Courtesy of Pam Walatka
Jerry and Pam Walatka pose with the MGM lion just after getting married in Reno in 1982. Pam is wearing her mother's wedding dress.
During the Depression my mom was working for Livingston Brothers (then one of the best stores in San Francisco) when they had a big sale on wedding dresses. One of them was fabulous.
The cut of the dress was simple and good; the fabric was sensuous, bias-cut satin. Bias-cut means the material was cut on a 45-degree angle to the length of the cloth, giving a stretchiness to the garment. The dress doesn't draw attention to itself, but makes the wearer look good.
Mom didn't have much hope of getting married that year because the Depression was hard on everything, including love. She and Dad had been going together for five years, but couldn't afford to get married - and weren't sure about it yet anyway.
Mom figured that even though she didn't need the dress, she could use the great fabric to make underwear. She bought it.
Then she and Dad drove up to Alturas in the boonies of northeastern California because Dad had a job interview. The interview was going well until the guy said, "Actually, we prefer a married man."
Dad said, "I can fix that." He went out to the car where my mom was waiting, and said, "We're getting married Saturday."
Mom said, "OK. I've got a dress."
Their marriage lasted "till death do us part," and featured a good number of romantic and often comic moments. They had a lot of fun together.
For example, very late one foggy night they were driving back to Santa Rosa from my uncle's house in Berkeley, when a song they liked came on the radio. Dad stopped the car and they got out and danced by the side of the road.
Mom saved the dress and my sister wore it when she got married. I was jealous as spit that she was getting married before me. She was five years younger and much cuter, and had started dating before me. Thank God I at least had a date (Jerry Walatka). At one of my brothers' weddings, I hadn't had a date, and that was rough.
Jerry and I decided to go to Reno to get married because we both hated being the center of attention at a party. In fact, the proposal was, "Well, do you want to go to Reno?"
Our hotel room, in the MGM Grand, had posters from old movies. In one of the posters '20s-era movie star Norma Shearer was wearing a dress just like my mom's! I took that as a good omen.
When we went to get the license, we sat in the car for a long time, trying to get up our nerve. This was the biggest leap we had ever taken in our lives. Across the street from where we parked was a drive-through marriage chapel. We were both tempted to go there (in our jeans) because a drive-through wedding seemed funny, but we had already spotted a sweet chapel, and I wanted to wear the dress.
I think I was the only bride in Reno who wasn't pregnant. We went back to the room to get dressed. Most of the wedding couples weren't dressed up. When Jerry and I came down the hotel stairs to get outside, a drunk was on his way up the stairs. He looked at us and said, "Oh my God!"
We went to the chapel, where the lady assistant told the minister, "We've got a couple of nervous ones here." The minister was amazingly sincere and said just the right things.
I had lost five pounds in order to wear the dress. I was doing fine until dinner, when I coughed and one of the side seams opened up a bit. By then I was missing my family and friends to share the big event. But the marriage turned out great.
We are still married and so is my sister. I hope my daughter will want to wear the dress too, but probably she'll want to show more skin.