(reprinted by popular demand)
My grown daughter and I went to Macy’s to find her a dress for her cousin’s wedding. The guidelines were, “Nice, festive but not too formal, like you were going to a Sunday service or a garden party.” Peggy tried on three dresses, then three more.
She showed me each one, and also took pics of herself on her cell phone and sent them to Lorraine, her BFF, who was doing the same thing from another dressing room in a different city.
Peggy looked adorable in pretty much everything. But she couldn’t see it, at first. She grew anxious.
And that’s when this blog started to form itself in my mind. Because we are all, really, cute as a button, but when we get into that dressing room and look into the mirror, all we see are the jiggly parts, the pale skin, the hair that just isn’t working, etc. We don’t see the whole picture.
I remember trying on wedding dresses, in fact, and I couldn’t find a single one (in my price range) that I loved, and I came away that day feeling like a failure. Like I wasn't made for wedding dresses.
Silly girl! As Stacy and Clinton would say, “You didn’t fail, it’s the DRESS that failed YOU.”
Finally Peggy put four dresses on hold so we could go and think about it. Our blood sugar was around our ankles.
Over lunch we examined the photos on her phone. As the sandwich and salad went to work, Peggy realized that they all looked pretty good. Rather, she looked good. Then it was just a matter of deciding which image she wanted to portray. Miami beach babe, or elegance and pizzazz, or free spirit in a mini toga.
We went back to Macy’s. She narrowed the choice to two equally spectacular looks, and finally decided. I think she’ll feel like a million bucks at the wedding.
So brides, listen up:
You are beautiful and you are loved.
Sizes are arbitrary, cuts of cloth can be weird, and if it doesn’t work, it wasn’t you, there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just the dress. Cast that old thing aside and try another.
Julia Palmer met Morris W. Smith in New York City in the fall of 1845. At twenty-nine, she was ten years his elder, and they became friends, comrades. Several men closer to Julia's age took her to the opera, to art exhibits, to dine, but she also enjoyed quiet evenings conversing with Morris in the parlor of their shared boarding house. (There were about 60 boarders there, mostly young men studying or starting in the professions.)
After Julia returned home in February 1846, they continued their friendship through letters, jokingly addressing each other as "brother" and "sister." Morris's family business kept him in New Orleans through the fall, winter and spring months. In April 1848 Morris visited Julia at her parents' home in Brockport, New York, and they became engaged. That's after TWO YEARS of writing letters, first as just friends. Over time, I think they both began to realize that they could speak frankly about their hopes and dreams to each other, something they had not found in the people actually surrounding them.
Morris and Julia were both smart, and they shared a passion for books. They each loved their parents, and they worked hard at whatever was in front of them. They admitted to faults, and tried to be good people, and to help each other become better. And they teased each other about small things, but kindly.
Over time the tone of their letters changed. They became more tender. And one February day in 1847, Morris signed his letter: "Your brother, servant, slave, or anything so long as I can call myself yours."
Julia did not answer that letter directly.
Eight months later, Morris slipped another taste of romance into his letter, calling her "mavourneen," Gaelic for "my beloved." Four months after that, she actually addressed him for the first time as "Dear" Morris. Subtle, right? The next month, they met again and were engaged.
More to come soon.
This post, and the next few, are about love. But not modern love.
I recently borrowed, from one of our family archivists, about a thousand letters between my great-great-great Grandmother Julia Palmer and my great-great-great Grandfather Morris Smith. I am reading a few letters every day, seeking a story I might write about their extraordinary lives. In order to write letters, you need absence, love, and a strong desire to communicate -- and for nearly forty years, Morris had to stay in New Orleans to work for his brothers from six to nine months out of each year, while Julia and their four daughters stayed up North in Hartford, Connecticut.
Reading these letters of love and longing, of domestic details and gentle teasing, I begin to see scenes and cloudy outlines of America in the 1840s through the 1880s. I'm less than a third of the way through, but already I am fascinated, and I thought I'd share some pieces with you, who might be thinking of getting married or officiating at someone's wedding. I'll post some words soon that Julia and Morris told each other as they fell in love, and in future posts, some of their more mature love as it shines through the letters. Julia went on to become a successful novelist, even earning enough to build a wonderful home! But between you and me, it was a few of Morris's letters that actually brought tears to my eyes. Stay tuned.
Here are some thoughts about weddings, writing, and the world. Enjoy.