When I was in ninth grade, my boyfriend was a senior in high school and a rebel in his family. He was the second son of four boys raised by educated, politically liberal but socially conservative parents in an upper middle class family. His father occupied a special chair in the history department at Montana State University, in Bozeman. His mother was a librarian at the university library.
Three of his four grandparents were Jewish, a fact his parents didn’t want known in Montana. So there was no religion in this family, but there were rules. He and his brothers wore dress slacks to school (in Montana), kept their hair cut short (in 1973), and went to bed (in pajamas) by 8PM on school nights. Owning a car was out of the question, but his parents did relent and allow him to work as a lot boy at the Fiat dealership. I have no idea why Bozeman had a Fiat dealership in the 1970s, but it did.
Anyway, he secretly saved his money, bought a car, and used it to run away with his girlfriend at age sixteen. By the time the police found them (somewhere in the Deep South) they had broken up, and both worked in a chicken processing plant. He was arrested and faced charges of statutory rape, but the liberal application of lawyers made all that go away.
Once his parents got him safely back home, the rules relaxed for my boyfriend. He grew his hair long, wore jeans and flannel shirts, openly smoked cigarettes, worked at a gas station, and bought a noisy Chrysler hot rod with a 440 engine. He also gave up the pajamas. Within the family’s tastefully appointed midcentury home, he further demonstrated his freedom from the rules that bound his brothers by vacating his childhood bedroom.
He moved to a spare room on the lower level that contained not much more than a hideabed and a large black and white TV. The room had sophistication, I would give him that. It was just down the hall from the little door he and his brothers had shimmied through to reach a dirt crawlspace, where they’d created a magnificent series of roads and excavations for their Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. He opened the door to show me once, and let me tell you, I wanted nothing more than to go in there and play. But that was childhood, and he was grown.
I was grown, too, I guess. I was fourteen, on the Pill, and had been released into the wilds of unsupervised adolescence by my parents. Whenever his family traveled—he never went along, preferring to stay home and work—I spent nights on that hideabed, the first I’d ever slept in, with the bar across its middle pressing into my back, and him pressing into all the rest of me.
I spent part of ninth grade and the summer after it living with my older brother in Bozeman, but Brother Steve moved back in with my parents late that summer. I stayed with my sister in Bozeman for as long as I could (she’d moved out at age sixteen and had a basement apartment off Main Street), but eventually I had to move to Missoula, too.
My parents, in one of their stabs at reinvention (law school for my dad), lived in married student housing for the University of Montana. So that’s where I landed at the beginning of my sophomore year. My family’s first hideabed appeared here, a small fold-out loveseat for this apartment, a “really good” one, according to my mother. She was particular about furniture brands, something she bequeathed to me, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
No one slept in the loveseat hideabed. I slept upstairs in a twin bed, displacing my older brother, who took my little brothers room/bed. Eric bunked in with my parents in a game of Musical Beds. It was a three bedroom with five of us and one bathroom. Then my boyfriend showed up. He’d put off enrolling in college because he was miserable and lonely without me, so he got a job in Missoula and moved into my twin bed.
The situation was untenable, but we’d lived in plenty of untenable situations before. This one proved too much for even my parents. They decided to clean house. They would keep Steve—my mom almost always kept my older brother—and my little brother was only three years old, so he wasn’t going anywhere. My parents decided that my boyfriend should return to his plan of enrolling in an auto mechanic program at the junior college in Yakima, Washington, and that I should go with him. So I did. At age fifteen. I moved to another state, where we pretended we were married so CPS wouldn’t put me in foster care.
I hated Yakima. Hated being so far from my family. I ached and pined and had what I know now were anxiety attacks. I was so excited to go home for Christmas that year, but it was a disaster on more levels than I have the heart to recount. I’m not sure who slept in their miniscule living room on the miniscule hideabed that Christmas. My boyfriend–let’s call him “Phil,” because that was his actual name–Phil was with his family in Bozeman having his usual opulent Christmas, so I think it might have been me and my sister.
After that sad little Christmas when I was fifteen, Phil and I didn’t go back until the next summer. I was sixteen. We worked for my parents, whose miniatures business had really taken off. They still lived in the University’s student housing even though neither of them were taking classes. That summer wasn’t bad, really, aside from sleeping on that teeny hideabed. It was cramped and the bar pressed across our backs, but we fit. And I learned to ride a bike, finally.
And then, my sister moved to Missoula. Yes, that same summer. So we were all jammed into that tiny student housing apartment, Mom, Dad, four kids plus Phil, very little money, no space. Phil and I returned to Yakima, dropping the kid tally to three, but even so, this was just too much for my parents. They’d been moving us out since my brother turned 18, and we all kept moving back in, over and over again. They couldn’t get rid of us, but they kept trying.
So after my father flunked out of law school, my parents left both my older siblings behind in Missoula and moved to California. I didn’t know they’d moved until I made a slightly panicked phone call to my sister when I was not able to reach our parents. “Oh, they moved,” she told me.
I know we gathered in Missoula that Christmas, in a mobile home my sister and brother rented while they both went to college. This was another miserable Christmas. My parents were desperately broke. We were all so desperately broke. And there we were, trying to gather like any other family and celebrate. No wonder my mother hated Christmas.
We all went home, sadder and not merry at all.
Before I return to the hideabed, I need to make it clear that I’m not very clear on how it was for my parents in California. I’m not sure where they lived or where Dad worked, or how it even came to be that they moved there. Communication arrived via letters. They continued to move around a bit, and had a terrible experience working for a residential school, and eventually settled in Redding.
Dad returned to work for either the Forest Service or the Army Corps of Engineers. Mom was home with my younger brother Eric. I think they were also on-site managers of their apartment complex.
