ELK RIVER, Minn. – With a smile and flash of light, a six-year-old Elk River girl honored a family tradition that’s dated back more than 50 years.
Aubrey Brandt became the 17th girl in her family to wear the same red and green plaid dress for her elementary school photo.
“It means a lot now,” said Aubrey’s mother, Sarah, who also wore the dress for her first grade photo.
The tradition began in 1965 when Sarah’s mother, Jan Parker, purchased the dress for Sarah’s oldest sister, Diana.
“It’s a big deal at school for picture day,” said Diana Orr, reflecting on the day she wore the dress.
A year later the dress was handed down to Diana’s younger sister Lana for her school photo. “Well, red is my favorite colors, so I’d have been happy wearing red,” said Lana Sheforgen.
The die had been cast by the time a third sister, Lynelle, reached first grade. “I knew it was my turn coming and it felt pretty special, Lynelle Parker said.
Each time the dress came out of her cedar chest, the girls’ mother was certain it was going to be the last, “because a boy was supposed to come along,” said Jan Parker.
Instead, a fourth sister, Liza, came along – followed by two more sisters Corinne and Sarah.
Each dutifully wore the dress to match the school photos of their sisters.
When grandchildren started coming, the tradition skipped to the next generation.
“It’s representative of our family and how close we’ve stayed,” says Keri Parker, a member of the second generation to wear the dress for picture day.
Despite its age, the dress has remained in remarkably good condition. When Sarah’s oldest daughter ripped the hem playing on the school monkey bars, Sarah and her mother simply repaired the rip with two-sided tape.
Sarah’s younger daughter, Aubrey, turned out to be an even larger threat to the streak. Aubrey was determined not to wear the dress, despite her mother’s pleading.
“Nope, I’m not wearing that thing,” Aubrey tells her mom. Sarah understands. “She likes playing with the boys out in the dirt,” Sarah says.
Aubrey’s grandmother chuckles at the turn of events, since Sarah had also resisted wearing the dress when she was a girl.
“I told her, she had it coming,” laughs Jan Parker.
In the end Sarah prevailed. Aubrey agreed to wear the dress, but only after her mother promised her monster truck tickets.
In doing so, Aubrey became the 17th member of her family to continue the tradition, though the first to wear the dress in pants and a baseball cap.
But as Aubrey closes the door on her generation and the dress, the tradition is hardly over.
Keri Parker, one of Aubrey’s cousins, already has a baby girl and plans to carry the tradition on to the next generation.
“As long as the dress holds up, I think the tradition will,” says Keri. “Just a small thing that ties us all together.”