The Silver Spoon – Memphis

Personal Essay Blog Wedding

My cousin Rebecca gave birth to a baby boy at the start of the pandemic and named him after his father, John so-and-so, who’s just another pecan heir with a weak chin and wandering eye from Texas. I sent a “congrats!” and “so cute!” Reaction from her Instagram story. Naturally, there was no reply.

Two years earlier, my cousin, Rebecca was “finally” marrying the aforementioned weak chinned John so-and-so from Texas. Rebecca’s mother had saddled in next to me on my grandfather’s living room couch to tell me the whole story at a Christmas party weeks after the proposal had occurred. My aunt told me with a sort of contained yet emphatic enthusiasm that Rebecca had waited and waited and WAITED for him to ask her (a dainty choking breath on the last waited). Years and years and YEARS. Ooooh she’d wait a lifetime for that man to finally come around with a ring. I nodded absently.

The pecan heir proposed on some muddy lake in Texas. Not the beautiful, Austin area lakes that run rampant with Lady Bird Johnson wildflowers but the type where only mosquitos and confederate flag toting Republicans go to spawn. He’d placed it on a fishing hook and, I kick myself for not asking the particulars of whether or not the ring was reeled in or flung at her, whether a fish had been previously snared or was there a hunt post engagement, had proposed to her, kneeling in some bibbed fishing pants.

Christmas passed and, in time, my wedding invitation was delivered to my childhood home instead of my Brooklyn apartment. Strike one against the couple, in my personal opinion.

Most family, most cousins, would text or call to ask you where you’ve been living as an adult, maybe inquire as to whether or not you were an adult if they’d forgotten. Maybe they’d throw in a friendly, how are you or ask if you thought climate change was an impending threat or a hoax, and so on. But instead, my invitation was quietly sent to Connecticut and, after several weeks,  I hopped on a train from Grand Central after work and was shuttled home where I had the great pleasure of watching my mother hold both her invitation and my own in the palms of her hands. “The weight,” she said quietly, both palms outstretched as if she were a human scale, the incarnation of justice. “They spent thousands on these.” 

Dallas weddings aren’t fun and flighty Millennials weddings where, perhaps, the couple might put bow ties on the cats, ask their acupuncturist to officiate, then scamper into the woods leaving a small group to dance thoughtfully to Fiona Apple’s Relay as the drinks laced with acid slowly kick in. Traditional east coast weddings grip their well-manicured nails into the concept that a wedding is the happiest day of a woman’s life and wring your neck with it. “Ring before Spring! Ring before Spring!” chant sorority girls on college campuses throughout the south, their bleached white, vampiric teeth smiling manically toward their prey.

When the young lady does get that ring before spring, it’s time for her parents to max out their credit cards and pay the price tag of happiness, praying to God that she is, indeed, marrying up. 

Having as much southern family as I do, it’s maddening to watch wedding after identical wedding. Nine to fifteen bridesmaids are always rounded up, all with matching dye jobs, tans, and pedigree. They are sorority sisters, prep school friends, Junior League associates who share eating disorders, and a ravenous hunger for giving birth to baby boys.  

Conversations with these sort center around men, woman on woman slander, and babies. That is all. Any talk that deviates must orbit around volunteerism, drunk brunch, Kate Spade, Paris in late spring, then land back on one of the three main topics. To initiate a conversation outside of this realm will make you a pariah, a peculiar. 

A couple of weeks before the wedding I took a look at the registry and bought my cousin and her husband a single silver spoon that was priced at $60 dollars. I wasn’t attempting to make my gift metaphorical, mind you, it was just the cheapest thing on her registry. I could either buy a single $60 dollar silver spoon or, a single $350 dollar plate of china, decorated with mini pecans for the pecan prince himself and the prices only went up from there. That’s strike two.

I flew to Memphis a day early to watch all of the prepping take place on my grandfather’s estate. My uncle, Rebecca’s father, would be the one to inherit the stately home so all three of his daughters were set to have their weddings there. They had buried the bourbon in the back yard and he stood over the spot, rolling his eyes at the superstition while simultaneously praying for a sunny spring day instead of predictable rain.

The rehearsal dinner was extravagant. I could have used a machete to hack my way through the tropical flowers and even then, barely find my seat assignment. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to look far, it was the closest table to the entrance, far removed from the family circle. I was seated next to my mother, my estranged sister who wasn’t happy about the seating either and ducked out before the main course, throwing wild insults at me before she felt satisfied to leave, and across from two ten-year-old boys who looked as itching to pull the fire alarm next to the table as I was but without a logical follow through. My mother struck up a conversation with the Maine trucker beside her who genuinely didn’t know why he was invited but was happy to attend as I steadily drank my way into oblivion, strike three and I was out of this family, watching picture after picture alight a distant screen of the groom and my cousin, her old nose and healthy weight never once making an appearance.

