What do you call twenty-eight women sitting in the living room spreading melted brie on rice crackers, pounding back cocktails, and yapping like crows sitting on a fence?
If you said a Tuesday night book club meeting, you’d be close. The answer is a bridal shower for my cousin Francine’s daughter, Helen.
It’s been a custom for decades now to shower new brides-to-be with things that will help them set up a household. But most brides today have either lived on their own and collected their own trousseau, or, in Helen’s case, have been down the aisle more than once. That being said, this time around Helen has had a household shower, a teacup shower, and then the one I was invited to — a boudoir shower. Since she’s on her third marriage, I think Helen needs a frequent flyer card for a divorce lawyer, not another pair of chocolate underpants.
I don’t like boudoir showers. I won’t go to candle parties because I don’t like people knowing what scent I use, so I have no interest in opening paraphernalia for intimate relations. I wasn’t a complete party pooper. I bought her an over-the-shoulder boulder-holder that lifted and separated, which Helen would likely be doing soon.
Amidst the hot pot stickers and mini quiches, I thought about how showers have changed. As a young woman, I remember the speech I gave to my mother: “If you ever give me a bridal shower, I will boycott it.” I hated the crustless sandwiches, and that brides had to sit in a wing backed chair with streamers of pink above their heads while somebody made a hat out of a paper plate and bows. Now everybody drinks. We didn’t have hooch back in my time because broads didn’t booze it up in front of their mothers. That and Auntie Vera had just gotten back from the Betty Ford Centre, so there was a punchbowl of mocktails — two cans of pineapple juice and an antabuse chaser.
When I got married, I wasn’t registered anywhere. I wouldn’t dare dictate what gifts should be given. My aunts gave me family recipes and a nice piece of Pyrex and some cookie sheets. I know brides today don’t want cupboards full of junk, but getting a horrible gift or two is part of the fun. You won’t remember perfect flatware choices, but a pink lady toilet paper cover is a great story waiting to be told. A story like that will keep you company when you’re old and in the nursing home.
Men often say some women play games. That statement is no truer than at a bridal shower. There are two kinds of people: people who like to play shower games, and the rest of us. There is always some game-playing harpie who is screaming at everyone else, “Stop being party poopers! Making a pot scrubber into a doll is SO fun.”
It isn’t fun. Nor is it fun to see how many clothespins you can get off a clothesline with one hand or trying to get a hotdog that’s tied around your waist into an empty Coke bottle.
For a while, feminists tried to boycott the games. They wanted to act like men and hire a stripper. Believe me, it isn’t fun having a guy called Long Dong Silver dance in front of you to “Love to Love You, Baby” on a boom box. You don’t know where to put your eyes and it’s never pretty when your mother starts disinfecting the leather couch. I did find one shower in thirty years quite fun. We were asked to dress up in the ugliest bridesmaid dress we had ever worn. I remember Helen had to borrow one of mine because she had never been asked to stand up for anyone. Always a bride, never a bridesmaid, apparently.
At that shower, Auntie Vera was the hit of the afternoon. She wore her honeymoon negligee with Marabou fur slippers. When we whistled at her like construction workers, she quipped, “I was pure as the driven snow when I got married. Why, I walked down that church aisle, I said a few vows and that night I was supposed to be as hot as a firecracker. It was no First of July, I’ll tell you that. More like April Fools’.”
No matter how the games and customs have changed, the free advice hasn’t. Every family shower, we offer the bride-to-be words of wisdom
on how to stay married. Except for a couple of us, most people are still married in my family because “til death do us part” isn’t an idle threat to them, it’s a promise.
Here are a few samples of the bon mots flowing on Helen’s special day: “Never let the sun go down on your wrath.”
“If you killed him, you’d only get twenty-five years, but marriage is a life sentence.”
Auntie Vera, who had taken up drinking again in 2002, took the prize for the most maudlin words of the day: “Appreciate your man while he’s alive because before you know it, you’ll be old and he’ll be dead and you’ll be eating beef jerky from a bag wishing you had someone to yell at.”
Soon after, the afternoon drew to a close. I decided to take Auntie Vera home with me. Last time she went back to the nursing home in that condition, she almost got kicked out for feeling up an orderly.
I kissed Helen good-bye. “Maybe third time’s a charm,” I said. And Vera slurred, “Yeah, maybe the horns in his head will match the holes in yours,” but Helen had that far-off look all brides-to-be have, like they’re soldiers going back to Afghanistan for a third tour of duty.
When I got home, I tucked Vera under the blanket on the couch. I sat munching leftover egg salad sandwiches and realized that the main thing that has changed about bridal showers is me. I actually like them. Not because of the gifts or the party games, or even because I still believe in happily ever after, but because except for funerals, it’s the only time I get to see my relatives.
At that moment, Auntie Vera exhaled a loud snore followed by a long period of silence. Thoughts flew through my head. Oh my God, what if she’s dead? I’ll need a new outfit. I hope the relatives will fly up from the States. After about thirty seconds of mind chatter, she inhaled once again and her rumbling snores drowned out the sound of a westbound train.