A tongue in cheek story about a woman's struggle to have control over her wedding.
|My name is Penny Marshall. Well, now it’s actually Penny Marshall Jordan. I managed to acquire my new last name by going through a wedding disaster, complete with thunderstorms, a collapsed ceiling at my church, a psychotic mother and nearly walking down the aisle without a dress or a bouquet! |
My family history is steeped in tradition. Every Christmas Eve we open exactly one present each after we get back from that evenings service at the same church in the same pew, sitting in the same order: Father, Mother, and then the children, youngest to oldest. Every Thanksgiving we cook the exact same dinner from the exact same family recipe book and use the same family decorations, plates, utensils and seating arrangement.
And every wedding takes place at our local church, on a Friday afternoon with Father Jordan, who reads the exact same speech prepared especially by our Mother. Our relatives are given specific seating instructions, both in church and at the reception that follows.
What I’m trying to get across is that we do everything according to a set routine. Our mother’s. What others might call obsessive compulsive, she calls, “Helens way,” and is usually followed by, “or the highway.”
When I announced that Steve and I had finally decided to get married, after a 5 year dating journey, my family was overjoyed. Being the youngest child in a family of 4 girls and one boy and also the last to marry, my wedding needed little planning.
Each of my sisters had had very similar weddings, indistinguishable to the untrained eye. But to ask our mother, the differences were nearly too flamboyant and bordering on vulgar.
They all wore my mother’s wedding dress. However, in subtle rebellion, Meredith wore a blood red garter underneath. Once my mother caught sight of this at the reception, we were subjected to full body searches before we left our changing rooms.
Each wedding used Sal’s limo service (Sal being an old drinking buddy of my grandfather’s) to drive the couple to and from the reception, which happened at exactly 7pm on a Friday evening at the Crooked Villa Country Club’s Salamander Room.
At the reception, each sister was allowed to pick the first song for the evening. Our mother picked the rest, unwilling to chance a song made after 1975. While this made for a fair amount of disco, anything hip or pop was out of the question. My eldest sister, Rebecca Marshall Pym bribed the DJ to play ‘Love Shack,’ by the B-52’s.
I could tell by the bright scarlet our mother turned at the lyrics, “Huggin’ and a kissin’, dancin’ and a lovin’, wearing next to nothing cause it’s hot as an oven,” that our chances of picking anything upbeat for our opening dance had been effectively ruined.
All the girl’s weddings had their flower arrangements provided by Stem’s a’ Pickin’, a florist located a few blocks away from my father’s work and run by a second cousin. My mother had, of course, been sure to order the exact same arrangement for each wedding. Each bride was allowed to pick her own bouquet, so long as it didn’t conflict with Mother’s arrangements.
The third to get married, Gretchen Marshall Trapes, picked a bouquet comprised primarily of bright tulips and lilies with yellow and red roses. Since that wedding, Mother has been sure to have a back up bouquet to switch out with any other potential trouble makers.
By the time my wedding had rolled around, my mother had systematically stripped each bride of all choices for her own wedding. She wasn’t cruel about it. Not directly, anyway. My mother is the queen of passive aggressive conversations. You’ll go in dead set on having your favorite casserole at your birthday dinner, and leave convinced you never liked it to begin with.
“I’m glad we could agree on the perfect presentation for our family and Steve’s,” she said to me as I left the study. We hadn’t actually agreed on anything. I had seen this song and dance 3 times before, and wasn’t brave or stupid enough to try and argue, although I really did want my wedding to be different – to be special.
We were a little over two weeks away from my wedding when lightning struck; literally. The church that my family had belonged to for as long as I can remember, the one that my sisters had been, and I was to be married in was struck by a giant falling tree during an unseasonable rain storm. The same storm had flooded our first floor, ruining my mother’s wedding dress. The icing on the cake was the destruction of Stem’s a’ Pickin’.
Depending on how familiar you are with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, you may or may not realize what a terrible blow had just been dealt to my mother. When something doesn’t happen according to plan, the woman loses it. I hadn’t seen her this twisted up since my father had missed Thanksgiving Dinner due to a delayed flight in Chicago.
