All in the family: Grandmothers, mom attendants as bride dons 3rd-generation dress

RICHLAND -- For bride Wendy Petersen, selecting a matron of honor was easy. All she needed was to look across the dining table at her grandmother.

"It was thoroughly delightful and surprising" to be invited to be in her granddaughter's wedding party, said Arlene Petersen, 86, of Richland.

A phone call to Wendy's maternal grandmother, Georgiana LaRiviere, 90, of Yakima, and her wedding party was complete.

"I was really surprised, or maybe shocked, when Wendy asked me because it's usually your best girlfriend. I asked if she was sure and she said yes," Georgiana said.

Nancy Petersen, 59, of Richland, the bride's mom, had a similar reaction.

"I asked Wendy, 'Don't you want someone younger than your grandmoms?' And she said, 'Mom, they've been with me since I was born. Why not?' " Nancy said.

Wendy, 29, a 1998 graduate of Hanford High School now living in Seattle, explained her choice, saying, "I have so many good friends and close relatives that I couldn't choose one over another."

Arlene and Georgiana didn't need much persuading.

"They were both tickled," Nancy said.

That settled, the two grandmothers found themselves shopping for bridesmaids dresses.

"It felt pretty good," said Georgiana, who found a long dress and beaded jacket in lavender. Arlene settled for a black sheath and hot pink jacket bought a couple years ago for a cruise.

When it came time to shop for a wedding gown, Wendy again turned to her grandmothers.

"I've always like the clothes, the look of the 1940s and 1950s. I searched Google for 1940s wedding dresses and found the exact style of my grandmother's (Georgiana)," Wendy said.

On one of Wendy's visits home, Nancy suggested trying on her grandmother's gown.

"It had been in my cedar chest since I wore it for my wedding on Oct. 1, 1977. I had always admired my mom's beautiful dress so when it came time for my wedding, I asked if I could wear it. I tried it on and it fit perfectly," Nancy said.

"That was it. Why waste my time and money to find something to make me feel special when mom's dress was perfect," Nancy said.

When Wendy slipped it on, it was dj vu for Nancy.

The gown fit perfectly.

How often does a wedding gown get worn twice, let alone three times, three generations, Georgiana asked.

"The unbelievable thing about the dress is it's never been altered, never even hemmed," Nancy said.

To keep her outfit all in the family, Wendy borrowed her grandmom Arlene's wedding veil. It was first worn when Arlene married Max Petersen on July 3, 1944, in Detroit, Mich.

Helping her granddaughter dress for her May 15 wedding at Christ the King Catholic Church in Richland, Georgiana recalled that she had bought the gown 70 years ago for $80 at Barns & Wooden, a Yakima department store that closed years ago.

"It wasn't the most expensive gown, sort of mid-range in price," she said.

Yet it looked as good on Wendy when she married Verni Jogaratnam of Seattle as it did on Georgiana when she married Charles LaRiviere on Aug. 18, 1945, in St. Paul's Church in Yakima.

"It's nice to be able to wear it and carry on the tradition. I'm proud to wear my grandmother's gown and my grandmother's veil. I hope if I have a daughter she'll be able, and willing, to keep the tradition going," Wendy said.

* Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com