It was the spring of my junior year when Phil and I drove to Redding from Yakima to visit. I had only seen them for that terrible Christmas in the preceding year, so this visit felt momentous and important. On our way down, we passed through Portland, Oregon. I’d always hated large cities, but as we drove through Portland I had a bone-deep sense of wonder and happiness. I told him, “I hate cities, but if I ever had to live in one, I think I could live here.”
Redding was fun. Mom bustled around, cheerful and excited. She baked challah bread, and made a “really good” French Stew in her Dutch oven. My little brother’s hair was bleached blonde and he was brown as a nut from swimming in the apartment complex’s swimming pool. It was April, so my mother took me to a small, artsy shopping mall and had me pick out my 17th birthday present. I chose a pottery unicorn that the shop owner said she’d bought on Telegraph Avenue in San Francisco. I still have it.
This is one of the few times in my memory when my mother seemed happy with her life. It’s possible that she was just happy to see us, but she seemed domestic and contented. That was rare, and I enjoyed it.
They had a new hideabed, a large one. In fact it was Queen-sized, and to Phil and I, who slept in a double bed in our furnished apartment, it seemed enormous. Mom claimed it had a “really good” mattress, and we would be comfortable. We only stayed a couple of days, and of course we slept with the bar pressing into our backs. But I was so happy to see my mom that I didn’t care. I would have slept there forever.
Of course they couldn’t stay in Redding. When my parents moved to Portland, I was quietly thrilled. It was so much closer to Yakima, and there was only one mountain pass between me and Mom (satus Pass, near Goldendale). It felt like my parents had moved next door.
Their first home was a rental in the Southwest part of the city, very near Alpenrose Dairy. It was a ranch with two bedrooms in the main part of the house and a back addition where my older brother had a room. He’d moved back in with my parents due to health problems, and took care of my little brother while both my parents worked for the Corps.
When Phil and I visited, which we did quite often, we slept on the enormous hideabed. I really hated it. It was a little older, and the mattress that my mother had insisted was “really good” had gotten softer. That made the bar even more of an issue. But it was worth it to see my parents, my brothers, and the wonders of Portland.
Ah, Portland in the seventies. We shopped at John’s Landing, where my favorite store was Talk to the Animals. The restaurants where we ate—Henry Thiele’s, Mazzi’s Pizza, Carrow’s, The Crab Bowl—are no more than quaint memories. But I loved Portland just as much as I thought I would when we drove through on our way to Redding.
I was in my senior year. Graduation loomed. I told Phil that I really wanted to move to Portland once I finished school. I pointed out that he’d chosen Yakima, so wasn’t it my turn to choose? And I wanted Portland. He’d exhausted employment opportunities in Yakima, which sounds strange, since he was an auto mechanic and there’s generally a great job market for mechanics. But the YVC auto program was the best in the region. Yakima was overly supplied with young men with good training in the art of auto maintenance.
Phil needed to change markets. Portland beckoned.
Phil moved in with my parents in the spring of 1978. He left me up north with no money and no phone. I’d walk up to a phone booth and call collect to check in. His job search was delayed by having his wisdom teeth out. That didn’t go well. Phil had zero tolerance for pain or illness, and when he experienced either, he completely collapsed. My parents lovingly tended him as he recovered on the enormous hideabed.
He eventually recovered enough to find a job at a brake shop that paid over $7.00 an hour. This was an hourly fortune. We had lived below the poverty level for three years. Come to think of it, my family seemed to always live below poverty level, one way or another. How would we spend all that money?
My head spun with thoughts of how we would live in Portland, and where, and what it would be like to live so near my parents for the first time since tenth grade. I couldn’t wait to get there, but first, I had to graduate.
I didn’t connect with Phil via the payphone for a few weeks. When I called collect to my parents’ house, he was never there. Mom sounded really brisk and nervous. No one had time to talk to me, it seemed. I was trying to finish up my senior year, subsisting on food from a friend’s father who merchandised groceries and gave us the stuff he culled from grocery shelves, and pervasive melancholy.
Where did the melancholy come in? Well, there had been trouble in my friend circle that year. The tight group of juniors had splintered, leaving me with fewer friends and a sense that graduation was imminent and we would all be scattering. I was also living alone (except for the cats) for the first time in my young life. I didn’t much like it.
Finally, I made a collect call to my sister in Missoula. I did that rarely because it was so expensive. She accepted the charges. She sounded terrible. “I’m so sick. I’m so sick, Karen. But guess who’s here?” Who. Hmm. Her boyfriend Dan? Nope. Her friend Lisa? Not her, either.
I couldn’t guess, so she handed the phone to someone else. I waited.
“Hi,” said Phil. “I didn’t like the job in Portland, so I quit and came to Missoula.” He had already found a job at a car dealership, but they were both sick with what we called the stomach flu back then, and probably what we call Norovirus now. They were so incapacitated that they were just laying together in my sister’s hideabed, suffering.
That’s why my mother had sounded so funny on the phone. When Phil hadn’t liked his job, she’d heartily encouraged him to go to Missoula, and not to tell me as I might object! I can imagine her waving her hands, exhorting him to Just go, Phil! Fly!
Well, it worked. My plans to move to Portland were successfully thwarted, my return to the parental home narrowly averted. Mom must have been so relieved.
I trudged through the remaining weeks of the school year. My parents drove north to Yakima to watch me graduate, and Phil drove east from Missoula to do the same. After the big day, it was time to pack up our meager belongings and the cats, and move back to Montana.
I did not want to move back to Montana. I associated Missoula with six weeks of misery in the tenth grade at Sentinel high school, two horrible Christmases, and the pervasive rotten broccoli smell from the pulp mill. I had no idea, none, why I was headed back. But at least my sister was there, right? I had her, didn’t I?
Except, I barely saw her. For the first weeks, my sister stayed with her boyfriend and Phil and I slept on her hideabed. This was an especially terrible hideabed, with an especially useless mattress. It came with her furnished apartment, and I hated it.
