Sunday, August 1, 2010

"No wonder you never had any kids!"


My mother did not drive.  Nor would she ride in a car during daylight hours so shopping was pretty much out of the question for her (with the notable exception of the Sears Roebuck Catalog, from which she regularly made sure my father remained forever buried under a small mountain of debt).  Whenever any shopping expedition was required, especially in late summer when a new school wardrobe was needed, my mother made my father drive me to Batavia or sometimes even Buffalo to go to a big department store like Woolworth’s, Adam, Meldrum and Anderson’s or that brightly lit new upstart – K-Mart.

On one such foray, during the early sixties, we returned home from the K-Mart in Batavia with a light blue tailored linen dress with navy trim and buttons.  It was an A-line dress – I loved this dress but when I modeled it for mom she acted both horrified and embarrassed.   She was so flabbergasted  dad and I had a really difficult time trying to get her to reveal why she was so flustered,  but she finally blurted out what she thought must have happened:  my poor addled father and I had wandered by mistake into the maternity section of the store.  Gasp!   Nothing we could say would dissuade her.  Her mind was set - it was a maternity dress and if I wore it out in public - to church or to school, “People will think you’re pregnant!”

I tried to counter her argument by saying that all anyone would have to do is wait a few months and when no blessed event came forth then people would just have to stop thinking I was wearing maternity clothes.  But no – there was no arguing with my mother.  Even my dad knew it was a losing battle and retired to the solitude of his study to work on one of his sermons.

My mom then proceeded to spend the next several days remaking the dress – she ripped out the seams, she shaped it and reshaped it.  She was never quite able to make it into one of her beloved shirtwaists, but she came as close as she could until she was finally satisfied that I would be OK to appear in public in this garment and not a soul would harbor the dreaded thought that I might be pregnant.


In 1965, when Paul and I announced that we were to be wed, my mother was overcome with joy –that is, until I informed her that I did not want any kind of engagement ring, only a simple gold band as a wedding ring.  No diamonds for me, no siree!  I thought they were ugly and stupid and I am sure Paul was greatly relieved at dodging this very expensive pre-nuptial bullet.

My mother, however, contributed to the occasion with a familiar yet unexpected refrain, “You can’t just get married, you have to become engaged, otherwise everyone will think you had to get married – people will think you are pregnant!”

Once again I retorted that if anyone at all were to be paying attention to this little event of ours, all they would have to do is keep an eye on me to see if any babies were forthcoming and if none showed up then they could rest assured no shotguns were involved in the proceedings and all was above board and on the up and up.  And once again, in the eyes of the greater community, my virginity could be assumed to have been a proven fact and my mother could hold her head high in public.

My mother, again proving quite intractable, simply would not stop her argument until Paul and I went out one day, found a little junky antique store on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, and purchased a cheap old gold band set with three stones, a chipped opal in the center and two garnets, I believe, on either side of the opal.  Paul tied this onto the pale blue neck-ribbon of a plush toy Siamese cat and gave it to me for Christmas that year and my mom was beyond delighted.

I discovered many years later, after my mom had died, that a ring of that type - set with a row of stones, is often called a Mother’s Ring – each stone represents the birthstone of a child.  If my mom had known that she probably would have had kittens.


I have already described one of the skirmishes in the Wedding War – the battle of the engagement ring.  My mother won that one.

Herein follows the tale of the Battle of the Wedding Gown.   I will leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide the winner.

I am of the belief that my mother began planning the wedding the moment I told her I had met this nice guy named Paul.  She went into overdrive when I declared our love, and she went into orbit when I announced the wedding. 

I bought a bride’s magazine and found a pretty yet plain gown.  My mother was crushed that I was not planning to have her sew my gown.  She was, after all, a wonderful seamstress and I must admit she had probably been planning my gown since the day I was born.  She had made most of my baby clothes and most of the clothing I wore until I managed to convince her that T shirts and dungarees were my preferred mode of dress and I was able to finally escape her frilly, girlie ideas of apparel.

I grudgingly agreed to let her do a gown for me, but then one day Paul and I were wandering down Elmwood again and I found a lovely white satin floor-length gown with multi-colored embroidered ribbons on the sleeves – this dress was from Mexico and I was ready to buy it on the spot but I decided to tell my mom about it first.  She was crestfallen at the news and made my father drive her from Mayville to Buffalo so she could see this garment in person.  This was the first time I remember her being in a store since I was a very little kid.  She was appalled at the sloppy stitching and even more appalled at the colorful trim on the sleeves.

Obviously this could in no way be designated a wedding gown because of course if I were to wear any color other than a white as pure as the driven snow – it would be screaming out to any and all that I was pregnant (sound familiar?).  My mother put her tiny foot down and that was that.  The Mexican wedding dress was out.

My grandparents became involved in the Battle of the Wedding Dress.  Grandma tried her best to be the peacemaker between mom and me, and Grandpa got “het-up” and one of his rants that I recall began, “Why don’t you just wear blue jeans and ride a horse down the aisle!?!”  (Of course I thought that was a wonderful idea!)

Mom and I wrangled back and forth – would I buy a gown, would she make one.  She sent away for patterns and yards of satin while I bought magazines.  She convinced me that she could make a gown and we finally settled on the plainest empire waist A-Line gown, with elbow length bell-sleeves and a very simple unadorned neckline.  And I began to campaign for embroidered ribbon trim on the sleeves.  No, not in color, simply in metallic gold and white – different widths and designs of ribbons – row upon row.

We sent away for samples of trims and in the mean time I was busy convincing her that gold wasn’t really a color and no, people wouldn’t think I was pregnant.

Mom swung into action – sewing seams and ripping them out and doing fittings and re-sewing and re-ripping.  But she was obviously having fun so how could I get angry with her?  By the end of the whole ordeal, however, she had sneakily added a lace mantilla with gold edging and a huge gold-edged lace overskirt.  Luckily she ran out of time before the wedding or I would have been clad in lace from head to toe.

So that is why I never had any children.  I blame my mother.  I also thank my friend Babe St. Joan for the title of this post.  That is what she said to me when I told her these stories.