While alchemy is the active process of creating something of value, serendipity is the passive path to finding an unexpected treasure. Looking back through 2015, what did you diligently try to create? What great thing did you just happen to find?
A couple of years ago, I was visiting my parents in California over a hot summer weekend. My father has that asbestos constitution that I do, so he tends never to turn on their air conditioning unless the temperature is well into the triple digits. (Also, he is cheap.) As a result, I recall that weekend I visited being absolutely sweltering both inside the house and out.
At some point during that visit, my mother asked Do you want me to get rid of your old wedding gown? and I told her that I did. She assured me she would take it to the thrift shop the following Monday. But first, I poured myself a cool glass of Sauvignon Blanc and went up to the steamy second floor to put the dress on one last time.
I hated that dress.
But I wanted to see it once again before I was rid of it. So I pulled the dress out of the closet and I tried it on. It looked terrible. As I took it off, I saw my mother standing in the doorway. I laughed and took a swig from the sweaty wine glass sitting on the bureau. Here – you try it on, I said.
Oh no, it won’t fit me, she protested.
Yes, it will. This dress is much more your style.
Okay. She began changing. I left the room and went in search of her wedding gown. I found it easily and returned wearing it.
Moments later, the doorbell rang, and it was my best friend, Jade, who was coming over to join us for wine and conversation. Take some photos of us, I ordered.
You know, she observed, You two got it wrong. Linnie should have been wearing Meredith’s dress and Meredith should have been in Linnie’s dress. My mother and I looked at each other – Jade was not wrong, really.
Well, if I ever walk down the aisle again, I’ll be sure to wear Linnie’s dress! I promised, and we laughed.
Back then, I wasn’t very close to marrying anyone. And it seemed such an absurd, faraway thing that I should wear my mother’s wedding gown. My mother and I have never been particularly close – not in a hostile way – just in the way that there are few mothers and daughters who are as different as we are.
There is a part of me that wants to proclaim: There are two kinds of mothers and daughters in this world – those who get along, and those who do not! But I would be wrong in making that black-and-white pronouncement, because my own mother and I fall into the grey-in-between. Also, it is not that easy to get along with someone you love, particularly when there is so much pressure to have some kind of special relationship. Not every dad goes out and tosses a baseball around with his sons like it’s a 1950s sitcom. Not every mom and daughter sit around braiding hair and talking about crushes and periods. The media glamourises the idyllic or the horrible but there is no role model for the mundane.
I am guessing what my mother and I have is pretty ordinary. We love each other in spite of our differences. But we are not the sort where I had grown up dreaming of wearing her early 1970s beaded silk jersey wedding gown. And it is easy to feel bad about the relationship you DO have when women’s magazines tell you that you should be having a different one.
That said, I did not forget my promise on that hot, wine-soaked summer night.
So when Paul and I got engaged, I called my mother and asked her to send me her wedding gown. The dress had a big footprint on the back; it had not ever been cleaned. There was a wine stain down the front of it left from 1973. Nonetheless, I found a dressmaker, and asked her to draw up a design.
How do you take the hopes and dreams of a twentysomething marrying for the first and only time in 1973 and combine them with those of a thirtysomething marrying for the second time in 2015 – and distill them into the same dress? The odds were against it being possible.
Yet a drycleaner managed to get all the stains out of the skirt; the dressmaker worked for nine months on the gown and managed to use all of the original beading and 95% of the original dress. Over those long nine months, my mother dutifully annoyed the hell out of me asking questions about her wedding gown. And I diligently refused to show her any pictures and lied through my teeth about what progress looked like because I didn’t want her opinion. But the process brought us together in a weird way – we finally had something really significant in common like we had never had before.
The dress came out beautifully.
What I realised, after All That, was that my mother and I were not so different after all. Our tastes and preferences for day-to-day things might not be the same, but on the stuff that really mattered, we were trying to get to the same place – maybe in a different way, with a different style – but heading the same direction.
I had wanted to wear her dress initially not because of that silly promise, but because I missed my grandfather so much and had wanted to wear what he’d walked my mother down the aisle in. And now I have to laugh, because wearing my mother’s dress brought me so much closer to my mother, and I am convinced that Bop had planned that for us all along.