I hated everything. I was lonely for my Yakima friends, disappointed in my sister’s lack of interest in spending time with me, and expected to marry Phil because I’d finally turned eighteen. And to top it all off, there I lay on this lumpy hideabed with the bar in my back, night after night, while we saved for an apartment of our own.
When the apartment directly below my sister opened up, we put down the deposit and moved in. It was a crumbling, drafty, ramshackle one bedroom, but it had a bed. A thin, hard, crummy double bed, but a bed nonetheless.
I remember this apartment and the year I spent there as pretty terrible. We had zero money, the heat bills were horrendous, and my sister ignored me once the tiny patio wedding was over. She had her own friends, two jobs, and an extremely dramatic life in which there was little room for me. Once again, I was alone with Phil in a place I didn’t want to be. And to top it off, we were really married.
A trip to Portland the summer after I turned nineteen convinced me that I needed to move there as soon as possible. I came home and tried to convince Phil, but he was a skier, a hiker, and a mountain climber. He loved Montana. I started at the University of Montana the next fall. I was only there for two quarters, but I made friends, took classes from some wonderful professors, and endured an escalating level of physical violence from Phil because he sensed I was slipping away.
Here’s the thing about Phil. He was considered the sweetest guy in the world by almost everyone who knew him. Only a few people knew about his raging temper, and even fewer knew he hit me while he raged. But in 1979, no one I told, including my parents, thought this was a reason to leave him. Well, except maybe my sister. She knew, and she cared. But she was busy planning her own escape from Missoula. I was bereft when she moved to Oregon within a few months of my arrival.
I wanted to leave so badly. For months, I called my parents and asked if I could come home. They said no, they had no room for me. I reminded then that Phil hit me. My mother reiterated the advice she’d given me for years. “Try not to make him mad.” She also reiterated the fact that they had no room.
Finally I called and just told them I was coming. They didn’t have to have a room for me, I’d figure something out, I just needed a place to stay until I could get a job. I would stay in their basement if needs be.
“What about Phil?” my dad asked. “Are you just abandoning him?”
“Yes,” I said calmly. “Yes, I am.”
I should never have married Phil, but when I did, my parents bought us a “really good” bed. I took that bed with me when I finally moved to Portland in the spring of 1980. I took the bed, but not Phil. My sister drove out in her big van and rescued me. And the cats. Let’s not forget about the cats. I had my bed, my books, and two cats.
It was enough.
This time, I didn’t land on a hideabed. I set up a room in the corner of my parents’ basement. No, it wasn’t a walkout or a finished basement. It was an actual basement, raw walls and concrete floor with no ceiling, just beams and joists above my head. I had a pull string light over the bed, and a dirty basement window that barely admitted any light. The washer and dryer were ten steps away, as were the cat boxes. Spiders. Dampness. Mold. I didn’t care. I was in Portland, and I had finally broken away from Phil. I was determined to make it work.
The big hideabed upstairs was occupied by my sister and her husband, who had also decided to move to Portland to live with my parents. This was a two-bedroom rental house with a sort-of finished attic. Before I knew it, it somehow held my parents, me, my older brother, my younger brother, my sister, her husband, and then my sister’s best friend Lisa arrived. Where did they all sleep? I had no idea. I went to work and out on dates and hung out in the basement, doing my best to avoid all the drama going on upstairs.
I’d lived in Missoula for a year and a half, and when I got to Portland, my parents were in a state of open marital warfare. Gone were the parents who had seemed so happy in Redding, so delighted by their first year in Portland. My sister’s eating disorders made every shared meal into a sort of black comedy with sound effects. My older brother’s blue plate combo of obsessiveness and passive aggression were absolutely out of control.
In all likelihood, these things had been going on for years. But at age 19, I had returned to the parental home as an adult. I could see how the life my parents led had affected my little brother, who was only eight. I was worried for him. My parents were both having affairs, and my mother kept raging at us kids for being born and my father for not giving her the life she deserved. We were all so broken, including me.
A person shouldn’t know this much about herself at age 19. I had no choice. I understood why I’d had such a hard time leaving Phil. I understood what he’d offered me. We’d built a strange and shabby little life together, but Phil provided the only security I had ever known.
It had taken a lot of courage to throw in my lot with my parents again. I did it because I’d thought their lives had finally changed in Portland. Both of them worked decent government jobs. They rented the little house because they were building a large house in the Portland suburbs. But they were terribly broke and it was somehow our fault. All us kids contributed rent but there was never a penny to spare, and for the life of me, even now, I still don’t understand why. I hadn’t taken a dime from them since I was fifteen, and my sister moved out to support herself at sixteen, but somehow it was all our fault that they were always, always broke.
There was no security to be found, financial or emotional, in my parents’ home.
Still, I didn’t regret my decision to leave Phil. I no doubt had PTSD, but I was toughing it out, working as a file clerk, establishing Oregon residency so I could get in-state tuition, trying my best to get on my feet and figure out my next move. I was trying.
Then, out of the blue, Mom announced that she and Dad were going to sell the house they were building and move to Taos. I wanted to cry but I laughed instead. Of course they were going to move. How else would they get rid of us? They didn’t move to Taos, and within a year, we had all exited, to return or not in the coming decades.
I understand now that my parents were trapped in a wretched cycle. They were ambivalent at best about parenting, so they offloaded us older kids as quickly as possible. But they sent us out into the world far too early, with no support. We kept returning, trying to force our way back in, as if we could be re-parented and then launched successfully. And of course, our parents did love us, so they let us return, only to shove us all out again. Who could blame them?
Maybe my mother blamed the hideabed. If she hadn’t always had a place for us to sleep, certainly we’d have stayed away, wouldn’t we? So she got rid of it.
In 1981, with the ink on my divorce from Phil barely dry, I married again. I married at 18 and again at 21 and I really needed to find a better way to mark momentous birthdays, but there I was, pregnant, so I married Kevin.
