59: Decisions, Decisions

59: Decisions, Decisions

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

Decisions, Decisions

Interestingly, young people don’t come to you for advice. Especially the ones who are related to you.

~Meryl Streep

My youngest sister is getting married. That’s why I’m flipping through the end of the rack where the size XL bridesmaid dresses are hanging. I’m a large-size person on a good day, and these days I’m eight months pregnant with my third child. That just makes the task of finding an appropriate dress all the more daunting. But that’s what happens when you get tapped for the “honor” of being a bridesmaid — again.

Luckily, my sister is a very fashionable person. She not only reads Vogue magazine, she marks the pages with things she wants to buy. More importantly, she didn’t throw her fashion sense out the window when it came time to choose bridesmaid dresses. There were not going to be layers of pink tulle or deep purple satin embellished with bows to draw attention to the hips. Debbie issued the most practical, flattering edict possible — our choice of any long black dress.

“Oh, you’ll be able to wear it again” has been said about every bridesmaid dress since Wilma Flintstone told Betty she would get a lot of use out of that off-the-shoulder wooly mammoth sheath. But with a black dress, it might actually be true. This might be a dress that could be flattering. So along with all the other plans and preparations, the search for a dress goes on.

My mother’s goal throughout the entire prenuptial process has been to get as many vital decisions settled as quickly as possible, in good taste, without unnecessary input from the “never been on a budget in her life” bride. That’s why I was surprised at the list I saw on my parents’ kitchen table. It was a proposed contract from a local caterer outlining possibilities for the wedding menu.

In the stapled packet of seven pages, each page spelled out more and more elaborate, elegant presentations. The first page included basic hors d’oeuvres like mini hot dogs with mustard. By page four, the choices included a personal chef creating your choice of pasta in direct competition with a Chinese food station of steamed dumplings and egg rolls. Page seven promised a parade of waiters in tall white toques, marching in with flaming hand-carved filets. Next to each item on the lists, someone had written “Yes” or “No.”

“What’s this list?” I asked my mother. “Is this the food you’re thinking of having? Who wrote yes next to individually prepared chocolate soufflés?” I asked, as I waved the pages in front of my mother’s face. I wasn’t exactly jealous. I just wanted some idea of the extravaganza we were headed for.

“Oh, that’s just Debbie’s checklist,” my mother explained, dismissing the entire scenario with a wave of her hand. “She thinks that anything less than twenty-seven choices doesn’t offer guests enough variety.”

On all these topics — wedding dresses, food, flowers — I have proved to be a source of unwanted, out-of-date advice. I got married twenty-five years ago — before video cameras were invented. My bridesmaids were my younger sisters who were still in high school. They wore matching pale pink gowns that I chose because I got married in August, and that’s the month when my sisters are always blond and tan.

I don’t know why my old fogey advice should count for anything, but I feel compelled to keep offering it. I’m the oldest child in our family, and I always saw myself as Marcia Brady. Now it’s clear I’m Florence Henderson.

Every time my sister fills me in on the detail that is her obsession du jour — whether it will be mixed spring flowers in the bouquets or just roses; pastel mints or hand-dipped chocolates — I want to tell her that her wedding will be fabulous no matter what kind of candy she chooses. No one will remember the mints, least of all her. What she will remember is that her wedding day is the start of a new life together. Their wedding will be an amazing, exciting, emotional, exhausting day that signals a new beginning. It’s a big decision. A grown-up commitment. But maybe it’s too scary to focus on that when you’re the bride-to-be. That’s why she’s concentrating on the mints.

In keeping with her usual sense of style, the wedding dress my sister chose was nothing short of spectacular. Debbie has spent the months since she got engaged carefully studying the pages of every bridal magazine in the world. Not content with Modern Bride, she read Elle Marriage and Bridal Glory. She clipped photos from Young Bride and Not-So-Young Bride and cross-filed them with clips from Sexy You! Then, armed with a hanging file folder, she marched into a local bridal salon to test the waters.

Maybe it was because my mother and I were trailing along in her wake, but the saleswoman quickly sized us up and pulled out the big guns — the designer gowns from the Rapture of Love collection pictured in the clippings clutched in my sister’s French manicured hand. For my sister, who is a size 6, trying on the sample gowns was a flattering, fairy-tale experience. The first thing the saleswoman did was put Debbie’s hair up in a loose bun and fasten a double strand of fake pearls around her neck. This immediately made her look glamorous and different. Then, she brought out various headpieces and veils, each one more beautiful and bridal than the last. The accessories made every low-cut, off-the-shoulder gown look spectacular. The worn beige carpet and dusty crystal chandelier of the bridal store faded in the background as Debbie stood on the platform in front of a three-way mirror looking like a fairy princess, more beautiful than any magazine ad she had saved.

For my mother and me, the sight of Debbie in a wedding gown conjured up a jumble of feelings. Watching my youngest sister model a cream-colored satin wedding gown was an emotional experience. I expected my mom to cry — and she did — right after she gave the saleswoman a thumbs-up and mouthed the words, “She’s out of our house!” But I didn’t expect to be moved myself, just seeing my little sister swathed in satin. This is the sister who used to wear braces, who painted the names of favorite rock groups on her bedroom wall, and until very recently, devoted an entire wire cart to her nail polish and cosmetics collection.

How could she suddenly look like a princess just by trying on a dress? But she did.

I have wonderful memories of my own wedding. When I look at the photos now — after I recover from the shock of how young we all look — my memories of the day come flooding back. At the time, my wedding was elegant, special, and romantic. It was everything I dreamed of because it was mine. And that’s why I’m hoping my sister plans a day that is just as special for her and her groom.

No matter what they end up choosing, it’s not the hors d’oeuvres or the music we’ll remember. It’s the start of their married life together, and I hope she ends up with as many wonderful memories of her wedding day as I have of mine.

~Ellen Scolnic

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