It’s spring, mid-April to be exact, and as with most Catholic churches, it’s the time of year when youngsters are preparing to receive their First Holy Communion. This post is not about religious doctrines. That’s better done by someone else. What I wanted to share is a story that gets told every year at the church Goodnight and I attend.
I don’t tell the story – though I’m the one who told it the first time. The Director of Faith Formation tells the story now. It’s the story of a young girl who wore a very old veil for her First Holy Communion. It’s a textile story. It’s a family story. And – well, you know how I feel about textiles and family.
The story begins with my mother. In May of 1935, my mother made her First Holy Communion and wore a beautiful white veil with wax lilies-of-the-valley as part of the headpiece. Once in a rare while, mother would take out a photograph to show me what she looked like when she was a young girl. I loved seeing her as a youngster, but the photo of her all in white always caught my eye.
Goodnight’s great-grandmother (my mother) in 1935
When it was time for me to make my First Holy Communion, her photo had been tucked in a closet, and the veil had never been considered because there was a dress and veil that all my female cousins were passing around. One of mother’s sisters bought a dress and veil and offered it to any of her siblings’ female children. Mother was the youngest of ten children and there were a lot of cousins! I don’t even know how many of use wore the ‘Cousin Dress and Veil’. I know that my sister and I did. And then it had to be sent immediately to someone else the same year. It is a precious memory in its own right.
Me (Goodnight’s gram) in 1961 in the ‘Cousin Dress and Veil’
Many years later, when my own daughter was ready to make her First Holy Communion, mother wasn’t sure where the ’Cousin Veil’ was but she still had the dress. She pulled out a very old box and asked me if I was interested in my daughter wearing the veil that was in the box. I opened the lid and, after lifting back the blue tissue paper, I spotted the wax lilies-of-the-valley that I remembered from her very old photograph.
I loved that mother wanted to share her veil with my daughter. Goodnight’s mother got to wear the same dress that I wore and she got to wear the same veil that her grandmother wore. It was such a special time because in the events of the church, we pass along our faith traditions – whatever they may be – and we also had a chance to pass along something else in the process.
Goodnight’s mother (my daughter) in 1987 – wearing the ‘Cousin Dress’ (you can tell by the sleeves) and her grandmother’s veil
After Goodnight’s mother was finished using the veil, I gently laid it back in the blue tissue paper and closed the box. I knew that mother wanted to keep it for a time longer. So she tucked it away for safe-keeping.
When Goodnight came along, I took a back seat to the decision-making processes where she was concerned – until my daughter became sick and asked me to raise her daughter, my granddaughter – Goodnight. Besides being Goodnight’s grandmother, I am also her godmother. So in raising her, I am bound to the promises I made to my daughter before she died, but also to the promises I made to the church. (For better or worse – it’s a serious promise that I try not to take lightly.)
As Goodnight approached the age of her faith formation, no mention was made of dress or veil because my mother knew that I could knit and sew. True enough! In fact, my plan was to knit Goodnight’s dress and veil. The ‘Cousin Dress’ was now long gone. It probably found its way to the ‘Cousin Veil’ – awaiting another generation.
At the time I started knitting Goodnight’s dress, she was taking ice-skating lessons on Saturday mornings. Then on Sunday afternoons, she would ice-skate for fun and try to practice some of the things she had learned. While she did all that, I sat in the bleachers and worked on her dress. I always sat at the top of the bleachers and far out-of-the-way. I liked the quiet time and I could see Goodnight on the ice better from higher up.
One Sunday afternoon, while Goodnight was skating, she either fell or had a problem. I saw that she needed me, so I put my knitting down and ran down the bleacher steps to help her out. Not a huge crisis. I sat with her while she rested and she was soon ready to go back out on the ice.
I made my way up to my perch only to find that someone had spilled hot chocolate all over my knitting!!! I had nearly finished the skirt of the dress. My first thought was to look around and see who could have done that and not said anything to me. It was probably a very good thing that I didn’t spot anyone. Officer Friendly had just died the month before and I was using my knitting to keep me – - sane, probably.
I sat down on the bleacher and tried to come up with Plan B. Plan A was clearly out of the question.
For those interested: THOUSANDS of chocolate brown Trinity stitches done in size 0 (US) needles never made it out of the ice arena with me that day. I cut them loose and tossed them in the trash immediately so I didn’t dwell on . . . . . . . . any more sadness or loss than I already had on my plate.
While still at the ice arena, I called my mother and told her what happened – not looking for an answer, but merely sympathy. Mothers are good for that. Along with her sympathy, she once again offered me her veil. I took her up on that offer and then only had to worry about a dress for Goodnight.
As mother was the keeper of her veil, I was the keeper of some different textiles. I had made Goodnight’s mother’s wedding dress and veil, and there was fabric left from that project. I dug out the box, sorted out what I had, and decided that I could make a dress that would be perhaps even more sentimental than a hand-knit dress from Gram.
In the end, Goodnight had a dress that was made from wedding veil lace, wedding dress fabric, with collar and sleeve cuffs knit by her Gram. It was a combination of love messages, I guess. But to top it all, she wore her great-grandmother’s veil.
Mom was worried that it had gotten too old. Some of the wax flowers were compromised, but that was easy to solve. The most important thing is that there was not a single hole or tear in the lace. Naturally, it had yellowed a bit from the time, but that made it even more obvious that it was an heirloom. Her heirloom – her mother’s heirloom – my mother’s heirloom. Not a monetary value, but how can you measure the heart?
So Goodnight showed up for photos at the appointed time and all the kids sat in a row waiting their turn. The Faith Formation Director showed up and spotted the old veil and asked for the story. Mother was there with me as I told it and now the Director tells it to each new class. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have something old to wear. Having something new is great, too. Something new can become someone else’s heirloom. That’s how it goes.
Goodnight in 2005 – in her great-grandmother’s veil as her mother had worn, and in a dress made from her mother’s wedding fabrics with some knit trim at the collar and sleeve cuffs, made by her gram.
I ran into the Faith Formation Director recently and she reminded me that it was the time of year for her to tell the story. So I had to pull out my photos and tell it myself again – here in this blog, so Goodnight can remember it too. We miss the third generation dearly and there’s hardly any consolation for that, but at least Goodnight is gaining a strong sense of her place in – faith, time, and family.
If all of that happens when we open up boxes holding long-ago treasures, then it’s been worth the keeping and telling.
Of the photos I’ve shared in this post, only two were actually black and white originally. I collected two sets of all four, had the two most recent photos made into black and white prints and put both sets in separate frames: one for my mother and one for me. Along with a hard copy of the blog, Goodnight will have a framed set telling the visual Tale of the Trail of the Veil.
A footnote: For the purpose of this blog post, I’ve cropped the photo of Goodnight. As luck would have it, she crossed her legs just as the photo was snapped. Due to the length of her dress, only her feet were visible and it looks as though she got her shoes on the wrong feet the day of her First Communion. She didn’t of course, but I didn’t catch it until the prints came in from the photographer. By that time it was much too late to take a formal photo again. So . . . . . we have the serious story to pass on, and then the ‘footnote’.