January 24th, 2013


on dresses and serendipity

When I was growing up my two sets of grandparents lived about six blocks from each other in the same small WI town.  We went Up North regularly, and would alternate who we stayed with, so I saw a lot of them.

Grandma R was about excess; of love, or music, or food, or happiness. I distinctly remember a shopping trip my brother and I took with her to Iron Mountain when we were in grade school; before we left Mom had said we could each have one new thing from Grandma and shouldn’t ask for any more.  At the store I was trying to decide between two somethings and Grandma R said we’d buy them both.  And then things kept getting added to the cart.  (I’m sure there was more youthful persuasion about this than I remember, I doubt either my brother or I fought too hard against new toys.) We got back to the house and Mom glared a little at all the new things and Grandma R said “but there’s only one bag of things, and that’s what you said, right?”  Paul and I giggled and knew we weren’t really the ones in trouble.

Grandma M was quieter.  She liked books and words and could beat anyone at scrabble.  She’d play solitaire with me (doesn’t that sound like a contradiction) for hours, and when Paul and I went with her to the local grocery store we always came home with something.  If my comic book was 55¢ then that’s how much bubble gum Paul could get, she was scrupulously fair about treating all of the grandkids the same.  She would cook elaborate meals for us, and never missed a birthday or holiday.


Grandma R died when I was a senior in high school.  After her estate was settled there was some money left over and her children decided to do what she would have done, give it away.  Each of the siblings got some amount of money and so did (to a lesser extent) each of the grandkids.  Mom told Paul and I to spend it on whatever we wanted since that was the point; I bought a new dress.  I still have it, in a box since I can’t wear the same size as I did when I was 17.  But I can’t give it away, it’s a connection.


Grandma M died about ten years ago.  Before she went into the nursing home for the last time she spent a day writing out envelopes for several of the grandkids and making a trip to the bank.  After all, the older grandkids (we span around 25 years) had gotten their designated amounts for things like confirmation or high school graduation, and it wouldn’t be fair if the younger ones didn’t get the same, even if she might not still be there.  She distributed the envelopes to our parents with instructions to hold onto them until the right time.


Monday morning, my birthday, I opened the box that had arrived from my parents the previous week.  I was unwrapping the things inside and narrating to J, who was baking popovers in the kitchen.  Then I picked up the last thing, which was obviously an envelope (“weird” I thought, “why wrap an envelope”), unwrapped it, and burst into tears.  Poor J  had no idea what was going on and came out to give me a hug while I’m trying to tell him between gasps why the plain white envelope that said “Becky’s wedding” in my Grandma M’s beautiful cursive was so important.  Finally I regained some equilibrium and was able to read the note that Mom sent with it, she and Dad had found the envelope while cleaning out her desk the previous weekend, and decided it was time to send it to me.

Scene - Later that morning in the car on the way up to Muir Woods.
Me: I was thinking about what to do with the money from Grandma M, since it was for my wedding I feel like it should be something for us.
J: Yes.
M: (with a slightly sinking feeling that this will make him grumpy) But I had a different idea, and I kind of need you to sign off on it since it would be for me instead.
And I told J about the money from Grandma R, and the dress I bought myself.
M: So, I want to buy myself a dress.  It just feels like the right parallel, like it would be a good thing.  Is that okay?
J: That sounds perfect.

We got to Muir Woods, the plan was to do the same hike that J and I had done on my birthday last year.  We moved quickly through the first part of the loop that is paved and has boardwalks and is more touristy, and then climbed up into the redwoods.  A little over halfway, after a really steep section of switchbacks, the trail leaves the woods for a bit and enters an open field with stunning views of the coast and the forest. From behind me J said, “Have you thought any more about what type of dress you want to buy with the money from your grandparents?”

“No, not really” I said as I turned to him, not registering yet the small box he had in his hands.

“Because I have an idea…”

- My parents had no idea when they sent me the envelope that J was planning to propose.  He had called them on Friday, so when he saw the envelope that morning he thought for a bit they had blown the surprise.

- My Grandpas R and M were also awesome, this story just isn’t about them.
- Yes, the money from Grandma M will be used to buy my wedding dress.

- and yes, I teared up again slightly just writing this down.