by Jill Baer

I remember trying on my mother’s wedding dress when I was just a child. Standing on the bed, with yards of lace undulating around me like sea foam on an Atlantic wave, I imagined what it might be like to fall in love and let it sweep me off to uncharted shores.

In the summer of 2001 I was learning the answer when the love of my life, Ken, accompanied me to my parents’ 50th anniversary party  a jewel-toned, catered party in the Hollywood Hills where, to everyone’s delight, Mom and Dad sang their theme song, “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Ken proposed to me the next morning.

Then came September 11th. My dad was in Manhattan undergoing double knee replacement surgery when it happened. While my mom was visiting him, their apartment caught fire. In the midst of our national horror, the home my parents had built and thrived in for 40 years was destroyed. My sister and I immediately flew to New York. Our quiet little suburb of Fort Lee, New Jersey was crawling with tanks. Marines paraded down the street. The bridge, two blocks away, was a potential target. The glittering skyline we had always adored now choked out gritty smoke spirals, pouring like our shock and grief out of the hole that had been the towers.

We moved my parents to a smaller apartment in the same building. We rented a few pieces of utilitarian grey furniture, made constant runs to Target for dishes, towels, and supplies, borrowed a neighbor’s small black and white TV, and ate pizzas and takeout. Dad performed his physical therapy exercises, and with great determination, pushed his walker down the hallways, one step at a time. Mom, my sister and I made trips to the old apartment to see what might be salvaged. In the charred blackness of what had been my mom’s closet, we saw that most of her clothes had been ruined. It was heartbreaking to see my mom unzip the garment bag that contained one of her most cherished treasures – her wedding dress. It too had been burned. But then it caught her eye – a little patch of white. A scrap of lace remained unscathed.

Silently, my mom headed to the new apartment and returned with a pair of scissors. She clipped the swatch of smoke-filled lace and tucked it into her apron pocket. That night I saw her unfold it in the bathroom sink, and ever so gently begin to wash it. And wash it again. And again. Finally, exhausted from the day’s events, she collapsed onto the couch. My dad, watching her sleeping in her fraying housecoat, one of the few items she had managed to save, turned to us and said, “She’s an angel.”  From the way he looked at her, you could tell she was even more beautiful to him than the day he married her.

The next morning when I awoke on the rental couch, Mom was standing at the ironing board, carefully smoothing out the patch of lace. “I can’t give you my wedding dress,” she said, “but at least I can give you this.”

The following summer a section of that lace was sewn into my wedding dress, right over my heart. A year after my parents’ 50th anniversary party, we all celebrated again at that same lovely spot in the Hollywood Hills. I danced with my father, who felt like Gene Kelly with his new knees. Once again, there was color, joy and music in our world.

I marvel at my parents. I marvel at their resilience and their love, which itself is like a piece of vintage lace – intricately woven out of moments large and small, memories, hopes, tender care, and romance – all so very fragile. Miraculously, their love has survived six decades of life’s travails and challenges, including 9/11 and a raging fire.

What happened to the rest of the lace? Thanks to the imaginative Lisa at No Roses Gallery and the gifted jewelry artist Monika Knutsson, who both put so much heart into this project, it has been transformed into a gorgeous necklace! And a scrap of lace from my own wedding dress has been made into a ring to wear with it. This way I can always carry it with me and share its beauty with the world. And one day I will pass it along to another bride, as she rides into the future on her own wave of love and hope.


(Copyright Jill Baer 2012)JillB_weddings

Jill’s Mother’s Wedding and Jill’s Wedding