The buried bourbon defied the meteorologists’ predictions, banishing those nimbus clouds and clearing the skies for a beautiful, sunny wedding day. The rays of light gleamed with pride on the vintage silver Rolls Royce that was parked in front of the house, the bride and groom’s getaway car.

Texans in extravagant garb were ushered through my grandfather’s house and out onto the grounds where several open bars stationed in every perceivable corner awaited them. For one reason or another, I was forced to greet all of these strangers and tell them the obvious: follow the sound of the harp. I had to wait there, door half ajar, as the parade of men and their wives teetering on five inch heels walked the long, epectant brick path from the front car parc where Uber blacks had dropped them, to me, the uncomfortable yankee manically smiling out at them. The greatest gift was shaking, or really, clasping gently before letting go of the dainty, bony hand of the groom’s mother, who wore a pink, ostrich feater dress that complimented her boney, tanned skin.

“She’s A Tri-Delt from SMU,” my uncle whispered, suddenly appearing at my side with the burried burbon he had dug up and held against him like a sickly child. This meant something but I know not what. My uncle whisked her and the bourbon away, handling both as gingerly as a bloomed magnolia flower.

“Thank god we’re not catholics,” muttered a cousin a short while later as the brief wedding ceremony came to an end. She nursed the last of her gin and tonic as the bride and groom happily strode back into the house to reappear at the reception a few minutes later.

I inched my way towards one of the open bars, braving a smile and engaging in the same small talk at every wedding bar. Yes, the wedding dress really was beautiful. How was it different from any of the other ones I’d seen? Not a clue! But I just knew it would pair well with the impending O’Neillian style breakdown every southern millenial would face! 

I was wearing opera length pearls, fresh water of course, bought at macys for 70 percent off. I knew every woman present could tell that they were fresh water but at least they were a step up from fake. What was it that my godmother always said to me? The one that carried two pistols in her purse? Something about a southern women always needing the pearls to be real and the breasts to be fake. God help me for not remembering, my godmother had winked at me while saying it, offering another gin and tonic into my free hand.

She was the sort of southern woman who thrived in a world of contradiction. Men-will-be-men and oh-she-was-asking-for-it forever tinging on the tip of her tongue while being prone to angry outbursts, foul language, and a demand for a stake in her father’s company, eventually owning it outright. Any and all may lurch forward in a tirade against nepotism but something must be said about a woman who fights for what she wants, demanding a seat at the table instead of an allowance from it.

I was playing with my pearls too much, that I remember. It was my nerves, being single and alone at the reception, the brush off I received in every attempt to strike up conversation with a cousin. I’d given one of my male cousins a friendly greeting. “How are you?” I’d tried, that overly friendly, overly interested southern side of me. “It’s been so long!” Only to receive a blank stare. He grabbed our other cousin, the man who made millions in his own hedge fund, and the two backed into a bush to talk amongst themselves.

“Boys club,” my godmother said, once more appearing at my side with another gin and tonic offering. While I respected her she also was unnerving, never fully looking at me square in the eye, her jaw stubbornly set. I wondered if it was because, allowing my mother to dress me for the occasion, I looked like an imitation of the south, some caricature of what was perceived but was something archaic and out of fashion. Or perhaps it was because she had been spending time with my unwell sister. She nodded to the cousin who had brushed me off and said, “He has his own car wash business now. It brings in on the low end 300,000 I heard, as his side hustle.”

I blinked. Looking around, all aside from my wild eyed sister who sat alone nursing a martini and staring into space, I realized I was the lowest paid person at this party. Even the caterers and bartenders, whose tip jars flowed with fives and tens, were more likely than not paid more. “Oh well that’s great for him,” I’d begun to say happily but my godmother was already plastering on a bright smile and readying a clever joke, sliding over to talk to the two cousins who enthusiastically welcomed her.

I went back to the bar to calculate my next move but by the time I had gotten by drink, all family members had at once disappeared. I saw a sea of Texans, shimmering with gleaming, golden sweat in the late afternoon sun. I smiled. I made conversation. I took a moment to admire the ice sculpture that shed a few, solitary tears then made my way to the upstairs bathroom to waste some time.

