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Century-old Christening gown

June 27, 2012 - Groveland Twp.- Ann Audet is the caretaker of a family heirloom that is approaching its 100th birthday.

Her father-in-law, Eugene Charles Audet, was born on Aug. 14, 1912 and was baptized within 24 hours at the St. Charles de Caplan Catholic Church in Quebec, Canada, wearing a Christening gown made especially for him by his maternal grandmother.

That white cotton dress, featuring eyelets and pin tucks with pleating, was later worn by his two younger sisters when they were newborns and baptized at the same church.

The dress traveled with the family when they relocated to the United States in 1926. During the Audet family's first year in this country, they, and the dress, moved 13 times.

"It's amazing the dress never got lost in the move," said Ann.

Eugene's father left the family, presumably to return to Canada. To help support the family, Eugene's mother rented out a basement room of their home in Detroit to mobsters that made moonshine, but the dress survived.

In all, over the past century, the dress has adorned 58 babies in the family during their Catholic baptisms, the most recent one three years ago. The gown also was placed on top of the casket at Eugene's funeral in June 1994 and was also used for his sister's funeral, a Catholic tradition, Audet said.

The dress most likely won't be worn by many more babies, she added, due to concerns about getting it back. The dress is currently at Audet's sister-in-law's house to be mended. There is fraying around the collar, but the dress has otherwise held up remarkably well.

"I don't know how many people in the world have dresses like this and carry it on," she said. "I told my kids we have a Christening dress and we are going to use it. It's special because my father-in-law's whole line was baptized in it— three generations. We are trying to put together a collage of all the babies in this dress. It's an honor that we kept this going and able to use this dress."

The dress used to have a bonnet that went with it, but it was lost over the years. A cap was made to accompany the dress about 30-40 years ago that matches well and the ensemble is stored in a wooden box.

"When I look at that dress, it reminds me that we followed a tradition," said Audet. "It's history to me, a history that began with that dress."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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