Ofelia DeYoung started telling her daughter about her wedding dress the day she was born.
“When the doctor said, ‘Oh, you have a little girl,’ that’s the first thing that came to my mind, ‘Oh, she has to wear my dress — our dress!’ ” she said of Jennifer’s birth, “And then when I held her in my arms I said, ‘Oh, I hope one day, you get to wear that dress!’ ”
As Jennifer grew in Clovis, Calif., her mom talked often of the beauty of the dress: its silk, its row of buttons, the embroidered beaded flowers and the modesty of its high collar and long sleeves.
But Jennifer responded again and again that she was never going to wear it.
The wedding dress got a nickname, “the fertile dress,” which was a little spooky.
Bettye DeYoung, the first to wear it, gave birth nine months and five days after wearing it. Ofelia DeYoung, her daughter-in-law, gave birth nine months and six days after wearing it.
“I think as a child you’re like, ‘Oh, no. No, that’s too much for me to handle,’ ” Jennifer said.
The dress, purchased for $200 in Los Angeles in 1944, had become a family heirloom she didn’t want.
“I think it’s every girl’s dream to go dress shopping and try on different styles and have that fun experience with your friends and your mom,” Jennifer said, “and we did that, and nothing was really calling me.”
Ofelia shared a gentle reminder: “Hey, the dress is still here. You should try it on.”
Jennifer finally did, and fell in love with it. She wore it to her Malibu wedding May 26 as she married Daniel Kramer and became Jennifer Kramer.
“When her husband Dan saw her in that dress, he had tears, he was crying,” Ofelia said, “and the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Oh, you look like an angel in that dress!’ And he said, ‘Make sure, when God gives us a little girl, make sure to preserve that dress. I want our little girl to wear that dress, too.’ ”
If it happens 36 years from now, it will carry on another family tradition. Bettye, Ofelia and Jennifer were all married in the same dress around 36 years apart.
Ofelia and Jennifer also knew their husbands for the same amount of time before they were engaged — one year and seven months. Both were 31 years old when they got engaged, and their husbands were 36 when they got married.
Ofelia thinks the number 36 must be a lucky one for their family.
The women say the similarities were totally unplanned.
Jennifer now has a different view of the fertile dress: “To have a fertility dress on your side, that actually could be a good thing.” She’s not currently pregnant, but hopes to have children someday.
Jennifer said wearing the dress was an opportunity to honor the special women in her life.
Ofelia wanted her daughter to wear it, in part, because she thinks her mother, who died, would have liked to see Jennifer in the dress. Bettye started the tradition with her insistence that Ofelia wear it at her wedding on Nov. 14, 1981 in Visalia.
Bettye, 95, was married Jan. 20, 1945 in Bakersfield. She now resides at nursing home in central Fresno.
During a visit to her nursing home recently, Jennifer put the dress on for Bettye, who clutched onto a handful of its soft silk. Ofelia and Jennifer flipped through old wedding albums as Bettye gazed at the black-and-white photos.
Although Jennifer wore the dress 78 years after her grandmother did, she said it fit the Bohemian style of her wedding venue.
Jennifer’s husband also incorporated a piece of his family’s history in their wedding by wearing a wedding band that belonged to his great-grandfather, also named Daniel.
“Look in your grandparents’ closets, look in your parents’ closets,” Jennifer said, “there’s a lot of cool stuff in there that you could use in the future and have fun with and honor your family in that.”