Quaker not-so-plain dress

today's UPI column

So There I was...

Being born. It was a busy day for my mother and me. We were at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago, right off of the Congress Expressway, which was six lanes in 1957, not the present eight, and not yet named for Mr. Eisenhower. It was snowing, which was not surprising as it was New Year’s Eve. My father was concerned for his beloved wife, excited about the prospect of his second child, and it would soon dawn on him that her two-week early arrival would give him the tax deduction for the entire previous year. Everything went well.

About 20 blocks due east at 325 West Jackson Boulevard, just off Upper Wacker Drive, a Mr. Jack Stern had a small but prestigious couture dress studio. He sold his dresses almost exclusively through Marshall Field’s designer dress section. The Holiday season was always a busy time. Even though he was in the middle of the Spring into Summer dresses, and planning for the 1958 fall season, his regular customers knew that they could come in for an emergency fitting or to ask for something special. That week a very special order was filled for a simple but elegant black dress. Rayon crepe, simple on top, three quarter length sleeves, fitted at the waist; it was flattering to the figure that was planning to wear it to the society funeral. Its subtle glory was the large satin bow just above the fluted, knee length hem.

The dress was delivered to the north shore address. I was delivered and taken in due time, west to the suburb of Oak Park, to an apartment above a bakery.

I know how I came to live in Salem, Oregon. After 18 years in Oak Park, I went to college in Santa Fe, New Mexico, married an Oregonian and followed him home. The Quaker thing came after that and was a bit of a surprise to me.

The dress has a more mysterious history. It was not worn often, but many couture dresses suffer that fate. But somehow it found its way west across the continent and eventually to a Goodwill Store in Salem, hanging on a rack with a tag that said $15. The prospect of an ignoble end as a Halloween costume was very real.

Quaker preachers do not wear vestments. Our worship attire is not usually distinguishable from the other members of the meeting. This is one of our testimonies. Those of us who facilitate weddings and memorial services dress appropriate to the level of festivity of the occasion. For my brothers in the ministry, a suit and tie is almost always sufficient. Female ministers have to be a bit more creative. You want to look appropriate, but not call attention to yourself. I like elegant, when I can pull it off.

Being a Quaker preacher is not usually a high-remuneration gig, at least not materially. I shop at Goodwill. And so it came to pass that a baby girl of a certain vintage and a couture dress of the same vintage found each other forty years later and several thousand miles away from the neighborhood where they both started.

Odd that this sort of a dress would end up attending Quaker weddings and memorials. But no more odd than my own journey.

I am more sentimental about some inanimate objects than I probably ought to be. I tend to anthropomorphize certain objects, like motorcycles. But I guess that I believe that the cosmos, animate and inanimate, is ordered in a way that the pull of a strong human pathway will sweep along other physical bodies like leaves on a wind-swept path.

Yesterday I was privileged to be a principal witness at a Beautiful Quaker Wedding in a grove of ancient Douglas fir. The dress felt right and meet and proper.

Mr. Jack’s dress and I have both had better endings than might have been.

We are grateful.

Hey - we share the same birthday! Wonderful post as usual!
Beautiful, moving, and deep. There's a beauty to your observant linkage of Things Earthly to Things Spiritual.

My spirituality is entirely of the "earthly" sort.

It's good to connect with you and your thoughts.
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