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Beyond the veil

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By Laura Hagan

Generations of wedding photos have one thing in common for the McDonald family.Worn for six generations by nine women, in each photo is a rose-point lace veil in the garden pattern from Belgium that currently sits in a box in Louisa Huey “Weasa” Gaines’ home, waiting for the next bride in the family to wear it.The last bride to wear it was Weasa’s daughter, Louisa Macgill “Weasie” Gaines, at her wedding Sept. 22, 2007.The women estimate it’s 200 years old. Weasa said she found her mother’s scrapbook with an engagement announcement containing information about the veil. She’s not sure how many others have worn it – the nine women she knows of are just in the McDonald family direct line.Originally worn by Susan Thompson in her marriage to William McDonald sometime in the early-to-mid 1800s, the veil has passed through the McDonald family. Louisa Thompson Huey, mother of Weasa and grandmother of Weasie, wore the veil at her wedding.When Weasa wore it, the discolored lace had holes in it. Though it was almost unwearable, Weasa was determined to wear it in her wedding because her mother had in hers – a formal wedding with few attendants and a reception at home with her family. The veil was washed in Ivory Snow, and Weasa said when they put it in the bathroom sink, the water turned black. She re-washed it, not knowing if it would fall apart or not, but said she couldn’t wear it the way it was.Weasa’s wedding was small, in the chapel of a church in Baltimore, Md. There were 100 guests at her reception, and she was late to the ceremony because of the veil. The morning of the wedding, she pinned it in her hair and began to walk out of her mother’s house. The weight of the nine-foot-long veil pulled it right off her head. To prevent it from happening again, she had her mother sew the veil to the dress.Each generation wears the veil differently. Louisa wore it with orange blossoms pinned behind her ears. Weasie wore it with a comb. Since Weasa is the only one in her generation who has worn it, she is now keeper of the veil.About 10 years ago, she had a woman restore the family’s christening gown, and said she would love to restore the veil. Weasa wasn’t sure if she wanted to put the money into restoring it, so she talked to Weasie. She asked her daughter if she would want to wear the veil when the time came for her to get married. Weasie said she would.It took almost two years for the veil’s restoration. The holes in it were sewn up and a fine mesh netting was added behind it to help hold the veil together.Mother and daughter had the same feeling when it came to wearing the veil with their wedding dress. When the time came for Weasie’s wedding, she wanted to wear it because her mother and grandmother did. She hopes that her niece and cousin’s daughters will choose to wear it in their weddings.Weasie’s wedding was at her mother’s house, a log cabin just off Ky. 53. Unlike her mother, Weasie was nervous to wear the veil for the day. When she was dressing for the wedding, her mother told her, “It’s your veil for the day. The next person that wears it, it’s their veil.” Weasie said she thought she would only wear it for the ceremony, but she changed her mind.She wore the veil on the whole time, with it wrapped around her arm.Weasa remembers seeing her daughter during the reception and being happy at how much fun her daughter was having. She said she remembers looking over and seeing Weasie dancing with a group of children. She watched her daughter – who had been terrified to wear the veil – begin swinging it around her while she was dancing. Weasa said she was glad to see it.“She was enjoying her wedding, she was enjoying the veil,” Weasa said. “She wasn’t panicked over it.”Of all the weddings the veil has been a part of, Weasie’s was perhaps the most non-traditional. In addition to getting married at her mother’s home, there were other changes to the traditional ceremony.The groom and groomsmen wore shorts, and a jug band provided the music for the reception. Her brother was one of her attendants and one of her best friends was ordained online and performed the ceremony. After the reception, the wedding night was spent with friends, family and guests camping in the field behind Weasa’s home.While Weasa said it was tough for her to understand at the beginning the different kind of ceremony her daughter wanted, she said the wedding day was one of the most fun times she’d ever had.Because Weasa was 23 when she got married, she said for her, the wedding was the exciting thing. For Weasie, who was 37 when she married James Nicholas “Nick” Russ, Weasa said it was about the marriage, and the commitment.At Weasie’s wedding, she said many of the guests either knew the history of the veil or asked about it. A close photographer friend of Weasie’s was working on a coffee table book project – “America At Home.” A picture of Weasie in the veil on her wedding day is featured in the book. Reader’s Digest saw the picture and included it in their May “Best of America” issue under the heading “Best Heirloom.”Weasie said she never really cared too much about her dress – she just wanted to wear the veil.Weasie, who has been a bridesmaid 16 times, and currently works as a wedding photographer, said she originally thought it would be fun to find the dress, but it wasn’t fun for her.“The veil I knew. The veil I loved. The veil was so beautiful and it had so much history,” she said. “That’s what I was excited about. The dress wasn’t as magical for me.”Like her mother before her, Weasie worked her dress around the veil. The off-white lace veil had such an intricate design, both Weasie and Weasa had dresses that complimented the veil but didn’t overshadow it. Weasa wanted the veil to be the thing everyone looked at in her wedding – she had a very plain dress with no lace or embroidery. Weasie liked a lace dress, but said her mother was adamant that she didn’t get one with that much lace.“You base everything around that veil.” Weasie said.

E-mail us about this story at: lhagan@oldhamera.com.