It’s that time of year again. The time when all girls look radiant and lovely in their beautiful bridal gowns and all boys look a tad awkward in their tailored tuxes and their shiny shoes. There’s mum in her designer two-piece and dad with his ascot and tails. Then there are the attendants –the groomsmen and the bridesmaids. Ever been one of them? I have – more than a few times and there are some fond (and not so fond) memories of those occasions.
I first got to experience the role of bridesmaid when I was 15 and still in my gawky phase. I had horn-rims, braces and zits, which go so well with bright pink chiffon. Thank heavens for cover-stick!
My first cousin on my mom’s side was getting married to an Italian in Toronto. I’m still not sure why she chose me to be one of her bridesmaids. We weren’t particularly close – not in age or frame of mind. I was far closer to her younger sister, but I really think she must have been using me to make up numbers. Italian weddings are big affairs from the time the prospective groom gets down on one knee, until all the ensuing babies are baptised. It was necessary to have a big wedding party and I guess I was as good as anybody to fill the shoes.
Italian weddings start with an engagement party. This is often as big as the wedding (at least from the perspective of the far more humble Irish side of my family, it seems so). They rent a big space, there’s tons of food and music (really, it’s like a pre-wedding). Then there are multiple showers and dress-fittings and then there’s the rehearsal party (which again, is rather like a wedding). I had no complaint about any of this because Italian food is arguably the best in the world and from my perspective, you can never eat too much lasagne (or cake).
As a bridesmaid and a teenager the whole “wedding” thing was really not my concern. I just had to show up in my frothy pink halter dress with the matching floaty cape, master walking in a slightly higher shoe and enjoy myself when someone else was paying. It was a cinch. The other bonus of course was the presence of “groomsmen”. The groom himself was a cross between Tony Orlando and Robert Blake’s Baretta, so he wasn’t my type, but his younger cousins were quite attractive. One of them (another Tony) had a bit of a Redford look to him, so I was instantly smitten, since I had recently seen “The Way We Were”.
Unfortunately for me, it was not Tony who exhibited any interest, but his cousin, Frank. Frank was a nice enough guy, but there was no chemistry. We danced and chatted and in retrospect, he was the better catch (I’ve seen Tony recently and time hasn’t been kind. Frank, on the other hand, has maintained his statuesque physique and he still has most of his hair.) Who can foresee these things when you’re 15? I recall that it was a fun time; I danced the “Gay Gordon” with my dad and discoed the night away with a pair of cute Italian boys. It was a wedding to remember, from my point of view.
A few years later, when I was 18, the hair was longer and lightened (courtesy of a little bottle of L’Oreal), I had contact lenses and the skin was cleared up somewhat (I spent long, dull minutes lying under a sun-lamp in my bedroom, white goggles on my eyes, listening to the tick,tick,tick of the timer until … ding! Off it would go and I would be cooked. Can you believe it!)
This time, it was the younger cousin who was getting married, and guess what? It was another Italian wedding! We went through the whole thing again. The difference was, I was in a long peach, synthetic jersey gown with a cross-over v-neckline and slit sleeves. I had high, strippy, taupe sandals and I looked pretty darned good. The dress material was exactly like one I had attempted in home economics. I say attempted because I was never much of a seamstress and always seemed to select the most involved patterns purely because I liked the look of them on the Simplicity or McCall’s package.
This particular dress was all one piece with these huge, long ties. You were supposed to be able to wear it 7 different ways: toga-style, halter-style, tied around the neck, tied around the waist, etc. I chose a mint-green stretchy fabric (which was murder to sew because it slid all over the place and made the seams meander everywhere but in a straight line). I ended up with an enormous ice-cream coloured swath of hideous material that could have doubled as my bedroom drapes.
The bridesmaid dress was much nicer (although has anybody ever repurposed a bridesmaid dress apart from say, Martha Stewart)? It wasn’t the dress that was the problem for me, it was the shoes. I was used to North Stars and Earth shoes, not 3–inch sandals.
It was a Catholic wedding, so there was a big church ceremony. Because I was a reader in my own home church in Mississauga, my cousin asked if I would like to do one of the readings at the wedding mass. I said I’d be happy to, but as with all the occasions when I read, I was filled with anxiety over the prospect and lost a lot of sleep as a result.
When the wedding day came and I was sitting in the church pew in my long dress with my high shoes, the only thing on my mind was getting up to the lectern where they kept the Good Book, without tripping, reading my passage without faltering and getting back to my seat intact. Well, two out of three ain’t bad, as they say.
When the priest sat down and the congregation followed his lead, it was my cue to get up and do my thing. I glided gracefully to the step and went up: one, two. I found my place in the book, set aside the ribbon marker and (if I may say so) I read, flawlessly. It was the next step when it happened; I forgot about the step down! As if that wasn’t bad enough, to aright myself, I grabbed onto the marble plinth that was the lectern and I swung around to the side, holding on like Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest! My feet weren’t touching the floor and I was swinging back and forth like an ape in a peach-coloured dress! The people in the seats at the back were all standing up to see what the commotion was up front because a murmur was running through the crowd. My co-bridesmaid, Stella was trying to maintain her composure, but it was not to be; she nearly burst!
When I finally stopped swinging enough to get a toe-hold on the carpet and let myself down (actually, a few people made to run up and assist me, but in church, there’s a sense of decorum that must be maintained and when I appeared able to do it myself, they hung back).
I should also say that the groom’s brother was stunningly good looking with a fine bod, gorgeous dark brown eyes, olive skin and luxurious black hair. I was mortified to have pulled this stunt in front of him and he honestly seemed embarrassed for me, but he never exhibited any interest after the fiasco. Oh well.
It’s hardly surprising that my own wedding was a small affair – only 20 people in the church. We had no reception and in fact, we nearly eloped. This was down to a couple of things. Firstly, when a friend from university got married, it was a huge affair. I got all decked out in a vintage, strapless, turquoise ball-gown, drop Indian-style, silver earrings and pointy white shoes. I went with someone I should have seen through ages before, but that’s for another time.
The thing that stood out for me most about the day was that when I finally did get two minutes alone with my friend, her words to me were anything but what I expected from a “blushing bride”. “This is the worst day of my life!”she cried out in her personal dressing room. I was stunned. She was gorgeous, her new husband was on his way to becoming a doctor, she had scads of friends in attendance for her big day and this was her verdict? Wow! All my teenage dreams of a Fall wedding with Irish lace and green-velvet gowned bridesmaids and a church full of yellow roses got sucked into a vortex, never to be seen or heard from again. I made up my mind then and there that my wedding (if and when there ever was one) would be small, intimate and not the least bit ostentatious.
A few years later, a male friend got married and did the whole thing in one go at one location – a charming chapel/mill near Toronto. It was lovely. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t last, but the gist of that small ceremony stayed with me until in 1994, I walked up the aisle to meet my own man-of-my dreams. I wore a comfortable sheer, layered cream skirt with a cream lace top, low-heeled pumps and carried a bouquet of yellow roses. I wasn’t the reader, so that was a relief.
The reception was a small luncheon at my adopted sister’s apartment. The cake was a fantastic creation with cream, blueberries and shaved white chocolate. Then we jetted off to Ireland for 10 days of Guinness, fry-ups and World Cup soccer.
I married into a Danish-Canadian family, not an Italian one, but I still got a slice of la Dolce Vita.