But where she saw nothing but chaos, I saw divine intervention. With my mother a wreck, I took the reins my sisters had wished to acquire. First things first: I sped my mother to her doctor and got her a nice big prescription for Xanax. These worked double duty. They kept my mother out of the way to plan my wedding, and allowed the rest of the family a temporary reprieve from her constant worrying.
Now that my mother was out of the picture, I had several tasks ahead of me. I had to find flowers, a gown, a place to get married and a sugar free wedding cake alternative for my diabetic grandmother (Nanoo).
I was moving with a purpose now. As soon as I got home, I headed straight for the computer. Going to a new florist was out of the question. With such short notice, it would be hard to get the flowers in on time, and since we had already paid for the flowers from Stems’ a’ Pickin’, money was tight.
I searched and found a site called Grower’s Box (http://www.growersbox.com), a farm direct wholesale flower ordering company based in San Francisco. The little trouble maker in me shrieked with joy. My mother’s abhorrence for all things hippie and artsy put San Francisco quite clear of our family trips when I was growing up.
Upon further investigation on the site, I found something called Wedding in a Box. My God! This was perfect! I ordered all my flowers for the wedding, including a beautiful white bouquet in one fell swoop.
My previous attempts at cooking a sugar free snack for Nanoo had resulted in one fire and one trip to the emergency room. With the clock ticking, I decided to see what I could find online. I came across a site called Grandma’s Marketplace (http://www.grandmasmarketplace.com). Perfect! A few clicks later, a sugar-free cheesecake was on its way to my house. Two down – two to go.
Now it was time for the wedding location. Our church was the only Methodist congregation for 50 miles, and I knew my mother wouldn’t approve of a minister that she didn’t know on a first name basis. I picked up the phone and dialed Father Jordan. Well, actually, since I was at my parent’s house, I just hit the second speed dial. That puts Father Jordan above the police, work and my sisters. (My brother didn’t even make the list. Poor Paul.)
Father Jordan and I agreed to have the wedding in the church's beautifully manicured yard next to the garden. He assured me that he would deal with my mother if she had any objections.
By the time we were 3 days out from the wedding, I had completely reorganized my wedding. My father had purchased a wedding gown especially for me. It mimicked my mother’s in that it was white, but pretty much stopped there. While my mother’s gown had been rather traditional and not revealing, my upper portion fit snuggly around my chest and waist, while the gown pillowed out in great volume, giving me the effect of an upside down white tulip dragging a spider silk cape.
My mother, who had been sleeping most of the days away, had begun to make the trip back to reality, and arrived the Thursday before my big day. I was prepared for the worst when she asked me to chat with her in the den. I shut the door behind me and turned to see her face wet with tears.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of you,” she sighed between gasps.
I wasn’t sure if this was what was left of the anti depressants talking or not, but I wasn’t looking a gift horse in the mouth. We held each other. We cried. We laughed. She told me how hard it was to see her last baby leave the nest.
My brother had never been married, but his rebellious nature had long ago dropped him from favor in my mother’s eyes. It never seemed to bother him in the least. Nor did it stop him from teasing my mother every chance he got. Whenever he visited, he would traverse the house, rearranging objects here and there, knowing that my mother would discover these things – the coffee mug moved an inch to the right, the slightly askew picture in the guest bathroom, the basketball switched with the soccer ball in the garage – and it would drive her crazy.
So my wedding ended up going more smoothly than any of my sisters'. My mother watched with pride as I walked down the aisle. My sisters scowled at me, my unique dress and floral arrangements.
Steve and I ran to our limo under a hail of bird seed (He insisted - Apparently the rice ends up killing birds that eat it) and drove to the wedding reception, where we found all our friends and family ready to party.
My mother kept her cool, until the wedding DJ played Britney Spears. As she stormed over to the turn tables, I caught a wry look from my sister, Rebecca. She winked at me and led her husband to the dance floor.
Being there, surrounded by the people I loved and called family, was one of the happiest days of my life. Steve and I went on to lead a happy and fairly independent life. Living only a few miles from my parent’s promises some meddling from my mother, of course.
I think the wedding had loosened up my mother a bit. So I wasn’t too surprised when I convinced her to have Thanksgiving at my house the next year. But that battle is another story all together…