It’s five months before my 48-year-old, tree-hugging, hippie sister’s wedding, and my mother and I are in my girlhood bedroom in Wilmington, Del., talking about tradition, family and, most important, bridal wear.
“People ask me what Beth is going to be wearing, but I don’t know,” Mom says, as she smoothes plastic over her mother-of-the-bride outfit — a long black skirt and a white-sequined jacket. “Now I don’t even care if she wears white. These days, even pregnant brides walk down the aisle in white.”
“She’ll have a dress,” I say.
“And what about a veil?” Mom continues, asking me in my capacity as the traditionally observant Jewish daughter. “It seems ridiculous for her to wear one.”
“I’ll check with my local rabbinic sources,” I reply lightly, while surveying Mom in the mirror above my 50-year-old dresser.
Although Mom still retains some of her youthful beauty, I can see that the stress of being a septuagenarian wedding planner is getting to her. Decisions on dresses and veils were a lot easier the last time she planned a daughter’s wedding — mine: white, traditional, 30 years ago.
But a moment later, as she goes on to ask me, “So why do you think they’re finally getting married?” I realize that what Beth will wear for this occasion is not the major pre-nup question weighing on Mom’s mind.
“Oy,” I mutter silently, knowing that she is not merely seeking my explanation as much as a “Sign on the dotted line” commitment from her elder, Modern Orthodox daughter that her younger, free-spirited, pagan daughter is actually, at least in this case, throwing nonconformity to the wind.
Understandably, too, I think, since Beth and her fiancé, Diego, are not the standard, “We’re getting married in middle age for health insurance reasons” couple, but “left-coast” performers and bliss-followers who have generally been allergic to convention. They first met at the 1997 Rainbow Gathering, an annual countercultural event featuring peace, love, music and semi- to full-frontal nudity.
Nine years later, when Beth called to say that Diego had gotten down on one knee and proposed to her at that year’s Rainbow Gathering, the news rocked our family with the force of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” at Woodstock. But we quickly moved forward, bypassing Zen-like acceptance and heading straight for “Age of Aquarius” meets “Wonder of Wonders” exuberance — especially after Beth said she wanted an East Coast Jewish wedding, complete with a rabbi, a hupah and a blintz-laden smorgasbord.
Selfishly, perhaps, I was also pleased that I would no longer have to continue fielding Mom’s previous “Is Beth getting married?” line of inquiry, which had been going on for several years — ever since Beth brought Diego home to meet the family and my parents learned that her handsome, ponytailed, mandolin-playing boyfriend, known in Rainbow circles as “King of the Gypsies,” was actually a Jewish boy from the Midwest.
“Is it serious?” Mom would ask, and I’d respond with, “Yes, but don’t buy a dress yet.”
And since Beth and I are good friends as well as sisters, I knew that it was a serious relationship — but I didn’t think we’d actually be shopping for wedding dresses for either a decade’s worth of Rosh Hashanahs or a few dozen Mercury retrogrades.
“They’ll have to wheel me down the aisle if she ever gets married,” Mom, long a proponent of the “It’s not good for people to be alone” philosophy, would declare to me ruefully.
Yet fortunately, 10 years later, Mom is not only fully ambulatory, but also striding confidently through conversations with Kitty the florist and Steve the caterer.
Here in my old bedroom, though, I can sense the layers of emotion in Mom’s voice and realize that I not only can, but want, to ease her anxiety about my sister’s return to her Jewish roots for this major life event. Although I can’t provide a guarantee, I can at least tell her not only what she needs to hear, but also what is, as my late paternal grandmother, Bubbe R., used to say, “the God’s honest truth.”
“They’re getting married for you.” I say. “Diego’s parents are no longer alive, and he really wants a family. And he loves you and Dad.”
Mom nods, seeming satisfied, and 20 weeks and 20 questions later (“Maybe you could get Beth to put on a little blush that day?” Mom asks in one phone call), we all assemble at my parents’ synagogue.
Beth looks gorgeous, shimmering in creamy, San Francisco consignment shop satin. and Mom kvells her way through a crowd that includes hippies, mimes, Hadassah ladies and assorted family.
Before we sit down to sing the Sheva Brachot (seven blessings) as performed at the end of my own wedding in this very same room, I think about the blessings of maturity. Although Beth and Diego could have gone with Plan A and gotten married under the Northern California stars with their neighbor Sunshine as the officiant, they instead chose to let Mom make them this big, fattening Jewish wedding — featuring not only peace, love and music, but also five different flavors of cheesecake.
This is a true gift, I believe, as is my relationship with Mom, which has, like a fine non-Manischewitz type wine, gotten richer and better with age.
“You’ve done good,” I go over to say to her, which is something I unfortunately wasn’t capable of telling her at the end of my own wedding.
“Oh, please,” Mom says. But she is smiling.
Marla Brown Fogelman is a freelance writer living in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Moment, and Parents, among other publications.