My mom and dad had given us the Big Hideabed with the worn out “really good” mattress a few months earlier. They’d bought new couches at the Meier and Frank warehouse sale and needed to offload it, and we didn’t have a couch. So moving that enormous beast of a sofa became our job.
In our first apartment, Kevin’s mother slept on it when she came down to help us with our newborn daughter. She was planning to stay for six weeks and lasted three days. I didn’t blame the hideabed. She left because she wasn’t allowed to smoke around the baby, but if the discomfort of that bar pressing into her back played any part at all in her decision to return home, then I owe that bar a debt of gratitude.
The next person to sleep on the hideabed was my mom. My father and younger brother had moved to Bainbridge Island, but Mom was still working in Portland for the Corps of Engineers. So she slept at our house during the week, and went up to Bainbridge on the weekends. She liked her job, and her independence, and the fact that I had dinner waiting for her every evening. And she got on like gangbusters with our daughter, who was less than two at the time. She adored her Grandma and it was mutual.
This is another time when I feel like my mom was happy with her life. Mom never once complained about that bar across her back.
When Kevin and I were finally flush enough to buy our own couch, we decided on one that didn’t fold out. The enormous hideabed had served us well through many of my parents’ homes and two of our apartments. It was time for it to retire to the Union Gospel Mission, the only place in town accepting used couches. They came and picked it up, all five hundred pounds of it or whatever it weighed. I was not sad to see it go.
In 1988, Kevin and I bought our first home, and promptly bought another hideabed for our TV room. We both wanted a place for friends and family to sleep. I made no claims that the mattress was “really good,” but it wasn’t as bad as some I’d slept on. I knew it had a bar that pressed against people’s backs because we occasionally slept on it ourselves. But it was in a room with a door and a nearby half-bath. These were decent guest accommodations.
When Kevin left, I bought another loveseat-sized hideabed for the Great Room (the 1980s version of “Open Concept,” look it up). It was called into service fairly often. Kids would have friends over, or someone was sick and wanted to sleep in the living room with the big TV, and out came the bed. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was serviceable. Our dog Holly really liked sleeping on it so it got a little hairy and smelly, just like sweet old Holly.
Years passed. Holly died. The kids began leaving home. My two younger daughters went to college, and lived in dorms and shared houses. Once gone, they mostly stayed gone, though they both returned for short spells after graduating. I sent the big hideabed to the dump when I turned the TV room into my bedroom, and I lost the smaller hideabed in a house fire. But there was always room for the girls on a couch or in a spare room or even in my king-sized bed, along with me and all my snoring.
My oldest daughter, in pursuit of a creative career, took a bit longer to move out. But her room was always right there waiting for her. I kept it ready because she is an actor, and had breaks between show runs when she needed a place to stay. She also came home for a few months during the pandemic shutdown. The thing is, she’s married now, and a homeowner. I should probably face the fact that she no longer needs a place to land, and convert that room into an office.
At present, it’s just me and my beloved husband here. We have zero hideabeds. We’re happy to host people in our guest rooms, which are a little cluttered, but really, they’re just fine. One has a double bed with a memory foam topper, and one has a “really good” queen-sized bed. The bathroom is right across the hall. I tell people, “Stay with us anytime. We have room.” I feel magnanimous, offering such easy hospitality. I want people to be comfortable while they’re here. That’s why we don’t have a hideabed.
If I have a point, it’s this. If you want to avoid children boomeranging back into your home, don’t get a hideabed. Instead, provide them a safe place to grow, and don’t shove them out until they’re ready. Let them know they can return if they need to, and save a place for them in case they do. Chances are, they’ll fly and stay flown.
Guests? That’s a different matter entirely. If you want to make sure your guests don’t stay too long, get a hideabed. There’s nothing like a bar across your back to make sure you don’t stay too long.
This story begins on April 13th, 2018, when I was reading a book in the living room of some friends’ house up on Orcas Island. My one true love came in and put his hand on my shoulder. He said, “Do you want to get married?” and I said “Yes!” Of course I wanted to get married! To him! Absolutely! But a moment later, I said, “To you, right?” because there was always a chance it was just a general query, sort of a survey question, and not an actual proposal. He said, “Yes. To me.”
We’d both said yes to love. Love is hard to find, and rare. Love deserves a celebration. That means a wedding. I didn’t want a wedding, but I was marrying a very romantic man. He wanted a wedding.
So I said yes to that, too.
Now, I should clarify that I don’t like big weddings, especially not where I’m concerned. I was married at age 18 and again at age 21, and what those weddings had in common (besides my youth and idiocy at thinking I should marry that young) was that they were tiny events. Miniscule. Which was nice, because when the marriages ended, at least I didn’t have to apologize to my parents for spending a fortune on my bad ideas.
I liked the sound of those old weddings in the forties, when the couple went to the judge’s chamber, wearing their nicest suits. She probably wore a neat little hat and gloves, and carried a nosegay. After the ceremony, one of the relatives hosted a luncheon with things like cold meats and aspics and finger sandwiches, and cake, nuts, mints and punch. After which the couple headed out on a sweet, rustic honeymoon.
Oh, how I longed for a sweet wedding luncheon and a trip to Niagara Falls.
Why, you might ask, didn’t we just elope? Well, for a few reasons. He’d eloped to Vegas before, so that carried all kinds of associations for him, none of them happy. I talked about doing it at the courthouse, but with both our families, the have-to-be-there list was lengthy, and we’d be having some kind of a party after, so why not let everyone come to the ceremony? We both had important friends with whom we wanted to share this day.
But then we had to plan a wedding.
Getting married should be simple. All you really need to get married is a couple, an officiant, at least one ring and some expensive pieces of paper for the legal part. And a pen, I guess, to sign those papers.
But getting married is not the same as having a wedding. Weddings are all about choices and money. When. Where. Who. How much. Nothing is simple or easy. This time, our parents wouldn’t be paying for any part of this event, since (1) this would be the third marriage for each of us, (2) we are both gainfully employed, and (3) we are old, really, for getting married.
