“Doesn’t it?” Carson replied obstinately, eyes averted.
“No. You’re ready to be a bride, Carson. You’ve worked very hard for this moment. Sacrificed, struggled, dug deep, and persevered. I know, because I watched you do it.”
Carson didn’t respond, but with some reluctance, she looked Mamaw in the eyes, seeking affirmation.
Mamaw pressed on in an upbeat tone. She didn’t want to derail the purpose of tonight’s visit. “Atticus was telling me that you thought you might like a vintage gown. One with memories and connected to the family.”
“Where will I find such a gown?”
Mamaw’s eyes brightened with her news. “How about right here?”
Carson looked confused.
“Come, lazy girl, sit up.” Mamaw reached out to lend Carson her hand.
“Mamaw?” Carson raised her head to peer over the sofa at the large box that rested on the dining-room table. “What is that?”
“That, my dear, is my wedding dress.”
Carson’s mouth slipped open in a soft gasp. She pulled herself to her feet. “You still have it?”
“Of course I do. It was customary for brides in my day to save their dresses for posterity.” Mamaw walked to the box on the table and gazed inside, gingerly touching the tissue. She spoke wistfully. “One always hoped her daughter would want to wear the gown. I, of course, never had a daughter. But, Carson . . .” Mamaw paused, and a tremulous smile eased across her face as she looked at Carson. “You’re the closest thing I’ve ever had to a daughter. You’re my granddaughter, true. But more a daughter than anything else.”
Carson’s lower lip wobbled. “I’ve always felt that, too.”
“My dear girl . . .” Mamaw opened her arms.
Carson followed the same path to her grandmother’s arms that she had as a child. Tears stung Mamaw’s eyes as she caught the scent of the perfume they both shared.
“This is not a time for tears!” Mamaw laughed lightly. “Take a look! The same rules apply. If you like it, then it’s yours. If you don’t, don’t feel beholden to wear it.”
“I just hope it’s not white,” Carson said with a wry grin.
It took a moment for Mamaw to catch the joke, and when she did, she giggled and waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, you. As a matter of fact, it’s not. It’s ivory. Now go ahead, darling,” she said, anxious to see the dress. “Open it.”
Carson approached the box with care. Reaching out, she spread open the folded tissue with fingertips. Mamaw held her breath, eyes wide, one moment looking at the dress, the next checking on Carson’s reaction. Suddenly she felt afraid Carson wouldn’t like the gown. She’d think it was old-fashioned, nothing a modern girl such as Carson would like.
Slowly, reverently, Carson lifted the dress from the box. Huge mounds of tissue paper that had carefully been tucked between the folds of the dress fell away like birds, taking flight to scatter on the floor. Yards of creamy satin flowed from the box. Carson took a step back and held the dress in front of her, arms straight out, while she studied it.
As did Mamaw. As she saw her gown again, heady memories of that glorious day in 1951 came rushing back at her. Her wedding was one of the most talked about of the season. Her and Edward’s union had marked the blending together of two historic Charleston families. At that time, most of her friends wanted to look like Elizabeth Taylor or Grace Kelly: the fashion was tight bodices with sweetheart necklines and full, layered skirts. Her dress was quite the opposite, a sleeveless gown of duchesse satin, V-neck and V-back. Carson held the gown to her body. The ivory color complemented her tanned skin and dark hair. The dramatic cut would show off her tiny waist and the graceful curve of her back, as would the covered buttons that trailed to the court train.
Mamaw sighed, feeling again like the young bride. The dress was as beautiful to her now, and as precious, as it was when she’d worn it on her wedding day.
“Do you like it?” she dared to ask. “The veil is all French lace. That was the rage then, postwar.”
Carson fingered the soft fabric and said softly, “Vintage satin . . . lace . . . It’s everything I wanted.”
Encouraged, Mamaw brought Carson to the bathroom so she could look into the picture mirror. “It should fit you. We’re the same height. And once upon a time I had a small waist, like yours.”
Mamaw flicked on the bathroom lights and, for a moment, blinked in the brightness. Carson held the gown in place against her body. She stood staring, unblinkingly. Mamaw held her breath.
To Mamaw’s surprise, tears began flowing down Carson’s cheeks. As she looked at the gown, her expression was as if she couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing in the mirror—her very own fairy tale.
“Harper told me I was supposed to feel like this,” she said with a choked laugh. “But I didn’t believe her. Look at me! I’m crying. Me!” She laughed again. “And so are you!”
Mamaw brought her hand to her trembling lips and nodded.
“Oh, Mamaw!” Carson then said the words she’d come to believe would never cross her lips: “I’ve found my dress!”
“There’s one thing more.” Mamaw reached out to pick up a small navy velvet bag from the bathroom counter. “I want you to have this.”
Carson took the velvet bag, which was surprisingly heavy. As she tipped the bag, a large piece of jewelry fell into her palm. The large circular brooch had diamonds in a starburst pattern around a large sapphire. Carson could only stare, speechless, it was so stunning.
“My mother gave it to me to wear on my wedding day. It’s been in the family for ages. Bought at Croghan’s back in the day the store was still in Mr. Croghan’s home. That piece is a part of your history.”
“Oh, Mamaw, it’s too much.”
“Now, Carson, that brooch is meant to be worn with that dress, and it will give me the greatest pleasure seeing you wear it as I did. Right here.” Mamaw touched Carson’s left shoulder. “You can’t wear your black pearls on your wedding day. It wouldn’t be seemly. You don’t want to wear pearls anyway. That dress was designed to show off my swan’s neck. Or rather, like it was, once upon a time.” Mamaw smiled tenderly. “Wear it, dear. It’s your something blue.”