27. Here Comes the Marshmallow

27. Here Comes the Marshmallow

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Here Comes the Marshmallow

We have the greatest pre-nuptial agreement in the world. It’s called love.

~Gene Perret

There are few experiences that compare with accompanying your daughter to a bridal salon. Take my word; you will never be the same again. Every girl has a dream dress in mind. She has been thinking about it ever since she started playing “bride” as a child. For years, I carried around a picture of my fantasy gown in my wallet. When I found it and tried it on, I knew immediately that it was right. I saved my mother hundreds of hours of traipsing through the stores. The entire affair took less than an hour. Not so with my daughter, Elizabeth. With her, it was an entirely different story, one that seems to be the more typical experience.

Now, my friend, Marcia is going through the same trauma. Her daughter, Jane is going to be married on Valentine’s Day, and she still hasn’t found a dress. The shopping spree has begun and Marcia is in for a rude awakening.

“Jane was always such an easy child,” Marcia said, “but since she’s become engaged and set a date for a February wedding, she’s in a trance. I thought we could wrap up the whole bridal gown excursion in one afternoon.”

“It doesn’t quite work that way,” I told her.

Then I regaled her with my tales of our bridal dress capers.

“Little did I know,” I said, “when my Elizabeth and I went shopping, that we were in for a series of events that would take years off my life and leave me permanently repelled by the color white.”

That’s because all brides-to-be are so swept away by the entire wedding adventure, they take temporary leave of their senses. Six months before Liz’s wedding, we began purchasing bridal magazines that weighed more than my daughter did at birth. These tomes were dragged around as on-the-spot reference guides. While Elizabeth combed the racks of puffy white gowns, I was weighed down by these magazines, which we dragged around in a tote bag from store to store, turning the entire experience into a full-time job. But it wasn’t a total loss; my daughter improved her cardiovascular system just by getting in and out of each dress and I increased the size of my pectoral muscles, carrying the dresses from the rack to the dressing room. The salesgirl was around only to zip and unzip, leaving the heavy work to me.

After I deposited the gowns with her, Liz and the salesgirl began the process of selection. My job was to sit on the sidelines making my motherly comments. Each time she emerged from the room wearing a different gown, I expressed my opinion by uttering either “hmmm,” “forget it” or “it has possibilities.” I soon discovered that whatever she adored, I hated. What she felt was exactly right, I knew wouldn’t work. At the end of each shopping excursion, one fact was certain: her taste and mine were on opposite sides of the bridal gown spectrum.

There is nothing more comical and more exhausting than spending a day in bridal salons filled with mothers, daughters, hyperactive saleswomen and a handful of fathers who are not quite sure why they are even there. This is definitely woman’s work. The main function a man serves is to keep running out to the car at one-hour intervals to throw more quarters in the parking meter.

I sat back and watched as beautiful young women, who still looked like little girls playing dress-up, pirouetted in front of a three-way mirror. The constant refrain of mothers’ voices reverberated through the room: “Remember, it’s you who has to love it, not me.” This is the biggest lie, second only to: “Of course, I’m still a virgin, Mother!”

Each time Liz disappeared into the dressing room, I prayed she would not emerge in one of those tulle gowns that made her look like an enormous white marshmallow. I had in mind something simple sans sequins, rosettes, and those shimmering beads that resembled a chandelier. Each time she thought she had achieved the right look, I cringed.

“What’s wrong with it?” Elizabeth asked.

“Nothing, if you don’t mind looking like a fairy Godmother,” I said.

All she needed was the wand, and she’d have a lead role in Cinderella.

After weeks of making the bridal scene to no avail, we decided to try the smaller specialty shops. These are usually a family-owned operation where “Mom” and “Pop” stand around acting as the cheering section. Each time a girl appears in a different dress, they applaud.

One such stop was in the Bronx, nestled between a funeral parlor and a pizzeria. We had heard through the bridal grapevine that this was the place to go. The décor was subdued chartreuse and gave new meaning to the word “glitz.” Its inventory included gowns that looked like wedding cakes topped with lace—the philosophy being: the bigger, the better. Elizabeth tried on a variety of gowns, any one of which would be grounds for my not having to show up at the wedding. One in particular was so ugly that when another mother asked me, “Is that your daughter?” I smiled and with a straight face said, “I never saw that girl before in my life.”

I tell Marcia this story to make her feel better. But it is now the end of January, and her daughter, Jane still hasn’t found a dress.

“We put 1,000 miles on the car just looking for a wedding gown,” Marcia said. “Last week, Jane thought she found her dream dress at least six times, but it was never quite right. Her idea is something traditional yet elegant, understated yet romantic, subdued yet sexy. The question is, does such a dress even exist?”

I told Marcia not to fret. I would go with them and find that store in the Bronx. It turned out it was no longer there. We learned from the waitress at the luncheonette next door that it had burned down years ago. A girl was trying on a dress and her mother dropped a cigarette ash on the train. The bride-to-be nearly went up in smoke.

Jane, Marcia and I went to every bridal warehouse, specialty shop and department store from New York to Massachusetts. Marcia was at her wit’s end. But, finally last week, Jane thought she had fulfilled her mother’s dream: a bridal gown she found at Saks. It cost a mere $5,000 not including the veil.

“It’s absolutely perfect,” Jane said.

“Over my dead body,” Marcia told her.

Marcia is hoping that Jane will get so disgusted that maybe, with a little bit of luck, she’ll elope.

~Judith Marks-White

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