the wedding collection

My mom is not your typical Mother of the Bride.

For starters, she refuses to wear beige. She’s not exceedingly interested in tablecloths or lighting or bridesmaid dresses, unless of course there’s a possibility she could wear one of those to my wedding, hold the sparkly floor-length gowns favored by Jewish mothers the Long Island over, please. She dropped more eye rolls than tears in Kleinfeld. She’s just not really into much of this wedding stuff, and she wants you (seller of dresses, seller of bands, daughter who insists on emailing her five times a day about guest books) to know it.

Which is why it is extremely difficult to understand why I spent last weekend attempting to dissuade her from buying a $100 cut-glass cake stand wedding centerpiece from a shop in the antiques capital of Southwestern Pennsylvania, to which we had traveled at her insistance.

It was a long strange road from feminist who built tables to the ten minutes I spent prying the Eyewinker patterned piece — reduced to $50, let it be known — out of her hands. We first got the idea to use vintage, pressed-glass cake stands for our centerpieces from our florist, who had just completed a gorgeous wedding where they were also used for a cake buffet and flanked an escort card table. I thought it was beautiful but was a bit daunted by the task – we would have to snag 40 to 50 cake stands to pull it off for our wedding. And, of course, the mother of the bride for the original wedding had been the model of wedding devotion, collecting her cake stands over a period of years. (I know this, of course, because our first thought was to try to take the easy way out and just buy the damn cake stands from that wedding. It didn’t go over too well.)

Despite the enormity of the task at hand, my mom seemed both nonplussed and uninterested in dealing with the issue in a timely fashion. We could just get them at Homegoods and Pier One, she reasoned. Her decorator friend would take care of everything! It was around the time the decorator friend’s own son got engaged – leaving her to plan a wedding of her own, as a model mother-of-the-groom no doubt – that the panic started to set in.

We made our way to a few junk shops in Connecticut, but came up empty-handed. I started to become resigned to the idea of mass-ordering them from Target. And then we stumbled upon Adamstown.

We were on the way to the wedding of an old friend of mine in Lancaster, Pa., driving through a part of the state where there are no highways, just long roads with stoplights and bad diners and – hey,  is that a table with a bunch of cake stands on the side of the street?

As it happened, it wasn’t (it was mostly just junk that sparkled in the July sunshine) but that table was a harbinger of shops ahead that specialized in, oddly enough, pressed glass. (Turns out most of the cake stand patterns we were in search of were mass-produced in factories in Pittsburgh in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and most hadn’t gotten very far over the next 120 or so years.) We rolled up to Meriel’s wedding with a trunk filled with cardboard boxes filled with cakestands. We collected 20 – maybe 30? – that weekend. We were very proud of ourselves.

And, honestly, that’s where it ended for me.

I returned to New York, where my puppy was still eating my possessions and my fiance was still working crazy hours and the only cake stands around were pricey specimens of the non-vintage variety at Fish’s Eddy.

My mother, meanwhile, was becoming more and more obsessed. She bought a copy of Early American Patterned Glass Cake Stands & Serving Pieces and started cataloguing our cake stands by pattern, labeling each one with a post-it note. She waded through muddy puddles in search of more cake stands at a Massachusetts flea market, hours away, in the wake of Hurricane Irene. She started stalking eBay, eager for another cake stand hit. And, after a few too many of those cake stands were stolen from her grasp by last-minute bidders, she insisted we return to Adamstown.

I honestly didn’t know how bad it had gotten until were curled up in our Holiday Inn Express in Allentown and she started referring to the authors of EAPGS&SP by first name (Bettye and Jane, of course.) The next day, she declined to let me get the simple, cheap cake stands I liked, in search of bigger fish to fry: the Ribbon Candy pattern, the intricate, yet ugly, Eyewinker. We were beyond the little Harp pattern I adored, she said.

This was quite the role reversal from the woman who gives me dirty looks when I veer from the Banana Republic sale rack. We finally left with no more than 20 cake stands, at my insistence.

When we got home, I suggested we start tallying up our total take, past purchases included. She was reluctant, but allowed me to start bringing down a few boxes from her closet. Soon we had about 50 cake stands gathered on my parents’ dining room table.

The stash.

Mom with her cake stands - and precious cake stand bible.

Dad looking on in confusion/resigned horror.

It was a scene, and maybe a promising one – if not for the fact that we soon realized the bounty didn’t include any of the cake stands we had scored this summer. Meaning there’s still about 30 more where that came from. Meaning, my mother’s out of control.

We joked that we would have to pile them up in the bathroom at the wedding. We joked that next Thanksgiving, everyone would be given a cut-glass cake stand in lieu of a plate to take their food. We joked that my mother would have to build a new room in our house to hold all the cake stands, that she needed to start thinking about an exit strategy.

As is my way, I joked a lot at the expense of my mother.

But the truth is, our cake stand expedition has been one of my favorite parts of planning this wedding. I wrote her a note afterwards, and the only thing I could think to write was that it had been such a “special time” for me – a phrase we usually only employ sarcastically but one that I really, really meant this time.

My parents weren’t the biggest fans of this whole wedding thing at first – they love Dave, and they love me, but they wanted to make sure I didn’t lose sight of my career, wanted to make sure I didn’t settle down too early. And, in many ways – see: the saga that is trying to get my mother into a mother-of-the-bride dress – they still are the antithesis of all typical things weddings. But they’ve also become our biggest advocates throughout this whole process in their own way – generous, flexible, supportive and, as always, sarcastic – which, while it may not be model parents of the bride behavior, is fine by me.

And so it really has been a special time — a time when I’m living close to my family, when we have a big party to plan and a big occasion to celebrate. Eventually, things will be different – this wedding will happen, Dave and I might move away, I will no longer be able to test three kinds of cake and six kinds of filling without gaining weight. None of it’s forever (least of all my astonishing New York metabolism.) And so I’m so very grateful for the right now, for all of it, even if it means my mom completely decimated our budget for centerpieces.

And for the record, she was right about the Eyewinker. We should have just gotten it. It’s a special time, a special collection.

Also, Bettye and Jane say it’s worth $250.


3 Responses

  1. In the spirit of accurate and honest reporting– sometimes so sorely missed in the 2011 world of grabber headlines and cheap shots– I must set the record straight: I did not know the authors’ first names. That was a certain special blogger.

  2. This is a heartwarming story. Mother’s can become obsessive as a way of dealing with the overwhelming emotions accompanying this very profound ocassion. I know I did. For me it was tablecloths. I needed to insert my artistic hand into the mix or maybe have a little bit more control. But whatever underlies our motivations- pales in comparison to the translation. In this case you and Mom embarking on a treasure hunt looking for something that only you Rachel will have. Something that will do justice to a beloved daughter. Something not picked off the rack but researched and categorized and cared for. Your Mom did her homework and in the process of your expedition the love the two of you feel for one another became as transparent as the glass itself! Great story. Keep em coming. Estelle

  3. Love it! Diane’s centerpieces are old books! could I possibly send the dynamic duo on a search for me? I am glad you had such a special time.

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