I attended a good friend’s bridal shower this weekend. It was pleasingly familiar: light, fluffy cake served on stacks of clear plates, pink punch in a glass bowl, elegantly wrapped packages concealing all the Pyrex and pillows, finery and furbelows an about-to-be-married couple could want to launch a brand new household. As we sat around in a circle, asking Jenny probing questions about Carl and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over each successive vase and towel, I was reminded sharply of my own wedding showers, and the excitement of that magical twilight hour between singleness and marriage.
I had three bridal showers. Excessive, I know, but there it is. One was thrown by the lovely ladies of my church family in Arkansas, where I lived at the time. Another was hosted by friends and family back in my hometown of Snellville, Georgia (town motto: “Where Everybody’s Somebody”.) It was a couples shower, where Paul proved his manly mettle by showing an unprecedented amount of interest in things like silver candlesticks and non-stick frying pans. His performance was impeccable, and made up for the infuriating noncommittal shrug he gave me every time I asked him for his opinion while we were registering for said items. It took him a while to get into the whole gift registry thing. He plodded up and down the bed and bath aisles at my side, scanned whatever I told him to with the bar code gun, and only perked up when we got to the hardware department, where he gleefully registered for a Craftsman cordless drill and a barbecue set. That must have set the wheels turning, though. By the time we left the store, our registry was filled with unique wedding gift ideas, including athletic socks, a video camera, and matched sleeping bags. The highlight of the second shower, for Paul, was the unwrapping of a big black tool box filled with nails, a hammer, screwdrivers, wood glue, and a staple gun. (God bless the thoughtful soul who brought that!) I think he was just happy to have something to carry out to the car that wasn’t covered in flowered tissue paper.
My favorite shower, though, was the third, a girls-only event arranged by a handful of close college friends and held in the second floor common room of my dorm. You see, Paul and I met and married while attending Harding University, a Christian college in Searcy, Arkansas, and some of the school’s most unique and beloved traditions revolved around engagements and marriage. For example, when a couple got engaged, they often kept it a secret for a day or two until the girl’s social club (something like a sorority) could arrange a Ring Ceremony. That night, all the girls would gather around the Lily Pool, trying to deduce who the new fiancée could be. Encircling the pool, they would sing songs while a lit taper candle with the engagement ring on it was passed around and admired. The second time around the circle, as it passed by the girl whose engagement was being announced, she would take it and blow the candle out, a revelation usually followed by a big cheer and an official re-telling of the proposal story.
My third bridal shower was the embodiment of another Harding tradition, the Lingerie Shower. Knowing that all the couple’s domestic needs were being met by hometown family and friends, college buddies took this opportunity to make sure that the new bride and groom were supplied with everything they needed to enjoy marital bliss in…errr…other spheres. Maybe you can imagine the giggling and blushing as the guest of honor unwrapped each carefully selected gift, holding it aloft to a chorus of laughter or admiration. Some gifts were beautifully sweet: an ivory satin nightgown, a lacy chemise, a collection of bubble baths. Some gifts were so unusual as to require explanation, an endeavor that always brought down the house. A few gifts were there just for laughs, like the infamous Redneck Teddy that kept showing up at party after party, emerging from a beautiful gift bag or a fancy, wrapped box to elicit a hearty round of jeers and guffaws. (It’s hard to do justice to the Redneck Teddy in words, but essentially, it’s a man’s white t-shirt that has been…um…altered with scissors and a Sharpie.)
What I remember most about lingerie showers, though, and mine especially, is the sense of wonder and mystery we all felt as we peered ahead into an unknown world of sweetness and intimacy soon to be entered by one of our own. Alive with curiosity, we speculated, we asked questions, and we shared guesses. As conversation buzzed around the room, the few married girls among us usually sat back with quiet, enigmatic smiles playing across their faces, offering little information, but fueling the fire of conjecture all the same. I think we understood, even then, underneath all the laughter and joking, that some momentous threshold was about to be crossed, and we gave it due ceremony.
It’s been over ten years since the day I unwrapped the Redneck Teddy at my own shower. Ten years of stumbling—and flying. Ten years of education. Ten years of exploration. Being married is not unlike unwrapping a gift, actually. As time goes by, more and more of the person you love is revealed; each successive tear of the paper is accompanied by the thrill of discovery and the hope for more.
Ten years multiplies the joy in more ways than one. Just as some emotions are too piercing to be put into words, some mysteries, like two people becoming one, are too deep to be expounded.
Sometimes the best you can do is an enigmatic smile.