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Encounters | An occasional feature

Ninety-one years, 20 brides — and one precious veil

The veil is antique duchess lace, imported from Belgium by the parents of the first bride. It is cathedral length, falling to the floor.

Grace Bell was bride No. 1. She wore it under a wreath of flowers when she wed Annis McLean in Wisconsin in 1919. Kelly Odom will be bride No. 20 in November when she marries Grace Bell's great-grandson.

Kelly's future mother-in-law, Lynn Fluharty, was bride No. 10 in 1976.

The veil has starred in 91 years of weddings.

Brides have worn it in Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Texas, and St. Petersburg, Tampa and Sarasota.

Close calls are part of family lore. One mother had the veil dry-cleaned, changing its color from a pale yellow to white.

A family friend washed it and dried it on the lawn. No harm done.

The last bride to wear it woke up at 4 a.m. on her wedding night and shook the sleeping groom in a panic.

"Jason! Where's the veil?"

• • •

Between weddings and near-disasters, the veil resides in a pillow case in a closet at the St. Petersburg home of Annis de Brigard, 86. She was bride No. 4 — daughter of bride No. 1 Grace Bell — when she married Thomas Fluharty in St. Petersburg in 1946.

Annis lives with her daughter, Susan Regan, bride No. 9.

Annis remembers that her grandparents ordered the veil for their two daughters. After Grace wore it, Grace's sister Gladys was next, in Indiana in 1922.

The veil lay packed away until 1940 when cousin Rosemary wore it in her Indiana wedding.

Annis was next, in 1946. She was the first to get married in St. Petersburg. Her groom was stationed here in the Coast Guard. He wore his uniform.

After that, the veil made regular appearances. No groom has ever stepped on it.

• • •

Annis' daughter Susan remembers seeing the veil as a child. For a time, her family lived with grandma Grace, bride No. 1. "I knew I'd be wearing the veil someday." The family began keeping a list of which bride had it last.

Traditions like that have always meant a lot. After Annis' husband, Thomas, died in 1978, Annis arranged for a 1914 Episcopal chapel to be trucked from Safety Harbor to the DaySpring Episcopal Conference Center in Ellenton. The wood chapel was named for St. Thomas and dedicated to her husband.

"The reason I did that is families are so split," Annis said. "I wanted a place where we know we can find each other."

• • •

The last wedding was in 2009 at Siesta Key. Bride No. 19, Christie Pratt, was the daughter of bride No. 11, Lynn McLean, who wore the veil in 1977.

Christie had lost two grandparents shortly before her wedding, so wearing the veil was especially emotional. At the reception, table settings were laid for her deceased grandparents.

But after the reception, the wedding party stopped off at the bar in the Ritz-Carlton.

Christie only remembers waking up at 4 a.m.

"Where's the veil?"

She woke her groom, Jason Pozo. He didn't know.

She turned on all the lights, tore apart the room.

No 90-year-old antique duchess lace veil, and only champagne-clouded notions of where she had put it last.

Many thoughts occur to a bride in moments such as this: She could feign a heart attack — or even have a real one. She could call 911, report a cat burglary. She could move to a foreign country.

"I felt the deepest panic possible," Christie said.

Hours later, searchers found the veil tucked safely behind the bar, beside Christie's purse.

Another family veil legend was born.

• • •

When Kelly Odom marries Thomas Fluharty on Nov. 20, she'll be the first bride to wear it at the St. Thomas Chapel in Ellenton, dedicated to Thomas' grandfather.

Kelly vows not to dry-clean it, spread it on the lawn, or take it to the bar.

"I'm handing it right over to Aunt Susan (bride No. 9)."

No one wants to break the tradition. The veil has mojo:

Its record is 17-2 — only two divorces in 91 years. An 89 percent winning average is about as good as it gets.

About this series

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of it. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at (727) 892-2924 or mike@sptimes.com.

Ninety-one years, 20 brides — and one precious veil 07/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 29, 2010 7:57am]
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