My daughter planned every aspect of her wedding, she even wrote the ceremony—adapted from a self-uniting ceremony used by my Quaker ancestors in the 1600’s, right here in Philadelphia. When her boss offered to sponsor her so she could have her big day at the ultra-exclusive, historic and elegant Union League—of which he is a member—she jumped at the chance. She chose the flowers and the color scheme to coordinate with the rich tones of the club’s décor.
Acting as her own wedding planner was incredibly stressful, but Alexis pulled it off—at least until the actual day of the wedding. The problem then was this: how can you be in a hotel room getting dressed and getting your make-up done and also be making last–minute preparations in the rooms where the wedding and reception will take place?
So, after my makeup was done, I began running from one end of the building to the other, making sure everything was in place. Each time I went back and forth, I passed through the grand ballroom where the staff was getting ready for someone else’s, much larger, wedding reception. Each time I passed through, I found myself feeling a bit intimidated: imagining two wealthy, influential families that would gather later that evening to celebrate the joining of their clans in marriage.
I was still in street clothes, business casual—the minimum to meet the Union League’s dress code—so I found myself feeling as though I was at work, at my old job in an art gallery. It felt a lot like it used to when I was getting the gallery ready for a First Friday art show. Imagining myself to be a member of the staff was fun, and it made me feel less out-of-place in this prestigious venue: more like I belonged there.
As I once again made my way back toward the hotel room where my daughters were getting ready, I approached the door separating the lobby from the hallways where the guest rooms are, and realized that I had left my room key behind; I couldn’t get past the lobby without it. I’d have to call one of my daughters to come let me in. But just as I neared the door, a woman came through from the other side; she smiled warmly and held the door open for me.
As I stepped through, I thanked her and grinned, batting my (first-time-ever) false eyelashes as I said, “You knew it was okay to let me in; you can see that I belong here because you recognize my ‘mother of the bride’ makeup.”
She gasped dramatically as she pointed to herself and exclaimed, “I’m the mother of the groom!”
I felt an immediate connection with this woman. She, too, was still in street clothes, but didn’t yet have her wedding “face” on. She appeared to be middle class, like I am. She was instantly friendly, not hiding behind any pretense, as some of the other people I’d encountered in the club’s hallways seemed to be.
“You’re kidding!” I exclaimed, as we stood in the open doorway. “My daughter’s reception is in the banquet room overlooking Broad Street. We’re expecting 80 guests. You must be in the ballroom, with a guest list of what, about 300?”
“330” she said. “But only 50 of those are my guests.” She rolled her eyes as she continued, “The bride’s family has a lot of friends.”
“So, the bride’s parents are Union League members?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said mournfully, “And I feel so out of place here.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. “There are moments when I feel so excited and privileged to be here, and there are moments when I imagine someone is getting ready to tap me on the shoulder to ask me to leave.”
She sighed, nodding her head, and said, “Exactly.”
We shared a sympathetic smile and I felt a simple bond with her. Here we were: both of us preparing to watch a child step out of the nest, both of us in a situation where mixed emotions are to be expected, but now with the added issues of class and wealth making things much more complicated.
As she began to step into the lobby, she turned back toward me and enthusiastically said, “Nice to meet you, Mother of the Bride!”
“Nice to meet YOU, Mother of the Groom!” I answered. And I went on my way.
I passed through the ballroom just once more that afternoon, before the huge wooden doors were closed, effectively keeping our separate weddings separate. As I did, I found myself thinking of my new acquaintance: the Mother of the Groom—the down-to-earth lady I’d shared a “moment” with—the fun lady I’d have been happy to meet for a cup of coffee. I envisioned her witnessing this huge step in her son’s life. It made me sad to think of her standing in that beautiful ballroom, feeling out of place. So I said a little prayer for her. I prayed that she’d have a great time at her son’s wedding; that she’d hold her head high and enjoy every second of this momentous evening—making beautiful memories. I prayed that she’d recognize that she was bringing just as much to this oh-so-elegant table as her new in-laws were, and that she’d fully believe in her heart that she belonged here.
As I walked on through, I realized I was suddenly feeling more at ease, more confident, and, yes—like I, too, actually belonged in this elegant place.
Who knows—maybe the Mother of the Groom had just said a little prayer for me.
Amazing, how a two-minute, chance meeting in a doorway could make a once-in-a-lifetime event so much happier for me.
Or . . . maybe it wasn’t really by chance at all.