When I was in college, I earned extra money working on commission in a dress shop. It took just a few days to realize that if I was selling wedding dresses I could make a lot more money than if I sold T-shirts. Within the first month I'd talked my way into becoming the store's first "bridal consultant."
I knew almost nothing about planning a wedding, but the library was my friend. I read etiquette books and brides' magazines and studied movie magazines to see how the stars did it. In a pinch I called my mother, who knew everything, including how to make butter rosebuds and that black India ink should be used to address the invitations.
With the store's permission and for an extra fee, I'd assist the bride with her nuptials until the moment she started down the aisle. That meant I had to become an amateur diplomat, psychiatrist, conflict resolution mediator, enforcer, dietitian, accountant, beautician and marriage counselor (not for the bride and groom, but for her parents). It was great training for my own wedding, and indeed, my own marriage.
Brides can be a flaky lot, teary-eyed and dithery over whether to have peppermint or peach tablecloths, and what color the groom's cummerbund should be. A bridesmaid's casual remark that her pink organdy dress would look more at home on a bassinet than on her could push a would-be bride right over the edge. Mothers, on the other hand, are very clear-eyed about what they want. Tastes vary, but mostly they want the best, even if they can't afford it. The argument used on anyone paying for the occasion was "This is my little girl's big day," often followed by "Are you going to spoil it for her by being a tightwad?" I never heard anyone respond in the affirmative.
My first on-the-job lesson was that the bride's big day is also her mother's big day. The currently popular axiom, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" surely was coined by another bridal consultant. I learned fast that the key to my success - and a hefty tip - lay in careful negotiations with the mother, because she had final authority on what would, or would not, happen.
The best part of my job was the reception. At last the big event was over, and it was time to party. All squabbles were miraculously forgotten in the rush of joy the ceremony bestowed upon everyone, and I could stop worrying because, after her second glass of champagne, mama had stopped worrying, too.
My friend, a recent mother of the bride, reminded me of my long-ago consulting days when she sent this e-mail:
"I went to a wedding yesterday, an amazingly happy occasion," she wrote. "Friends of the bride and groom came from many directions at great personal expense in time, energy and cash. They brought with them a great deal of love, good dreams for the couple and thoughtfully chosen gifts. Along with them came so much yearning the air was filled with it. The love and respect kept us all warm. The yearning kept us close, yet distant from each other.
"Special occasions touch so many centers within us it's sometimes hard to know whether we are feeling for others or with them. There were young people there that were collecting dreams for their own futures. There were contemporaries of the couple that were there to celebrate joint memories, plans and hopes. There were a few that were touched with the fear that they will never have the happiness they saw and yearned for. I could think of no way to help them. ...
"The day, the parade to the ceremony and back, the setting, and even the dogs were a joy to behold. The music was grand, the food and drink delicious, the neighbors delightful.
"We had a really good time. Wish you were here."
For three decades, writer Tad Bartimus told other people's stories all over the globe; now she tells her own from the neighborhood. Send your great stories of 300 words or less to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write her at P.O. Box 728, Puunene, Hawaii 96784.