Showers With A Chance Of Polka Dots

I have bumped up against yet another deficiency in my mastery of certain social situations, and I believe that my mother is to blame.

It wasn’t that my mother failed to teach me manners. Because of her I am a very polite person. And because of her, I am often inappropriately unsentimental and often thoughtless.

My mother had lovely manners and was a gracious hostess. She understood the language of cocktail parties and could interpret seating arrangements like tea leaves. But when it came to things like holidays, birthdays and weddings, she had a tin ear, and I strongly suspect that I do too.

If someone happened to wish her a happy Mother’s Day she would snort disparagingly and say (correctly) that Mother’s Day/Valentine’s Day/Father’s Day, etc. were fabricated by Hallmark. Because of their grandmother, my sons live lives free of anxiety about having to call me on my special day. Unless they marry someone like me or their grandmother, they are in for a very rude awakening.

My mother had a lapse on my birthday that I credit with making me into  birthday defective I am today. The youngest of three, I came along late in my mother’s reproductive career and was an “accident”, so my best guess is it was boredom with the whole birthday proposition that caused her to completely lose track of my twelfth birthday. I remember being concerned but not overly worried when she failed to make any mention of my birthday before I left for school that day, but when I got home in the afternoon and found her working outdoors on an unusually warm January day, I had to face the fact that she had really and truly forgotten what day it was.

It was tempting to wallow in self-pity, or send her on the biggest guilt trip the world has ever known, but I sucked it up and let her off the hook even though I was crushed. Having an instinct for self preservation, I took a page from her playbook and decided that I would actively not give a shit about birthdays—mine or anyone else’s. Of course to this day I still secretly care about my own birthday, but would never admit it. I also care deeply about August 26 and March 27, the birth dates of Oldest and Youngest.

When it came to Christmas (another one of those pesky birthday celebrations), my mother was an unabashed hater, calling it The Greed Show. Leading up to the big day, she would go through the motions and do everything she was supposed to do about cookies, homemade gifts, decorations, etc., but invariably Christmas Eve would be marred by some traumatic incident involving any one of the following things in any number of interesting combinations:

  1. Vomit
  2. The emergency room
  3. Alcohol
  4. Yorkshire pudding
  5. Vasovagal syncope (AKA passing out at the table)
  6. More alcohol
  7. Yelling/table pounding
  8. Dinner Bombs (Ex. “you screw like a minx!”)

As you can see by the preponderance of alcohol in the above list, we were very, very festive on the eve of Jesus’s birthday, but on the big day, not so much, because we were tired.

My parents were scornful of organized religion, so that meant I had no experience with any kind of church protocol. Christenings, baptisms and confirmations were just a collection of mysterious things that other people (Catholics, not Protestants) did. Any religious training I got was from attending the occasional Hebrew school class with one of my friends.

Because of the kind of people we were and the friends we had, I went to very few, if any, church weddings as a child. When people my parents knew got married, it was a secular event that took place in a back yard with a jazz band, a clambake and all the champagne you could drink. Later on, when my contemporaries started tying the knot, it was the same kind of thing, except instead of champagne, there was beer.

I was the first in our family to get married.  Thanks to my parents’ fear of the ordinary, we had a tasteful secular ceremony at home, presided over by our two families and a bespectacled retired judge. The wedding cake was a fruitcake that my mother had made. I wore a dress from Filene’s Better Dress Collection, and on that day, which was blistering hot, I took a critical  first look at my ten pounds of waist length hair and contemplated how I should wear it.

Later that afternoon, we threw a keg party on Narragansett Beach for all of our friends who had not been present at the ceremony. In addition to the keg, we thoughtfully provided to our guests, hard liquor, red plastic cups, ice, and a cold cut platter from Stop & Shop

I had no clue about how traditional weddings are supposed to go, and apparently neither did my mother (who was married to my dad in a brown silk dress in the apartment of a friend), but I thought our wedding was wonderful and everything I could have asked for had it occurred to me to ask.

What I am realizing as I write this all down is that when it came to life’s precious Hallmark moments, my mother either didn’t care, or completely abandoned convention and took creative control in order to steer the event far, far away from the treacherous shoals of sentimentality or cliche. My father’s memorial didn’t take place until a month after he died, and despite the fact that she was furious with him for getting cancer and ruining her life, she, with help from my sister, made it the wild rumpus that he had wanted. It bore absolutely no resemblance to a memorial.

As I got older, I was invited to participate in the major life events of my friends and new family, but I had no idea of what was expected of me.

In a clothing mishap that is now the stuff of family legend, I managed to photo-bomb all of my sister-in-law’s formal group wedding photos. The trouble started in Filene’s Basement, which as a shopping venue was a huge step up for me. Dazzled by the bright colors and bold eighties graphics that vibrated in the garish Filenes’s Basement light, I was immediately drawn to the bright red dress with the two-inch white polka dots.

When the formal photos came back from the photographer, a polka-dotted figure stood awkwardly and very much alone in a sea of pastel tea roses. Unfortunately for the bride, Photoshop had not yet been invented.

As a member of My Royal Consort’s family, I have been rehabilitated in the area of weddings and funeral masses. I now understand wakes. Where I am still deficient is in the area of Christenings and showers.

My only other experience with a shower besides the baby shower that my sisters-in-law threw for me, was a wedding shower when I was about twenty-three. It was a surprise shower, the “surprise” part being a detail that somehow eluded me when I mentioned to the bride-to-be that I would see her in a few weeks —at her shower.

When you become an adult you go to lots of weddings, then funerals, and then the weddings start up again as your friends’ children and your nieces and nephews start getting married. This summer I will go to two weddings. One would think that I would have it down by now, but apparently, there is still much for me to learn.

I recently experienced Polk-dot Dress 2.0 when I showed up at a bridal shower in shorts and a T-shirt, but my lack of a dress paled in comparison to what happened to my cousin this weekend on the occasion of his son’s wedding. Being a very pressed for time due to the fact that only hours before he was installing sod at the new house where the wedding and reception were to take place, he neglected to retrieve his suit from the dry cleaner. Unfortunately for him, the family-owned dry cleaner closed for the Fourth of July long weekend, with his freshly cleaned and pressed suit locked inside. He rocked it in a beautiful embroidered western shirt, cowboy hat, jeans and boots.

There are still some avenues I have not been down when it comes to clumsiness in certain social situations. I think I might try experimenting with cleavage at the next christening.

Related Posts: Skinny Jeans and Divine Providence

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  1. Kathy says:

    Always enjoy your family stories of years past! I remember the red polka dot dress! I thought you looked great! and still do. See you at the next family function, probably the nephews wedding, where it should be a lot of fun

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