The gown has been taken in and let out. Stained and cleaned and stained again. It’s no longer made of just satin and lace — it is stitched now with stories, memories and prayers. It stands as a reminder to each woman who walks the aisle of how much she carries the others within her. She takes their lifeblood and their lessons. Their strengths, their failings.
The dress has come to hold a family code: “This is who we are, what we believe.” But even as a bride wears it, she is stepping away toward a life of her own and will have to decide how much of that code comes with her.
Regardless, just by slipping it on, she is tied to her mother, sisters, aunts and grandmother as never before. If she’s paying attention, she’ll feel the devotion among them and the pain they’ve caused one another — not on purpose, but out of the human imperfection that makes hurt as intrinsic as love in any close relationship.
But in the dress, she’ll understand why they went on loving, anyway.
Rita Paszkiewicz’s mother didn’t approve of her choice. In truth, Rita wasn’t always so sure about him, either.
She had been set up on a blind date with Bob Zgorski in October 1954. The second time they went out, he proclaimed they’d get married. “Well, I hope not too soon!” she responded.
But Bob meant what he said. And after a yearlong courtship, Rita continued to rebuff his entreaties to wed, so they broke up. “I couldn’t make up my mind,” she says.
A few months later, friends offered to send each of them out on another blind date. They arrived at the designated meeting point only to find each other. Friends persuaded them to give it another go, and within months, Bob and Rita were planning a wedding.
Rita’s mother had to be convinced. Her father, a businessman, liked Bob. Though the young man from Pennsylvania had only a junior-high education, he showed an entrepreneurial streak, opening a bike repair shop, then a service station. But he had been ill for much of his young life, until doctors finally repaired a damaged esophagus, and Rita’s mother worried about what her daughter would be in for.
“ ‘He’s not going to be well!’ ” she told Rita. But no one was ever good enough for her mother’s children, so Rita, strong-willed and in love, ignored the objections. Bob, 26, was kind and honest, with street smarts and a great sense of humor. A date was set for September 1956.
Rita fell in love with a gown she saw in a magazine, but none of the stores in town carried it. The owner of Judy’s Bridal Shop in Baltimore told her to bring in the photo and promised to make a replica.
It turned out just as Rita envisioned. At 21, she walked down the aisle of Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Baltimore. “I felt like a princess,” she remembers. “I loved it.” The couple were toasted with a home-cooked meal prepared by the church ladies at a nearby reception hall and sent on their way, with few thoughts of the life that was to come.