Listening to the boisterous laughter coming from downstairs, I took some slow and steady time to fixing makeup (how was it that I always managed to look like a mangey raccoon just two hours in?) and had started to re-loop my opera length pearls around my neck when the thin strand snapped and poured the pearls onto the tiled floor. I knelt and searched for every last one of them, gathering them up and tucking the broken, cheap, cheap necklace into the old chest of drawers in one of my grandfather’s many guest bedrooms. I stopped to stare at the oil painting of my uncles, forever young in their best 70s suits, smiling brightly above the four post bed before begrudgingly, slowly, returning to the reception.

“Where were you?” My mother asked, cheery but bearing her teeth with annoyance. “There was a family picture in the garden. You were the only one not there.”

I’ve heard this phrase more times that I can count in my years visiting Memphis: You-were-the-only-one-not-there. I hadn’t ever meant it, my timing was just off and no one cared to seek me out. I gave a meek shrug, and tried a more amusing explanation of what happened before slinking back to the bar.

I woke up in the bed of a Texan, some groomsmen had picked me off from the herd and brought me back to his hotel room. In the dark, my head throbbing, I pasted together unfocused images of my journey here. I had vomited twice before he had forced himself on top of me and I had, at some point, fallen asleep.

5 am. I shook the man awake and demanded an Uber back to the hotel room I was sharing with my mother, the cheapest one we could find close to my grandfather’s house, and returned there in the early hours, showering, changing out of that insufferable polly pocket dress, and shrugging off the experience. After all, boys will be boys.

Later, I returned to my grandfather’s house for breakfast and to listen to my aunt give her unprompted apologies for my incorrect wedding invitation address and the groom’s side’s shoddy seating arrangements for the rehearsal dinner. I nodded and, as always, smiled and shrugged. Oh but it was a lovely rehearsal dinner, it was a wonderful wedding, they’ll be so happy, and on and on with those pleasantries until both she and I tired of them.

I flew to LaGuardia, taking a bus and two subways to my third floor walk up where a small fleet of rats, touching noses and grooming each other as a close knit family unit would, eagerly awaited my return on the stoop. They scattered and I climbed the dingy stairs to my apartment, collapsing on my twin bed and listening to a couple shout vicious words at each other through the thin walls.

A year and a half later, part way through the pandemic, I moved back to my childhood home. My parents had been busy cleaning out the attic of all the things my mentally ill sister had left behind and of all of the boxes from their past, their names along with their numerous children’s names plastered on top, safely keeping momentos and secrets in their cardboard sanctuaries.

I went through my boxes and found an astounding amount of old letters Rebecca and I had written to one another. “I forgot how close you two were,” my mother said as I opened a letter, Rebecca’s penmanship and private school vocabulary already lightyears ahead of my own.

“Dear Quincy, I’m glad you’re having such a wonderful time at sleep away camp! I just finished tennis camp myself and my private golf lessons will come to an end just before we fly to our place in Jackson Hole next week. I am excited to go on hikes there and see all the wonderful animals Wyoming has in its wilderness. Daddy didn’t let me keep the injured squirrel after all. We gave him to the local sanctuary which I guess is the better option. I did end up naming him though. His name was, or rather is, Simon. How wonderful it would be to be a veterinarian, helping little injured animals, or to just work at a wildlife sanctuary, don’t you think? I’m looking forward to seeing you in late August. It’s an awfully hot time to be in Memphis but we’ll have some fun swimming and playing on the golfcart. Until then! Love, Rebecca.”

“You know she never wrote me a thank you for that silver spoon?” I said, handing my mother the letter for her to nostalgically review.

“That’s outrageous,” my father bellowed as he walked in from the other room.

“Thank you,” I said. My mother remained quiet. Part of me wondered, as I watched her trace her fingers over the letter, if she found it to be an embarrassment that all I could afford was a single silver spoon.

“Well,” was all my mother said.

“If I have a wedding, not a single one of them will come.” It wasn’t a bitter statement but a fact. None of my mother’s family had bothered to attend my sister’s wedding save two cousins who were bridesmaids.

“I know,” my mother said, and that was all.

I was needling her, unable to see the big picture. I opened Instagram and showed my mother the most recent picture on my cousin Rebecca’s Instagram. Her child had grown a few months older in the pandemic and had a thick dark brown patch of hair on his little head. In the picture, Rebecca is holding the child next to a dead stag. Her husband, John so-and-so, is beaming as is his wife and child, the three of them wearing matching hunting camouflage, kneeling around the dead animal’s antlers, its snout angled in such a way to reveal its long, limp, red tongue.

“Yes, well,” my mother said, exasperated. “What do you want me to say? They seem happy, don’t they? They’re happy!”

I nodded emphatically, my eyebrows raised slightly, head tilted to look again at image on my iPhone’s cracked screen. I couldn’t deny it. “Yes,” I said quickly, “they certainly do. They’re very happy.”