TRAVEL HERE: APPARENTLY IT’S NO LONGER THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS
Let me begin with a disclaimer. I was recently one of the hostesses for a gift card bridal shower. I adore the bride and if she’d wanted a mud ball shower, it would have been my pleasure to throw her a mud ball shower (not that I know what a mud ball shower is). However, the bride had no idea what kind of shower she wanted and when one of the hostesses suggested a gift card shower, that seemed to please most everyone. We had a lovely shower, the guests seemed to love it and the bride was pleased – mission accomplished!
Seems as if in this, as in most other things, I was reminded of what an old lady I am. I always swore I wasn’t going to be one of those people who sat around extolling the good old days. When I was in my teens, everybody at my church knew the anti-rock-and-roll mom. In all other things she was an absolute delight, but if you dared show a fondness for any music newer than the Big Band Era, she became your worst nightmare. Hopefully, I’m not anybody’s worst nightmare, but how awful is it that I want to buy a present, not a gift card, for a bride?
The Way It Used to Be
Back in the day, when one of the young ladies in our church showed up with an engagement ring, all of our mom’s would go into a tizzy. Immediately, there would be a lot of chatter about which ladies would be the most appropriate hostesses for the bride-to-be’s shower, usually a Miscellaneous Shower, but on occasion they would agree to a Kitchen Shower or perhaps a Linen Shower . That was usually decided before Sunday School was over and by the time the pastor finished the sermon, the only question was which hostess would actually earn the honor of having the shower at her house.
Please understand, the bride might have just gotten engaged the night before, with no idea of a wedding date or guest list, but the bridal shower wars had begun. Most of our church showers had 10-20 hostesses and the bride was hard-pressed to come up with more guests than there were hostesses, especially since her closest girlfriends would also want to throw a Lingerie Shower for her and Miss Manners said no one should be invited to more than one shower. What’s more, anyone invited to a shower, by necessity, had to be invited to the wedding. (For those who might be interested, there was an exception made for close relatives and members of the bridal party. They could be invited to multiple showers, but they were not required to show up with a gift to each shower or if they chose, they could present personal gifts or tokens of affection.)
To today’s modern bride this all might seem burdensome. You’ve already been living together for several years, you’re having a destination wedding and you can’t imagine the idea of polishing silver. You’re also horrified at the thought of all those hand-written thank-you notes. Surely, email would be OK – right? Fine, do your own thing. Miss Manners has died an agonizing death. I’m just here to tell you that all of this used to be more fun.
Registering Your Selections
With a major mall planted every 5 miles in Dallas, it’s hard imagine the original reason brides registered their selections. There was a time when you only registered at one store and which store told a lot about the life you planned to lead. The store would help you be smart. They’d discuss the lifestyle you intended to have, the number of guests you would invite and how many of those guests were in-town. Based on these factors and some others, they’d help you decide what to register for and then they’d take steps to make sure they’d actually have the things you registered for in stock, in time for all your events.
Back in my mother’s time, this store would usually be the local jeweler. Many of these stores had a dining table on their sales floor and they would set it with the selections of “their” brides. The table would be set with a variety of settings and next to each would be a crisp white place-card with a bride’s name on it. When one of the local “it” girls made her selections, everybody in town went to see what she had chosen, whether they were invited to the wedding or not. Then her selections would be the talk of the town for a season. Before you get to judgmental, think about what you watched on TV last night. I’m thinking there’s a chance that discussing a real person’s choice of china and silver might be more entertaining than a lot of what shows up on TV.
In the days of those marvelous church showers of my memory, life had already gotten more “convenient.” I registered at Joske’s, because that’s where my mom worked. She decided it would be “convenient” if I also registered at Sanger-Harris. The Joske’s where I registered promised to display my choices, but that just meant everything I had chosen would be somewhere on the sales floor, not on a dining table with my name on a place-card. A bride in those days only registered for a few items, the ones she really wanted. She’d inform the hostesses of the colors she planned to use in her home, so people could buy more “practical” gifts like towels and skillets, but they had to depend on their own taste. One of the nightmares I remember from this double registration was keeping each store aware of the actual total I had received of the various items. Not so convenient after all.
Opening the Gifts
The day of the shower was a real bonanza. You knew you were going to get at least one gift of amazing proportions, because the hostesses always went in together on a single gift. Sterling silver was beyond anybody’s pocketbook by the time I married, but I had registered for fine china, fine crystal, “good” flatware and casual china – eight of everything. When all the presents were stacked up and ready for me to open, I have to admit the one which interested me the most were the ones wrapped by Joske’s and Sanger’s. Those were the gifts for which I had registered. I thought that shower was my only real chance for a complete set of china. Since I now have four sets of china, none of which came from that day, this is pretty funny. For the record, I inherited most of it.
Though none of the crystal and china I opened that day made it to this end of my life, some of the funny odd things I had not registered for are still with me. Porcelain items fired especially for me in the church kiln, a casserole dish that didn’t match anything, a watercolor painting and various small kitchen utensils that I can’t stand to let go of, even though I have never used them.
Things Kept Getting More Convenient
Due to lots of advertising and the counsel of greedy salespeople, brides found more and more stores at which to register and more and more items to include on that register. No longer was a wedding guest left to their own taste in the bath towel department. Some brides registered for all the same stuff at forty stores and others choose all different things at four stores. As you purchase your gift for the forty-store bride, you are aware that everyone invited to the wedding may be buying the exact same item at one of hundreds of stores throughout the world – let’s not even talk about online shopping. If you wanted to buy a complete place-setting for the other bride, you might have to make purchases from all four stores.
Things got so convenient that shopping for a bride got to be a real pain in the neck. You knew when you got to the shower there was every chance in the world that this purchase that you had labored over might be reduced to humiliation when the bride opened the fifth sugar bowl of the day. The thing I hated most was that more often than not, your gift was actually a piece of paper assuring the bride she could trade it in on one of her crystal goblets. No store anywhere made any effort to have your selections in stock. They just wanted to get the money and the bride was left with the job of hounding the store for that last pickle fork that no one anywhere seemed to have available.
I Want to Buy a Gift Anyway
When I graduated from high school, I received a gift in the mail from the sweet woman who had cleaned our home in Dublin, GA. Gertrude was beloved by every member of the family, but it had been several years since she’d seen me in person. We exchanged Christmas cards and visited her each time we were in Georgia, but I guess it was hard to judge my size from a picture. Gertrude sent me the hugest pair of nylon panties I had ever seen in my life, but as my mom pointed out, it was the thought that counted.
I still feel that way. You might end up hating an item I purchase for one of your occasions, but it has been my pleasure to go out and shop for it. If you did register your selections, I will buy one and I will have the store wrap it in their most opulent gift wrap. If I was left to my own taste, then I assure you that I labored over what to buy with complete joy and I will most likely wrap it myself with many kudos for whoever thought up gift bags.
I’ve gone on for entirely too long about this today, but it’s been bothering me ever since the first time a sales lady told me how convenient it was for the bride to get that card saying I’d purchased a serving piece from her fine china. If I buy you a huge platter in triple digits, I want a huge box at the shower and I want to hear all the oooohs and aaaaahs. If I can’t have that, then I guess I might as well get you gift card.