Okay, we are not quite old yet, but we are certainly not young. We are not even middle-aged, unless we’re planning to live to 106 and 118 years of age, respectively. But we’re old enough that when we hold hands or kiss in public, people assume we’re cute older people who have been together forever and still manage to be romantic. Teenage ticket sellers squint at us through the glass of the ticket booth, asking if we want senior rates. I am even able to order from the senior menu at my neighborhood pie house, a fact I like to rub in the face of anyone under 55.
Envy me. I get the bacon and eggs for seven dollars.
Timing was an issue. Some of his important relatives (sister, niece, great-nephew) had to fly in, so they needed time to book flights and plan a trip to the PNW. One of my daughters is pregnant and lives across the country, and wouldn’t be able to fly past a certain point. Another daughter lives five hours away, and would be working every single weekend with no exceptions and no choice about it until a break that started on November 1st.
The largest issue, though, was that my father was terminally ill and quite fragile. We had to decide first thing if we wanted time to plan, or to have him at the wedding. That choice was easy to make. We both wanted him there. So we chose a date seven months out, started talking about what we wanted, and hoped for the best.
I made a spread sheet, of course. It had a scheduled to-do list, a tab for guests and their addresses and responses, and a tab for expenses. We’d given ourselves a small budget so that we could pay as we went, because I refused to go into debt for any of this. The budget talk was something like this: “I’d like to do it for 4K, but it’s going to be 5K.” “We can do it for 4K!” “Oh, just you wait.”
I asked my younger brother to officiate, and we chose a date to get the license, and then we got down to the hard stuff. Where would we get married? What would we eat? What would we wear, and say, and listen to, and put on our fingers? Would there be aspics, cake, nuts, mints and punch? Would there be nosegays?
Now, here’s something I know about my man. He enjoys having lots of choices. Like, a banquet of choices. He will take the buffet any time we are in Vegas, because he likes an expanse of items to consider, inspect, and reject before he finally makes his choice. It’s one of his great joys in life. It’s one reason (I think) that he tolerated online dating better than I did. He liked that there were so many women to choose from. Me? I prefer not so many choices. I want to develop a set of criteria, drill down and get busy.
I found that this variance in our personalities was not helpful in a few areas of wedding planning. Like choosing a venue. I wanted to choose a venue. He wanted to see venues. Plenty of venues, because he loves choices. He took me to a few that summer, and they were all outdoors. He’d stand by the set-up for a summer wedding that was happening later that afternoon or that evening, and smile at how nice it all was, with the decorations and dance floor and the DIY table settings and all. The guy is so romantic.
And what would I do? I’d tap my foot and scowl and say, “Why are we wasting time looking at outdoor venues when we’re getting married in November in Oregon? What is the point?” The point, of course, was choices. Options. And being romantic. And I just poured my salty pickle juice all over his sweet, spoony enthusiasm.
I was horribly pragmatic. I would quote costs to him for a dance floor and band, for seated dinners and rented tableware and the like, all of which would drive our costs up and waaaaay over our budget of 5K. I tried not to be crabby about it, but we only had a few months to put it all together and why were we wasting time at places that wouldn’t work for our wedding?
We started pricing indoor places, and were dismayed by, well, everything. Venues are expensive, and not necessarily accessible when one of the guests is in a wheelchair. Meal choices are limited, and cost a fortune per plate. A nice place makes its money through the food and drink, and gross places were, well, gross. Not acceptable. We even looked at the tiny Oaks Pioneer Church, which is adorable and nondenominational, but you can’t have a reception there. We’d have had to wheel my fragile father to two places. Nothing was right, everything was absurdly costly, and I felt discouraged.
I can’t remember what we’d looked at when I said, “Don’t any of our friends live in a really big house, or maybe a condo with a big club room?”
Lightning bolt. Yes.
We had friends who lived in a lovely downtown condo, and they had a beautiful club room with a fireplace and a wall of windows that looked out on an elegant courtyard. The room was full of sofas and tables and chairs, with a battalion of portable tables and chairs just waiting to be requested. And bathrooms. And a full kitchen with punch bowls and serving utensils and spare silverware. And another big room where we could set up all the food and drink. This room also came with a security guard, to keep the riffraff from wandering out of the event space into the luxury condos, I’m sure, and the capable event-planning assistance of my dear friend San, who was absolutely delighted to share her lovely space with us.
We had a time, a place, an officiant, and San. We were getting closer.
We also had a terrible time picking out rings. I picked mine first, being “engaged” and all. And despite my idea of myself as decisive, I was terribly indecisive. I’d get something all picked out, show my guy, he’d get out his wallet to order and and I’d say “Not yet!” A week later, I’d have a completely different choice in mind. and of course I chose an artisan ring, which made choosing the band that much more difficult. I want to point out that I was a complete pain in the ass, here.
My guy wanted to look at choices for his ring with me, and he wanted to look at all the rings in the entire world. We went to several jewelry stores, and he’d ask to see rings, and I’d say, “Is that something you’d like?” and he’d say, “No, I just wanted to see what it looked like.” That choices thing, again. He ke[t asking to see rings, and then saying, “Weird.” Part of the fun, for him, was laughing at rings that looked like engine parts or car tires or the like.
We moved our search to Etsy. I thought pulling those rings up on our aging laptops just to scoff at them was a WASTE OF MY TIME. Plus, if he wanted something handcrafted, we’d have to order it from a maker! We didn’t have time to scoff! I didn’t care if he liked having choices! I was impatient.
He could tell when I said in an icy voice, “I have looked at literally hundreds of rings with you, and I’m tired of looking at what you don’t want. Can you please just let me know what you DO want?”
I am lucky, at this point, that he still wanted to marry me, but he did. On his own, he made a list of five rings to look at with me. I could do five rings, just not another fifty. His final choice would be coming from Ireland. I ordered it in July. I thought that gave us plenty of time, yes?
