In my last column in this space I mentioned that I’d be missing my kids’ school fair next Saturday to attend a cousin’s wedding in Texas. Now I’m thinking of what to get the happy couple. To make the process less of a guessing game for family and friends, they’ve set up registries at two different department stores. Some people object to being given a list of material desires, but I’m not one of them. I’m perfectly content to let them clue me in on what they can use as they’re starting their life together. They’re both grad students at the University of Texas, on a tight budget. Their wish list has nothing of the outrageous or extravagant about it; in fact, it’s a plain and practical list of kitchen implements and dining accessories. I just don’t know what to pick, so I thought I’d ask your opinion.
But before I present the choices, I need to explain why I’ve waited until a mere eight days before the wedding to get around to this task. I wasn’t always such a last-minute giver. A long time ago Bill and I were actually quite speedy present-pickers, responding soon after the arrival of the engraved invitation with the purchase and shipment of the object of choice. We changed for a reason. Three reasons, actually: Not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES, we sent a gift to a couple whose wedding never occurred. One of those times the cancellation call came just two days before the big event was to take place. And I do mean big: that one was to be held at a cathedral, followed by a 200-guest reception at a fancy New York hotel. All three times we had the gift sent back to us, which meant we had to mail it back, or haul it back to the store ourselves to get a refund. Now I know I shouldn’t complain too much of the inconvenience to us. Of course we’d far rather deal with the nuisance and minor expense of a store return than see a friend go through with a wedding that she (in two of the cases) or he (in one case) had come to see as a grave mistake.
However, after the third such incident, we decided it would be worth our while to defer the present-choosing process until after the marriage was on the books. According to Miss Manners, there’s no etiquette violation in waiting. So I was planning to stick to my policy of no presents till the couple had actually said I do, but then I woke up this morning with the sudden realization that … they had! That is to say, they are already legally husband and wife. I don’t know why, but I forgot that fact, announced some months ago in an email to all family members. We can thank Congress, the Department of Homeland Security and stepped-up immigration checkpoints for this wrinkle in the story. My cousin’s fiance is Canadian, and for the past few years he’s been working in Texas and traveling regularly back and forth between Montreal, where his parents live, and his home in Austin. The trips, which used to be fairly smooth sailing, had lately become an ever-worsening hassle, involving lots of waiting in lines and line-by-line scrutiny of his documentation. At some point he and my cousin decided it made sense to have a quick civil ceremony, to give him the friendlier standing of the husband of a US citizen, if not yet a citizen himself. They saw no profit in waiting until May 22 for this relief. That means that the ceremony at this event is actually going to be a re-enactment, a speaking of vows for the poetry and symbolism of the words, and for the enjoyment of the audience. The legal significance has been taken care of.
So there’s no chance that the marriage won’t happen, when it already has. And no need for my usual let’s-wait-to-see-if-it-falls-apart hesitation. That wake-up thought sends me straight to their registries, only to discover there’s very little left to buy. Hmmmm. Now what do I do? Usually when I wait until after the wedding is over, I have something in mind that I know that the couple still needs. In past weddings, the couple has been local, and I’ve been to their house and have a sense of their tastes and interests. Although I feel close to my cousin, I have always seen her at family gatherings on the east coast, never at her home in Austin. So I’m left looking over some very humdrum but practical items on her list. Nothing here speaks to me, saying, “This is just the thing for them!” Or “Wow, they’ll love this!” Here is what I see, followed by what I think:
o The Black & Decker Convection Toaster Oven. Sure, every couple should have a toaster oven. But could there possibly be a more boring gift?
o The Black & Decker Platinum LinX cordless hand vac. What this says to me is that it’s dusty in Texas. But would they interpret the gift as a subtle hint: “I think you need to clean more” ?
o A set of Pilsner beer glasses. Does it say that I think they sit around and drink beer all day?
o The Martha Stewart 20-piece collection of fine cutlery, in a nice wooden countertop display block. Sharp knives. From the collection of a convicted felon. Is this really the best symbolism for the start of a life together?
So you see my dilemma. Perhaps it would be best to ditch the whole registry approach and try to come up with something original, something that speaks to my own appreciation of them as a couple, but not so original that they’d feel stuck with it if it wasn’t to their taste. Something returnable, that is. I welcome your thoughts. Just drop me an email with your vote: alllifeislocal at fastmail dot net. You can vote for any of the four registry choices or suggest something new.
I’ll let you know next week how the votes came down, and what I did. I’d like to promise to follow your votes -- but I'm afraid that's too much of a commitment for me.
Posted on the Cleveland Park Listserv, May 14, 2010.