A month ago, my older daughter got married in a storybook wedding. It was everything she wanted and more. It caused me, however, to recall my own wedding, which might have left me divorced the very next day.
I grew up in the blue-collar city of Trenton, N.J., and the first thing my mother did was escort me to the only bridal shop she knew about. The shop was about the size of a closet. I remember a single rack of dresses. I tried one on and declared myself done.
At the time, I was a junior in college, and the dress I chose had short sleeves and was devoid of lace. I went for a Renaissance look with a veil that reached yards and yards behind me. I was a rock ’n’ roll princess in my own mind. This was the only wedding dress that wasn’t a Victorian number so popular back then, even with the Vietnam War raging and students in the streets. Now brides are all wearing strapless gowns, as my daughter just did. The idea of such a thing would have caused my mother to fall out in a frenzy. It was hard enough for her to bear short sleeves.
Back then, I was trying to reach beyond my humble beginnings, and was going to a small, Midwestern college on a scholarship. The rest of the student body included such well-heeled offspring as Emily Post’s grandson and Henry Luce’s granddaughter. I too wanted to have gone to a prep school like them – or at least to act like I had. I had goals.
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But my parents lived in a different world. So when it came time to find a wedding-reception site, my father’s first choice was a place that could have been straight out of an episode of “The Sopranos.”
I remember the establishment was located inside a thin stretch of woods off one of New Jersey’s highways, a gleaming white, casino-like building with a red-carpet entrance. I was appalled, even more appalled by the gigantic Baroque-style fountain inside, along with the oversized chandelier above. I might be making some of this up, but that’s what I remember. The man in the sharkskin suit who came to give us a tour precipitated such angst in me, we had to leave. I kept muttering, “No, no, no.”
I remember my father stomping out, fuming: How could I not appreciate such a grand facility?
My mother and father had eloped, which was not a good thing for me. My mother was far too invested in my wedding and appeared to feel it gave her license to reorder my fiancé and my choices. My betrothed had an aversion to pink and asked my sister, my only bridesmaid, not to wear the color. It didn’t matter. On our trip to the florist, he decided he wanted a purple boutonniere, his own declaration of independence. On our wedding day, that purple flower never made it to the church. My mother hid it inside her house. This occasioned a break-in after the ceremony so my now-husband could retrieve the thing.
We got married in my mother’s church because I had left the Catholic Church of my father’s faith over its stance related to women. My mother’s minister informed us in our prenuptial meeting that he had been a used-car salesman in Miami before his calling. Then the week before our wedding, the young woman who lived next door to my parents found herself jilted one night before her wedding. My mother asked her father then to drive me to my wedding to help his hurt feelings. His Cadillac would be decorated with a Kewpie-style doll for a hood ornament and lots of crepe paper, de rigueur where I grew up. I told my father I might cancel my own wedding.
It was in mid-June when my fiancé and I took our final exams and drove throughout the night from Chicago to New Jersey. We arrived in the early morning just in time to get some sleep before our wedding rehearsal. As I walked into my parents’ living room, the sight that greeted me was my mother’s display of our wedding gifts.
I had requested no electrical appliances. I was firm on this. I was an avid reader of the Whole Earth Catalog and wanted to save our planet. What I saw before me was not only one but two electric knives – along with an electric bread-warmer. What took my breath away, however, were the lamps. One of my mother’s friends in her ceramic class had made me three-foot tall lamps: a little blue Dutch boy and a little blue Dutch girl. I had no idea where you would find a table sturdy enough to hold them, or what my friends might say.
My husband and I weren’t even sure back then we believed in marriage. Our intention was only to live together. The amazing thing: He’s still my husband.
Linda Haac lives in Carrboro. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org