But back to the planning.
Which was another issue. FOOD AND DRINK. He has specific food tastes, and I like everything. No, seriously, there is nothing I don’t like to eat besides maybe fried pork rinds. And we had to design a wedding menu that would give everyone something decent to eat. I remember looking up and saying, “Do we really want to spend 4,000 dollars to feed everyone roast beef or salmon?”
We decided not to.
We hired the top-rated caterer in town to design a “hearty hors d’oeuvres” spread for us. Now, because there were so many choices on the list of what we could order, we were back to the languid choice-making, the “I wonder if the sauce is they talk about on this one could be served on the side?” or “Do you suppose they could make this without the remoulade?” questions from him, with me barking back “DON’T ASK THE CHEF TO CHANGE SOMETHING, JUST PICK SOMETHING ELSE FOR GOD’S SAKE, THERE ARE A HUNDRED THINGS TO CHOOSE FROM, JUST MAKE A LIST OF WHAT YOU LIKE AND GO FROM THERE.”
I didn’t shout with my voice, but I was definitely shouting inside.
We got the choices made, and a contract signed, and there would be food.
Which took me to the next stressful purchase.
Like every American bride, I had some vague idea that I’d have a new body in place before my wedding. Wedding planning didn’t exactly melt off the pounds, so I had to use the body I currently owned for the wedding. And that body needed a new dress.
I ordered one I liked from Nordstrom, and it came, and I was so excited. My youngest daughter came over to help me try it on, and then to help me get it off my body and back into the box with a minimum of comment because my god, that dress looked terrible on me. I sent it right back and thought that maybe no one should marry me because I looked so misshapen and horrid in that dress.
Then I went to Kiyonna.com, where the perfect (not white, though they have those) dress was easily found. And it came, and slipped on without so much as a zipper, and it was beautiful and elegant and comfortable and lined, and it was even long enough, and I loved it. When I shared a photo of it with family and friends, they all loved it too, except for one friend who started sending other choices in a panic, including something from David’s Bridal that would have needed sleeves to be added, but I ignored all that. I had my dress.
After watching the Shapermint ads on Facebook over and over and over again, I ordered one of those, too. In the Facebook ads, a size 14 or 16 woman stands before the camera with a pair of little elastic shorts pulled up right below her abdomen. She rolls the shorts up over her womanly rolls and bulges to just under her bra, and she has a completely different figure. It’s astonishing. I’d have liked to have given it a try, but I couldn’t even get the shorts up to my just-under-the-womanly-bulges part. So that Shapermint stayed in the drawer. But I still watch those commercials on Facebook.
My guy didn’t need to buy a suit, shirt or tie, because he’s a grown-up and has those, but he did need new black dress shoes. I was prepared for our trip to Nordstrom Rack, where we arrived shortly before they closed. I knew exactly what he needed, which was a quality pair of black men’s dress shoes that didn’t have a long, pointy toe-box. So I left him to be dazzled by the wall of men’s shoe choices. I ignored him while he was pulling out sequinned men’s loafers and lavender deck shoes to scoff at them. With steely precision, I located several quality pairs of black men’s dress shoes sans long, pointy toe-boxes. I brought them to him and refused to be distracted by the embroidered smoking slippers and two-tone patent lace-ups he was waving around in amusement. I was not there for a good time. I was there for black shoes and dammit, I saw nothing else.
We left there with a really nice pair of shoes for him.
Along the way, we were sending out save-the-dates and then invites, getting our license, trying and buying our prosecco, red wine, white wine and various other drinks, and ordering galvanized tubs to ice them, haunting Goodwills to find specific square low vases for the eventual flower arrangements, and and getting the final tally for the caterer.
I had an idea for the cakes that would be delicious and pretty, based on the cakes we’d eaten at a wedding over the summer. But my guy wanted to do cake tastings. He’d done cake tastings for his first wedding, and he was happily anticipating going to bakery after bakery to try little squares of cake with squirts of frosting on them. I told him I would happily go to as many cake tastings as he arranged. His eyebrows raised a bit, but he did it.
And it turned out that I enjoyed cake tastings, too, especially looking through books of cake designs, which ranged from opulent to decadent to rustic/woodsy, and all costing at least 600 dollars to feed 75 people a piece of cake. We didn’t order cakes, but we always got delicious treats at the bakeries to take home for later consumption. He was right, it was fun.
Then I took him to the Thriftway where my family has bought birthday cakes for thirty years. We bought five or six slices of cake, and took them home and had the best cake tasting of all. He had a chance to see how truly outstanding this bakery is, and though he liked the chocolate cake at Jaciva’s best, this one ran a close second. We went back, ordered four cakes (chocolate, banana, lemon [for my dad, who loved lemon desserts], poppy seed) and asked them to frost all but the chocolate in white cream cheese frosting, to make them as bridal and pretty as they could. Then we paid $98.00 and left, knowing they would be ready, on time, delicious and beautiful for our wedding day.
We were not without hiccups. Finding a good photographer we could afford was difficult, but with the help of one of my daughters, I did it. The red wine we wanted was sold out when we went to get it in quantity, but we found another. I’d ordered his ring in July, and by mid-October, it hadn’t arrived. After a series of panicked communications, the maker sent a replacement that got to us three days before the wedding. And flower day, where my daughter and sister-in-law were making table arrangements and a bouquet for me, didn’t go smoothly. It was the day before the wedding, and I was melting down over the music, and people were asking too many questions and having too many opinions and I burst into tears and told everyone to stop talking to me for a minute.
I texted my guy, “I suppose it’s too late to elope?”
He texted back, “I’m afraid so, honey.”
So I saddled up, and we finished the day, and everyone forgave me for yelling and crying.
