I can hardly believe that my mother, that fierce iconoclast, outspoken liberal (in certain cases), scholar, writer and political force, immersed herself fully for six months in the planning and execution of my first marriage.
But I have the proof in the wooden file box filled with several hundred index cards, filled out, in her meticulous script, with the names and addresses of friends near and far she planned to invite to the occasion. This could have been done by her secretary, one of those dutiful, mouse-like Miss Somebodies who seem to have disappeared from the scene; but Mother chose to do it herself, probably brooding, cogitating and deciding who to include (would they give presents?) and who to leave out as she had years before when she married my father.
Then she had to plan to the church, the cars, the meals, the drinks, the ceremonial clothes, the motel rooms for the far-flung, and the flowers, these last bought and arranged by a helper she described to me, carefully, as “a gent”—which meant white, fallen on hard times, and not to be treated as a servant.
And so like almost all my friends, on that day I was encased in my mother’s preparations and expectations. Only my renegade aunt, my father’s older sister, intruded a note of reality when she slipped a douche bag into my going-away suitcase; apparently this figured, for her, as a form of birth control.
Of the day itself I remember almost nothing; I need the proof of the old yellowed black-and-white photographs to prove it happened.
Many of them incorporate the porches and public rooms of the Big House, which almost overshadow the participants with gold-edged curtains, flashing mirrors, gilded chandeliers, and unreliable skinny-legged upholstered furniture that often released a cloud of feathers when sat upon.
The alcove between the two front stairs, which led to the door of the ladies’ room (pale pink and smelling of defective plumbing) provided the stage for several photographs where a stranger harnessed in white satin, wafted along on her way somewhere else, the image refracted and distorted in a thousand panes of glass.
There were more weddings in the Big House as time went by, but I was not there, or if I was, I retain no memory of them. Perhaps those brides—sisters, sisters-in-laws, nieces—were more suitable to the plans and to the setting than I was. I don’t know.
When it came time for my third wedding—how my poor mother must have struggled to explain this dramatic irregularity on the part of her oldest daughter (and would there be a forth! Great Gods above!), she chose discreetly and generously not the flashing mirrors of the Big House but a puffy little Ohio River excursion boat, where a variety of people sat uncomfortably, waiting for the toasts to begin. (My father, who loathed going to parties on river boats because he never knew when he would be able to get ashore, must have been in misery).
Now, before too long, another generation of young women will need to decide whether they want to compete with the Big House on a day that we all need to believe is one of the most important of our lives. No proof to the contrary seems to matter.
But before that happens, perhaps these bright and high-achieving young women will decide to go over the words of the wedding service in the Episcopal Church’s version.
And write another version?
More on that later…..