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If the Dress Fits, Wear It: A Pandemic Wedding in Savannah

By Jane Fishman

This story originally appeared in The Insider on March 31, 2021

Carmela (l) and Jane (r) with their dogs, Sweetie and Coco
Carmela (l) and Jane (r) with their dogs Sweetie and Coco

It wasn’t exactly a shotgun wedding. At 76 I’m a little long in the tooth for that. But it wasn’t a save-the-date kind of wedding either. Not during the pandemic. Not anytime. No caterer, no day at the salon, no registration, no arrangements of flowers. Carmela Aliffi and I both have more than enough cutlery (can you say two sets each, from mothers and grandmothers?), stemware, vases, cloth napkins. How many blenders do you need anyway?

After a 20-year courtship, the decision to marry was three-quarters love, one-quarter Amy Coney Barrett and a potentially problematic U.S. Supreme Court. The deal was cinched the day we helped my bride plow through her closet during one of those at-home pandemic distraction activities of sorting, deciding what to keep, what to give away, what to throw away.

The real Jane arriving at the beach house for her wedding with dress in hand
The real Jane arriving at the beach house for her wedding, with dress in hand

“So there’s my wedding dress,” my now step-daughter Jenna cried as Carmela unearthed a white, satiny, strapless, bosomy tulle gown with a train the length of Florida. Jenna got married nine years ago on the beach at Tybee Island, near Savannah. “I was wondering what I did with it – or what I should do with it now.”

“I’m wearing that,” I said quietly.

“It needs to be dry-cleaned!” Carmela said. “It’ll never fit. That’s ridiculous!”

No one took me seriously.

“You wear what you want,” I repeated the next day. “I’m wearing that dress.”

The whole marriage thing was kind of new for me. It was always so heterosexual, so bourgeois. Who wants to be like “them” anyway? I kind of preferred being on the outside looking in, making it up as I go. Hey, I’m a child of the ‘60s. Turn on, tune in, drop out. For my tombstone I always pictured: “… and she never married.”

Venus Emerging: Jenna Alstad (l) helps Jane into the gown she wore at her wedding, with help from Baker Alstad (r)
Venus Emerging: Jenna Alstad (l) helps Jane into the gown she wore at her wedding, with help from Baker Alstad (r)

None of it seemed to matter much to Carmela - she had already gone the marriage route, our relationship was solid, we knew that the first month we met – but the grandkids, 8 and 7, jumped on it, holding up mistletoe (it was December), spontaneously commanding us to “kiss,” asking what we would wear, making up all kinds of scenarios. On the beach! In the gazebo at the park! At the Tybee Island house we just built! While we were vague with our plans, they wouldn’t let it go.

We lined up a millennial I’ve known all her life who had one of those online “ordained minister” titles, came up with a date for a wedding a week later and gave thanks we didn’t have to invite a million people from Carmela’s big fat Italian family because, “It’s Covid.”

Jenna made a three-layer lemon cake with lemon curd between the layers, her husband Travis prepared seared scallops with risotto and mushrooms for lunch and our artist friend Betsy, masked and distant, showed up unexpectedly to throw yellow and red tulip pedals on the steps leading up to the beach house. Baker, the 8-year-old, took her job of holding on to my voluminous train very seriously, following me everywhere around the house. After I slipped the gown over my head, bent over to fill the wired bosom cups and stood up, I felt like Brigitte Bardot.

We scribbled out our vows, mine, a haiku, a little less serious than Carmela’s (“You make the bed, dear/ I’ll fold the clothes, walk the dogs/Be your prep cook too”), and got ready to proceed when I remembered something else from movies and past experience. I may be Jewish Lite and a bit deficient in ceremony and tradition, but I know some things about my tribe. As far as marriage is concerned, I always loved the breaking of the glass part. It’s so Jewish, after all. Never forget: with joy comes pain and loss. Don’t get so high and mighty; you forget everything could change in a minute.

Must have light bulb! I went on and on. It’s not real until we have that.

“They’re $10 apiece,” said my lovely, non-Jewish, accommodating bride.

“I’m worth it,” I said.

Jane trying to break an LED light bulb
Jane trying to break an LED light bulb, as officiant Lucy Kohler cracks up.

She found one. We wrapped it in a cloth napkin and set it aside. At the appropriate time after our officiant said, “I pronounce you bride and bride,” I set the package on the floor, lifted up my heavy gown and gave it a whomp with my Fly shoes. Nothing happened. I tried again. And again. “You try,” I said to Carmela, who was wearing black boots. Still nothing. Then I unwrapped the bulb.

“It’s an LED,” someone said. “It’s plastic.”

The light bulb that wouldn't break
The light bulb that wouldn't break

It was dented. That’s all.

Well, darn. That won’t work at all. We need to symbolize the pain in order to feel the gain. Time to find a wine glass.

(From l to r) Benny, Carmela, Jane, Baker and a couple of Baby Yodas
(From l to r) Benny, Carmela, Jane, Baker and a couple of Baby Yodas

“Mazel tov,” everyone yelled (at my instruction) when the glass broke to smithereens. Let the marriage go forth. The next day, when the grandkids spent the night, I handed a washcloth to Benny, 7, in the bathtub. I’ve known both children all their lives. Their mother has done a good job explaining the whole family tree thing – cousins, which side which aunt and uncle are on, and step-grandparents. “You know what?” Benny said, hesitating because he’s a thoughtful kid. “Now you’re my real grandmother.”

A properly distant pandemic visit with friends who couldn't come to the wedding
A properly distant pandemic visit with friends who couldn't come to the wedding

Living the Life in Savannah and Tybee Island
Living the Life in Savannah and Tybee Island

Jane Fishman’s got a great life in Savannah. She gets to grow garlic, write newspaper columns in the Savannah Morning News about any wacko she can find (and get paid for it), publish books (her latest: I’d Rather Be Seen Than Viewed, a collection of her columns; preceded by So What’s the Hurry? Tales From the Train ; I Grew it My Way, How Not to Garden; The Dirt on Jane; and The Woman Who Saved an Island, the Story of Sandy West and Ossabaw Island), listen in on conversations with her two grandchildren, Baker and Benny, while going on morning nature walks as they debate which is better, living in the country or the city (“I like both habitats,” says 7-year-old Benny). Fishman owned a laundromat in Eureka Springs, Ark., cooked in a French restaurant in Key West, won a bunch of journalism awards in Savannah for humorous and serious columns. When she lived in Chicago and worked at WTTW public television, she met Fran of Kukla, Fran and Ollie and watched Abbie Hoffman rant at the trial of the Chicago 7. Fishman grew up in Detroit (Huntington Woods, really), where she never owned a car. She was the sports editor of her high school newspaper (The Acorn) at Royal Oak Dondero. This is her first wedding.

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