New Orleanians tend to hold their faith and traditions close to their hearts.
On April 29, 2017, the Lubrano and Cazaubon families proved this to be true when Haleen Cazaubon, 8, walked down the aisle of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Church in Chalmette wearing the first Communion dress that her mother, Antoinette Lubrano Cazaubon, wore more than 30 years before at the same church.
Haleen could have worn any dress she wanted, including a new, princess-style dress that many second graders now choose, her mom said. But, by chance, last fall when Cazaubon pulled out her wedding dress to try it on – to see if it still fit since she had lost weight – her cotton Communion dress with ruffles was discovered alongside her wedding dress.
Cazaubon said she then asked Haleen if she wanted to try on the Communion dress, and she willingly agreed. Both being small in stature, the dress fit perfectly when Haleen put it on last October 2016, Cazaubon said.
The only problem was that the dress was water- and age-stained from hanging in Cazaubon’s childhood bedroom closet in Chalmette for three decades. The dress also had endured months of moisture from five feet of water inside her home from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Cazaubon had originally found the dress in her parents’ home after Katrina. It was hanging in a plastic bag with her Chalmette High School Charmers’ uniform, relatively unscathed.
“Everything in my closet, except for the stuff on the top shelf, got destroyed by the water,” Cazaubon said. “I don’t know how it (the Communion dress) didn’t get destroyed.”
Cazaubon saw how delicate the dress was when Haleen tried it on. Some of the netting had pulled away from a fabric band that was sewn into the dress, but it was otherwise intact. They were going to try to salvage it.
“If mama can get it cleaned, would you want to wear it?” Cazaubon recalled asking Haleen. “She said ‘yes,’ and that’s when we started seeing if it could be cleaned.”
Grandma to the rescue
Cazaubon said the dry cleaner wouldn’t touch it.
“They were afraid something would happen to it, and it did,” said Catherine Lubrano, Antoinette’s mom and Haleen’s grandmother, who volunteered to try to restore the dress she had originally bought for Antoinette so Haleen could possibly wear it.
“I said I didn’t know how it was going to come out but I was going to try,” she said. Over a period of three to four days, Lubrano washed the dress in hot water and bleach (inside of a laundry bag) on the gentle cycle and then let it dry in the sun. She had to pin and hand sew the ruffles that fell off.
“It worked out pretty well,” Lubrano said. “It was a really well-made dress, and I was excited.”
Lubrano also reworked the lace-edged veil her daughter had worn in the mid-1980s so Haleen could wear it as well this year. She found the top crown of the veil had rusted, and the artificial band of flowers were falling off. So, she removed the flowers and the netting with lace and “glued the strip of flowers on a clear headband.” She also said she used white tennis shoe polish to make sure it was all one color.
Smiles all around
The Catholic faith was shared in the Lubrano family, with Antoinette and her three siblings attending catechism classes and receiving the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. Cazaubon said Haleen is following suit as well her son, Dominick, who is 3 years old.
“I want to instill the Catholic faith in my children,” she said.
On the morning of the first Communion, Cazaubon said they had to take special care trying the dress on, “for fear, like when it was washed, it might fall part.”
“And I told her to just be careful – don’t get rough,” Lubrano said.
On Haleen’s First Communion day, Cazaubon said Haleen had a big smile on her face.
“To see the excitement on both my mom’s and daughter’s face when Haleen was in my Communion dress was a blessing,” Cazaubon said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.