The day itself was beautiful. My middle daughter did my hair and makeup in San’s luxury condo, while downstairs in the club room, everything was picked up and delivered and set up by friends and family in the club room, invisible hands doing the impossible list of last-minute tasks that brought it all together. There were flowers everywhere, and tables of delicious food, and more wine than anyone could drink. My sister-in-law had developed delicious punches and made frozen ice rings with flowers and springs of lavender to float with them, and I’d found nut and mint dishes to set out on the cake table so I could have my 1940s vision of cake, punch, nuts and mints. The music played and people laughed and smiled and hugged each other, everyone was there and present including my dad, following along with a printed-out copy of the ceremony and vows, so he didn’t miss anything. We stood up in front of everyone and said the magic words. My guy became my husband, and I became his wife, and we all cried and laughed and celebrated the impossible wonder of that, together.
So what would I have done differently? It’s easy to say “nothing,” because the day came together so beautifully. So here are thoughts and notes about what went right, and what could have been handled a little differently.
Timing: Based on my previous weddings (one of which came together from a Wednesday to a Sunday — yes, five days) I underestimated how much time it would take to put this all together. The time constraint was brutal, but my father was housebound soon after the wedding. This really was our only chance to have him there. I’m glad we did it when we did it, despite how compressed our planning and execution was.
Matron of honor: My best friend from high school was my maid-of-honor. I am glad she was and I wouldn’t have chosen a different one, but apparently, I never told her that she was going to stand up with me. She was as surprised as could be to get a corsage, to be in the wedding party photos, and then to be called up as an attendant! She says she’d have worn a dress, rather than wearing slacks! So, as a note, please let your attendants know several times that they are, indeed, attendants, removing any element of surprise from your wedding party.
Flowers: My daughters went to a wonderful florist and picked out special blooms for a bouquet for me, and my oldest daughter made the bouquet of my dreams. I really didn’t expect anything so amazing. The flower arrangements were also magnificent — white roses and greenery. These were done for me as a wedding gift from my daughter, and she was helped by my sister-in-law. There were also white orchids to set along the fireplace and here and there. When it was time to go, we invited people to take the table arrangements home. I got so many sweet photos texted to me with words like, “Still blooming” in the weeks to come. The orchids went home with our Orcas Island friends, who have a way with them. When we visit, we can count on seeing our wedding orchids blooming at their home.
Decor: My middle daughter took me on a Home Goods, Michael’s run. We found what I’d come for, which was pretty cake plates and napkins and silverware, but she pushed me beyond my comfort zone to a guest book, tablecloths and tablesquares, and these funny little coasters so people could write advice to us. “This is the fun stuff, Mom.” She bought most of it, too, and it enhanced the look of the room immensely. And it was, indeed, fun.
Cake: I thought four cakes was plenty. But after the wedding, when I asked people which cake they had, most said, “Oh, all four!” So if you do my nifty method of wedding cake provision, order more than you think you’ll need. Everyone will want to try everything.
Music: After a grueling, emotional assembly of a Spotify playlist that resulted in a tantrum and a request to elope, I didn’t remember to turn the music back on after the toasts. I advise that you do so.
Help: People wanted to help more than I let them. I should have let them. We hired a woman to keep the buffet tables straight, to organize the garbage and recycling, to just keep things going in the room of much food. She was worth twice what we paid for her services. She and San did the clean-up (San had volunteered and said she was paid in full for her own services with leftovers and have I mentioned that San is magnificent?).
Food: We ordered for fifty guests, and had 65. We could have fed twice that many people with what our caterers delivered. Everyone raved about the food, but I only ate a little because my new husband brought me a plate of what he knew I’d love; stuffed artichoke bottoms, pastry-wrapped artichoke spears, a short rib crostini with remoulade. There was so much food there. Have small to-go boxes handy so people can take food home with them, because food this delicious shouldn’t go to waste.
Favors: We overbought wine, sparkling cider and champagne on purpose, and each guest left with one or two bottles of something. I think this is a fine wedding favor/remembrance.
Nuts and mints: I loved having them out, but no one ate them. I didn’t care. I might not have had a suit, gloves and a hat, and it was too late in the day for a luncheon, but we did have cake and punch, nuts and mints.
That’s what it’s like to get married when you’re older, I guess. With family and flowers, good friends and good food, with love and laughter and lots and lots of help from people who love you and wish you well. I recommend it. I recommend it with no reservations.
But my new husband and I agree. The next time we marry each other?
We are definitely eloping.
Poem up! A coming-of-age poem set on the Squaw Creek Ranger station outside Gallatin Gateway, Montana.
Hope you like it. Spire Rock
Here’s a “beds” warning. I’m planning to offend you as gently as I possibly can.
In a recent conversation about whether or not the kind of bachelor parodied by Austin Powers ever actually existed, I found myself discussing the round bed. In the sixties, it was the symbol of the swinging bachelor, an entirely average looking man with strange clothes who was surrounded by giddy, willing women with large hairstyles who wanted to join him in his big round bed. Was he real? My conversational partner and I remain doubtful, but round beds titillated and impressed us in our youth.
We first saw a round bed in Casino Royale (but not with each other). There a point in this movie (I think it’s in this movie) where Peter Sellers presses a button and the bedspread lifts off his round bed. After that, I forever associated the round bed with that swinging bachelor who navigated his seductions with the pushing of many buttons, buttons that managed the closing of the drapes, the dimming of the mood lighting, the volume of the slow-jazz musical selection.
As a very young man (okay, a kid), my conversational partner associated the round bed with orgies. He wasn’t exactly sure about why or how the round bed would be involved. Perhaps people were arranged on it like spokes in a wheel? But did this really increase the possible points of connection? In truth he had limited understanding of anything about orgies at that age, but the association existed.
These were definitely bachelor beds. Occasionally, though, you walked into a friend’s parents’ room and they had a round bed, and you just backed out of the room in horror because you knew what that round bed meant. Horrible.
“…the Round Bed is definitely not for squares. But active playboys (and those retired) will appreciate the potential this House of Menna exclusive represents. Your bedroom will be the talk of the town.”
