Sixty-eight years ago this month, I wore this dress. As I was recently going through many old records, etc., I found a page where my mother had itemized the cost of my wedding dress.

Let me give you a little background.

At that time, there was a dressmaker in Bowman, Mrs. Bell, who made wedding dresses for everybody I knew. So, when Charlie and I decided on a wedding date, one of my first calls was to Mrs. Bell to be sure she could make my dress and those for the attendants AND my mother by July 10. Each of us had to be “measured” by her, and then she tallied up how much material I needed for each dress.

Harriet Hutto writes: “Mrs. Bell charged $10 to make the dress. For $53.65, I had a wedding dress exactly like the magazine picture!”

I’ll give you the details about mine. I need to tell you that all I had was a picture from a Bride’s Magazine of the dress of my dreams, as well as another picture for the attendants’ dresses. Mrs. Bell looked at them and said, “Yes, I can make them.” My dress was made of bordered organdy. Mama, my sister and I went to Charleston to a store known to have the best selection of material anywhere around. Mama’s “page” says that my dress took 15 yards of bordered organdy at $2.65 a yard. There were four yards of white taffeta for the lining at $.75 a yard, four spools of white thread at $.10 each and a 14-inch zipper at $.50. Mrs. Bell charged $10 to make the dress. For $53.65, I had a wedding dress exactly like the magazine picture!

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Back in the last century, when this wedding took place, it was the custom in our community for all of the neighbors to contribute their specialty for the wedding reception — sandwiches, cookies, cheese straws or little cakes, as well as the punch. Several ladies owned glass punch bowls, and many had glass punch cups as well as serving plates. They all coordinated with the bride and her mother about the quantities of each which would be needed. All of these were washed and brought to the bride’s home. Several had cutwork tablecloths, and those were used on the serving tables.

In the year I was married, there was a drought. The swamps in this area were totally dry. It had been a long time since we’d had a rain — even a shower. So, we felt safe in planning our reception outside in the yard of my home. Air conditioning for homes was just a dream. But a lot of borrowed electric fans were gathered to cool the “receiving line” as the entire bridal party and parents stood in the living room to shake hands with each guest as they came by. I know July 10 was a hot day. They have told me that it was. But my memories are that everything was just as beautiful as I had dreamed it would be.

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I remember how proud my dad was when all of our friends came by to shake his hand. (I think of that often as I also remember that one year later he died of a massive heart attack, just before his 41st birthday. There were no treatments for heart attacks in that day.) His role had been to make shelves to turn one bedroom into a gift display room. That was the custom then. Some of these same neighbor women were armed with white sheets that were used to cover the boards which held all of the gifts.

Every bride chose at least one china pattern, as well as a pattern for silverware and for the crystal that could all be used to set a perfect table. In addition to these beautiful gifts, there were many of the practical things that every couple just beginning to furnish a home needed. Wedding guests loved to walk through the gift room to see what the latest gadget might be that the newest bride had received.

I have not found the total cost of my wedding, but I’m sure my mother had it written down somewhere. She taught me the value of record keeping, and I often find myself listing the cost of things, just as she did. But, as you can see, it’s not the cost of a wedding that makes a marriage successful. It’s the happiness you find with the partner you choose.

We built a new home on the family farm. There were cypress trees growing on the Hutto property somewhere, and Charlie cut some of those and had them sawed into boards or beams or whatever they were used for in our house. He was in charge of the construction. I was in charge of the decoration. Therefore, I can’t tell you where all of those boards went. You might not believe this, but our house was built much as my wedding dress was made — from a picture.

But it wasn’t really a picture. I just drew the floor plan that I wanted and the size of the rooms, on a large piece of poster cardboard. I was so proud of that when I gave it to the contractor. As was the dressmaker, he was also from Bowman (Mr. Frank Whetsell). When he looked at my floor plan, he told me I hadn’t left room for the thickness of the walls. Nevertheless, he took my plan and made our house from it. Cabinets were made right where you wanted them. There were no places to order them from and just have them installed when they arrived. Mr. Frank was skilled enough to know how to fit a roof on top of these rooms and, when we moved in, we never had another house! Our original house cost a little over $10,000, though as I said, some of the boards came from the timber on the farm. We did add on to this house twice, but again we had excellent contractors and carpenters.

From our wedding day forward, Charlie and I were determined to be good partners and, though we didn’t always agree exactly on everything, we knew how to figure out what was important and make changes that would satisfy both of us. It doesn’t take a break-the-bank wedding or a mansion to make a marriage. It just takes the right two people. We were so lucky to get that combination.

We knew how to do what our country seems unable to do — compromise. That’s the most important advice I can give you. Things do NOT have to be just like YOU want them all the time. No matter how much your wedding dress or house cost, none of it assures happiness. I can promise you that hasn’t changed over the last 68 years.

Harriet L. Hutto of Providence is a periodic contributor to The Times and Democrat.

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