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Dress bought in 1961 became heirloom worn by three generations of women

Editor’s Note: The letter, carefully penned in a cursive script, began simply enough: “The Gazette says that if you have a good story, send it to us with the information and let us share it with others.” That much is right. Then the author scribbled an apologetic afterthought: “I’m no story teller.” Turns out, she was wrong about that.

RIPLEY — It was spring, 1961, and Edana Hope Travis needed to help her middle daughter, Dreama Travis, find a dress for her upcoming graduation from DuPont High School in Belle.

They wanted something special, a white dress, as was custom for such events at the time, so mother and daughter set out one April day — and for a while, nothing seemed quite right.

After several hours of searching and trying, zipping and unzipping, they landed at the well-known Diamond department store in downtown Charleston.

The store itself was “top of the line,” Edana said. “I cried the last time I came out of that store, ’cause I raised all my girls there. All their clothes came from The Diamond.”

And sure enough, there it was, a beautiful white dress with a V-neck, cap sleeves, a lacy, fitted bodice and a full, flowing skirt.

“She said, ‘I think this is it. I like this one,’” remembered Edana.

Neither of them, of course, had any idea what the dress would come to mean to them, to the daughters and granddaughters who hadn’t yet been born — how it would be woven over time into the very fabric of their family, strengthening those ties across years and miles. They just liked the dress.

And, it was pretty pricey: $25 — the equivalent of roughly $210 today.

“Wow!!” Edana wrote in her scripted letter to the newspaper. “Quite expensive back in those days.”

“I didn’t have the cash, so I charged it on my Diamond card,” she said.

Dreama wore it for her graduation. And that would have been the end of it.

But Dreama, who passed away several years ago, had always been a keeper of special things, with a soft spot for traditions. So she stored it away.

In 1980, when Dreama’s oldest daughter, Kami Blackhurst, was ready to graduate from Nitro High School, she couldn’t find the right thing to wear. After many futile hours of shopping, Dreama’s dress came out of storage — and it fit!

That in itself was amazing, noted several family members — the dress, to this day, is “unforgiving,” they said. It doesn’t give much — it either fits or it doesn’t.

It fit another daughter, Brandi, when she, too, graduated from Nitro High in 1993.

So that’s one dress, one daughter, two granddaughters. But of course, the story doesn’t end there.

“Get yourself a glass of water, sit back and read the rest,” Edana wrote.

She is not subtle.

Born in 1920, the same year American women won the right to vote, she is the clear family matriarch, a staunch believer in faith and family. She wants this dress to get the recognition it deserves — it has played a far more important role in her family than she ever imagined.

The following year, 1994, another granddaughter was preparing to graduate from Shawnee State University. Her mom, Carol, and Dreama were sisters.

“And one day we were on the phone and she said, ‘I would love it if Christen wore this dress for her graduation,’” remembered Carol Blake. “I was tickled to death.”

So was her daughter.

“I thought it was an amazing idea,” Christen Blake-Hull said.

“Anytime, in my opinion, you can empower people to go to school — women — to go to school, graduate, and start a tradition,” that’s great, Christen said. That it began at a time when education wasn’t always seen as a priority for women made it that much more meaningful.

Her Aunt Dreama included her, she added, because — like Edana — “she valued the fact that I was able to graduate from college.”

College, Christen said, wasn’t always easy. She was away from home and family, and worked hard to make the grades she needed.

The dress, she said, “was kind of like the prize at the end of what you have to go through to get your education. ... When I walked across that stage, in that dress, that was huge for me.”

More than 20 years later, the dress showed up in family lore again when it was time for a great-granddaughter to graduate in 2018.

“Tristen Hope Dickie graduates in her grandmother’s dress from Hardin Valley High School in Knoxville, Tennessee,” wrote Edana.

The dress made its way to Martinsburg earlier this year, when another great-granddaughter, Blake Hull, was ready to cross the stage at Spring Mills High School.

With family spread out, the dress is sometimes shipped, sometimes gently hand-carried across state lines. Still, it is beginning to show its age.

“And now it’s hard to get on, like the zipper — it’s starting to be threadbare a little bit,” Christen said. “When I wore it, it had stays here, and those are hard.”

•••

On a recent Saturday, the family gathered for Edana’s 99th birthday. She dressed in purple for the occasion. Edana expected a small crowd later in the day, but the family arrived early. The mood was jovial, with the dress getting its fair share of attention.

“I never got to wear it,” said Rodney Travis, her son.

“Neither did I, and it would have fit me,” added Aaron Clay, a son-in-law.

The next generation of girls are already lining up for their turn to graduate in the family dress — and they are more than a little concerned about how it will fare until their time comes.

“Brandi has three girls that are in line to wear it, and they’re freaking out with this dress being shipped back and forth that it’s going to get lost,” Carol said. “One of them, she’s like, ‘I’m wearing it next and I don’t want it to get lost or destroyed in shipment.’”

It was $25 back in 1961.

Today, to this family, it is priceless.

Reach Maria Young at

maria.young@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5115 or follow

@mariapyoung on Twitter.

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Dyer, Lenora - 11 a.m., Perrow Presbyterian Church, Cross Lanes.

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