Okay. But what exactly is the town going to be talking about? What is that Round Bed “potential”? Can anyone tell me? I never personally experienced one. By the time I was sharing a bed with anyone, the round bed had been supplanted in suggestiveness by…
Ah, the classic waterbed. That burnt wood sin bin.
Many thanks to the Waterbed Doctor for this fine photo.
These were some mighty beds. Oh, the painful edges (unless you had padded rails), the gold-veined mirrors and round-edged shelves, the pedestal base with drawers on the deluxe models. It was astonishing in its rustic ugliness, but this was a real piece of furniture, and it was as just as rife with suggestion as the round bed. It carried so many 1970s seduction associations– component stereo systems, pot smoking, incense, candles stuck in wine bottles, Orleans albums and so on.
(Yes, that’s Jimmy McNichol. Please note his padded rails.)
The waterbed had quite a reputation for carnal gymnastics, but it was undeserved. It was just a big, bouncy bag of water. My conversational partner and I had both had waterbed experiences (though again, not with each other). We agreed that the problem was an inability to gain the necessary purchase to make anything happen. Was one supposed to just set the bed a-slosh and then ride it out, so to speak?
“Pleasure is…a waterbed.”
Not in our experience. But it was at least comfortable to sleep in, which made it so much better than what came after.
At some point, this happened. This bed of a monk.
Those slippers kind of seal the deal there, as far as being non-sexy (please note, I wear slippers like that).
No futon on which I have ever slept is this fluffy. They have been about a half inch thick, and full of hardened cotton lumps that press painfully into my aging body. And somehow, the futon became the bed of choice for nearly every man I dated in the nineties and aughts. Sometimes the lumpy futon sat on a little wooden frame with slats, and sometimes the lumpy futon sat on the floor. This was the new bachelor bed.
Now, even though I put them in the same category, I consider the futon to be a total about-face from round beds or the waterbeds. This cotton-stuffed sleeping mat has nothing to do with imaginary seductions accomplished in remote controlled mood lighting. The futon is as sexless as brushing your teeth after a rousing session of tai chi.
I rest my case.
The futon is humorless, organic and chaste. It fits nicely in a tiny home. Ads for the futon look like this:
How very yoga.
You would never flip a switch and lift a bedspread electronically from a futon. There is no hint of satin sheets or mirrored ceilings in the futon. If you were installing a bed in your custom Chevy van with airbrushed stallions painted on the side panels, it would not be a futon. And the futon is never going to offer you a bong hit, or give you a ride home in a Camaro.
How did we come to a place where THIS is the new bachelor bed? I shudder to think of what’s coming next.
I am Karen Berry. And, oh, all you other Karen Berrys, there are so many of you. I mean, just do a google image search for Karen Berry. I don’t even pop up until the fifth or sixth row, where a slightly distorted photo of me announces my inclusion in the Impractical Cats anthology (a tiny book I absolutely love, where all the poetry is in the shape of cats–mine is called “Murder”). I pop up again a few rows down in my glasses, linked to MyWriting.network. But in between are all the other Karen Berrys of the world, with all their different ages and hair lengths and smiles and professions. And guess what?
Oh yes, Karen Berrys of the world, I get your email. I get your purchase receipts from New Seasons. I get your notes from worried committee members who need to find out about community service options. I get your worship leader schedules and your prayer chain reminders. I get your sternly instructive letters from your Doms. I get your heartfelt letters from long-lost fathers, and four different letters from one mother, who, when I write her back to tell she’s not writing to her daughter, she writes me again to tell me about the funny lady who keeps writing back to her. I get reminders from your dentist.
I get lists of Florida events from Ticketmaster, and no matter how many times I go in there and change my preferences to Portland, the opera and indie-folk concerts, I continue to get notifications about Florida, monster truck rallies and Toby Keith concerts. Karen Berry in Florida, you have the WORST TASTE in entertainment events.
I get an impressive amount of soccer-related email meant for a Karen Berry in Virginia, who has a son named Ryan. Four or five emails a day, inviting me to enroll my son Ryan in camps where he can be seen by the best college soccer coaches in the country. I wonder, sometimes, if Ryan is disappointed not to be contacted by any of these coaches. I bet Ryan wonders why no one sends him any notifications about soccer camps when he so diligently signed up using his mother’s email.
These are some of the professions of the other Karen Berrys: lawyer, nurse, eye doctor, coffee shop proprietor, nun, private investigator, student, nurse, horse trainer, college professor, college student, summer camp administrator. Those other Karen Berrys belong to gyms that want to talk about membership cards, and they sign up for marathon training clubs, and they purchase extended appliance warranties that are on the verge of expiring right now unless immediate action is taken. One of them is looking to buy a home somewhere in England and there are realtors who send listings in Bristol with the price listed in pounds, using a cool symbol that I don’t even have on my computer keyboard.
One Karen Berry has a son that periodically needs payday loans, resulting in a sporadic barrage of email from shysters who want to loan me money at exorbitant rates. I have received banking documents, employment documents, documents that contain names, birthdates and social security numbers. When this happens, I send them right back, letting the sender know that he or she has just sent this sensitive information to an absolute stranger. Then I delete, delete. It’s gone. Someone else might not be so careful.
I will never know, other Karen Berrys, if you are the problem here. I will never know if it is you who enters my email instead of your own while paying for your organic pork chops, or if it’s an error on the part of the person who is entering your email from a form. I don’t know who to blame. Back when it first happened, and I had more time to screw off in my life, I would occasionally write back and pretend to be a different Karen Berry. I admit it, I was a prankster. But there are simply too many of you to prank at this point. I only very occasionally reply, and it’s to tell someone they didn’t reach the Karen Berry they wanted. Usually, I unsubscribe, I filter, I block.
But there are so many of you other Karen Berrys. And I’m glad beat you all to the punch with Gmail.