Thursday, June 4, 2009

June Bride

As the notes of "Here Comes The Bride" sounded, 75 guests interrupted their chatter to swivel in the seats of their white folding chairs. All eyes focused on the closed double doors behind them. Any moment, here in the Country Squire Room of the North Shore Hotel, on the 19th day of June in the year 1960, I was about to wed my groom.

In my hiding place, I attempted a relaxing deep breath, as recommended by Modern Bride magazine. But my dress’s tight bodice prevented even a subtle sigh. How I hated this dress! Why had I let my mother talk me into this castoff?

“Christine wore it for the ceremony only,” my mother had said, describing her co-worker’s claim. “She swore she changed to a party dress right after her vows, and hung it in its Field’s garment bag." It was three months before the wedding. Mother and I were in the bedroom of our garden apartment; the door was closed so we could see our reflection in the full-length mirror nailed to its back. My mother’s hands circled my waist, pasting the dress to me as if I were her cutout paper doll.

“Okay, I’ll try it on,” I said, stripping to my underwear and wriggling into the dress. “Zip me.” I held my breath, in case the metal’s teeth hungered for flesh.

“Ugh,” I said at my image

“You’re crazy. Try on the veil.”

The veil did seem to lift a viewer’s eyes away from the unfortunate boat neckline (tugboat was more like it), but the hemline was wrong, too. Okay, full-length would’ve been over the top for an afternoon wedding, and mini – which would’ve displayed my legs, my best feature at age 22 – would’ve been tacky. But this dress cut me off mid-calf, a particularly ugly spot.

Mother prevailed. So here I was, waiting behind the paneled wooden doors, on the day of my budget wedding, in the cheap dress. I refused to let the dress or the modest venue bring me down. I was overjoyed to be standing where I was, fortunate to be rescued from an old maid future, and about to marry a man I truly loved.

I felt a mixture of excitement and butterflies as I began my march, walking slowly to match the music, sinking my white dyed-pumps into the runner with each pointy-toed step. All was a blur in my line of sight. To assure glamour photographs, both this bride and her groom ditched our spectacles. Somehow, he made it safely down the aisle. When his parents each grabbed an elbow of his white tuxedo jacket for the final three feet, they looked like elderly, over-dressed scouts shepherding a blind man across the street.

The bridesmaids and their escorts were in place, too. As I neared the altar, I could see my mother coming into focus a few feet from the chuppah. Her oldest brother, Carl, had escorted her down the aisle and the two of them looked as solemn as sentries.

The wedding guests likely pinned my mother's expression to my dad's death two years earlier, as well as the loss of her roommate daughter. But I knew there was something else that barred her usual lovely smile: She hated my about-to-be husband.

As I neared her on the cloth-covered path, I flashed to a scene that had taken place in our apartment six months earlier. "Aren't you happy I'm finally engaged?" I asked. I spread my left hand and lifted the quarter-carat diamond up towards her face. "You've nagged me about a ring my entire senior year. 'Everybody's engaged,' you said. 'When are you going to find someone?' you said. Isn't that what you wanted?"

"I didn't mean you should steal someone else's fiancé. You couldn't find someone else?"

"I didn't steal him. They were never engaged. Don't you remember, he left her."

When the boy I was about to marry first confessed he had fallen out of love with one of my best friends and into love with me, I had been surprised, but also delighted. I had long thought I was a better match for him, but of course, never voiced this.

“You’re sure about this?” I had asked him. “Yes, yes,” he said. “Please say you’ll go out with me.

"Not until you break up with her, and we let a few weeks pass," I made him promise. Then, we dated secretly, but the word got out. Girlfriends took sides. Most of them damned me for my betrayal. Only one friend, Ruth, stood by me.

Mother was on the side of my enemies. “How will I ever face her family again?” she said. “How could you do this to me?

"I want you to be happy for me," I said. "I want you to love your future son-in-law."

"Okay, I'm happy for you.”

After my mother and uncle delivered me to my designated spot under the chuppah, I finally relaxed and took in the breath I had attempted at the start of the ceremony. My slow, blurry march, tense as a tightrope walker, had ended, and now I stood alongside my tall, handsome groom.

After the vows, my new husband lifted his rented black dress shoe and drove it down onto the napkin that covered the ritual wine glass. As his foot caused the glass to shatter, cries of Mahzel Tov rang out. With my veil above my head, and my vision clearer, my eyes circled the bridal party. The faces of the small group of relatives, plus my friend Ruth, lit up with smiles.

All but Mother's, whose expression hadn't changed since her march down the aisle. Only her red-tipped manicured hands, which were twisting a soaked ball of Kleenex, showed any movement.


Suzanne Clores said...

Are you turning this project into memoir? I hope so!

Danny said...

FABULOUS post and photos! I already knew a lot about your mom but this post says so much. Now I want to read about the first year of the marriage--is that all in your new book? And for the record, I think you look great in your Marshall Field's castoff! Of course even saying it's from Field's makes me like it more. Is that hotel still there? The image of your mother's manicured hands wringing that Kleenex will stay with me for a long time.

P.S. Whatever happened to your ex-husband's former girlfriend? Did you ever make up?

muffy said...

i absolutely LOVED this, miss elaine -- your writing is so forthright, your stories so interesting. and borrowed dress or not, i think you look enchanting. keep these comin', sister -- after finishing 'the division street princess' this past weekend (in ONE EXTENDED STRETCH, i might add, because i could not tear myself away), i'm afraid i am addicted.


Anonymous said...

HI Elaine

That is so neat! I wore my mother's wedding gown and it fit me perfectly, so I didn't have any costs except to buy a new headpiece for the cathedral veil.

My husband had orders to leave for Vietnam two weeks after our wedding. We had scheduled our wedding for November 26, 1970, but..the army had different plans for him, and so after all the arrangements were made, they had to be changed. By the time we learned he was leaving for Vietnam, the only date open at the church was.. Halloween!!! So we were married October 31, 1970 and have been married since. I was a bride of two weeks when he left for VietNam and the rest is history!

TY for sharing this. JoAnn

Anonymous said...

i love this, elaine. thank you! sent it on to my mom.


Anonymous said...

I love these, keep them coming,
love you,

Anonymous said...

I loved the sad story of your wedding and your mother.

By the way, you were a gorgeous bride!!!!!