It was recently refurbished again, and now in more than 97 years, it has been worn by 106 babies.

In a first for the dress, Babies #104 and #105 were baptized on the same day. Emma wore it for an 11:30AM baptism before the dress was handed off to her cousin Paige for an afternoon baptism in the same church.

I could tell you stories about the dress. There was the time a mail delay held it up and it didn’t arrive in time for the baptism. Or the time we felt fortunate that it was out of town for a baptism when we had a house fire. Or the time it appeared to be lost for several months before it was finally located.

But for now, I’ll just say I love traditions! And my big wonderful family, many of whom I still lunch with once a week. Because, after all, traditions are a part of my life.

17 comments:

  1. This is quite a lovely tradition. I'm glad the dress was kept instead of put away.

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    1. Me, too! Thanks for commenting. I hope you also have traditions you cherish.

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    1. Hearing from you always puts a smile on my face, dear Juliet.

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  3. WOnderful story. I think this would make a great picture book!

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    1. Thanks, Carol. I'll have to give that some thought. It would have to offer other illustration opps than babies in a dress.

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  4. What a great tradition! Someday, I hope you'll write the story of the dress. I agree with Carol it would make a wonderful book.

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    1. Thanks, Diane. You & Carol have my mind working. Maybe...

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  5. This is a great story and a wonderful tradition.

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    1. Thanks, Ann. We Cannons are a sentimental bunch who love tradition.

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  6. Lovely post . . . we cherish our traditions :-) We didn't have any growing up, so hubs and I love creating our own with our girls!

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    1. That's awesome! Your girls will thank you for it.

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  7. We have a family baptism dress too that my father's generation, my generation and my children all wore. Thanks for bring back great memories. Aren't family traditions the best?

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    1. I love it! So happy that your family has one, too. It makes a special occasion even more special. And I feel that now it's a way to include the ones who aren't with us anymore because they were part of the tradition's early days.

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  8. That is an amazing story...now I have to ask my sister where ours are...lol!

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    1. Thanks, Patty. And it's never too late to begin a new tradition.

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