Even after all these years, Rosemary could still picture her cousin Beth, standing on the church steps, her veil swirling around her, her chin high, laughing. And Jim in white dinner jacket and tuxedo pants, clutching Beth’s arm like he’d never let it go.
She’d been there. Fifty years ago. A member of the wedding. And she would go this time. All the way cross country to California. Because of the note tucked inside the invitation. Rosie, dear, you really have to come. You’re the only person besides Jim and me who was there. Beth.
She’d been in high school. A clumsy bridesmaid, with unruly red hair, wearing light green taffeta, the bouffant skirt hitting her mid-calf, the shoulders tight on her bulky teenage frame. The dress, which she’d worn at her own courthouse wedding six years later, was now boxed up in the attic. Like her failed marriage.
But she’d been part of all that glamour. Wedding presents spread out on white linen for family and friends to admire and envy: sterling silver knives and forks, trays and pitchers, two complete sets of fine china, brocade table cloths, toasters and Mix-Masters. Luncheons and afternoon tea parties. Cheese straws and pink icing on the cupcakes. Rosemary had been there.
Five other bridesmaids, glossy and beautiful. Four hundred guests crowded into the Bayswater Golf Club. Nibbling shrimp and sipping punch. And she’d caught Beth’s bouquet. A lone magnolia flower, pristine white petals, large shiny leaves.
Rosemary loved California, the flaxen hills, the tortured cypresses, the thundering Pacific. She loved the ruby red rhododendrons in Beth’s garden, the purple salvia, blue hydrangeas, iridescent hummingbirds. And it all smelled so fresh. But best of all was Beth and Jim. They hugged her, flattered her, called her star of the show.
On the day of the party, Rosemary shivered in her sleeveless, white lace, as the thick fog rolled in. Beth, her silvery hair shining, wore a long-sleeved blue silk, embroidered with seed pearls, and topped by a matching cashmere sweater.
“You look beautiful,” Beth said.
The country club ballroom was a confusion of noise and color: Orange Tiger Lilies in silver buckets on the buffet, vases of red and yellow roses on the smaller tables, bevies of coiffed blond ladies shouting over each other, children racing around, bumping into knees. On one wall, wedding photos flickered, interspersed with baby pictures and photos of beach and backpacking adventures. Fifty years of a marriage.
In Beth’s welcoming speech, she introduced her cousin Rosie, the guest of honor, her bridesmaid. Everyone smiled and clapped. In that moment Rosemary no longer cared that her dress was all wrong and the hair shoved behind her ears was lank and gray.
“When I got married back there in the south,” Beth continued, “lots of folks gave silver to the bride. And I collected my share.” Her laugh was silvery. “But here in California, with a bunch of babies, I didn’t have the time or inclination to polish the stuff. So . . .” She paused for effect. “I never used it. In fact, it’s been packed away in the original boxes ever since. Now, fifty years later, I’m giving it away. As favors. So please help yourselves.” She pointed to a table at the back of the room. And she laughed. And everyone laughed with her.
Rosemary joined the guests as they crowded around the table covered with shiny mint julep cups and pitchers, casserole dishes and ashtrays, little bells and serving bowls. The guests studied them, held them up to the light, giggled, compared and debated, then carried them off, remarking to each other that Beth was such an original.
“Look at this!” a woman in purple velvet exclaimed, picking up a wine goblet, its foot encrusted with elaborate silver roses, its stem entwined with sharp-edged vines. “Who could drink out of such a thing? It’s so Victorian. It hurts my hand just to hold it.”
“I know,” Beth laughed. “God knows where it came from.”
“Could I have it?” Rosemary asked.
“Oh, but I got here first,” the woman said. She held her treasure up, turning it round and round. “I have to have it. It’s so ugly, it’s beautiful.”
Still laughing, Beth stooped to pick up a tightly folded piece of paper that had fallen out of the cup.
“Please give that to me,” Rosemary pleaded, reaching for the paper.
But Beth had opened it and started reading. “Our great-grandmother . . .” She stopped.
“Go on,” the woman in purple velvet said.
“Our great-grandmother Eleanor Williams sipped sherry from the cool thin lip of this silver goblet. I want you to have it.”
Beth looked at Rosemary, her cheeks flushed.
The woman in purple velvet quickly set the goblet back on the table.
“Oh my God,” Beth said. “I’m so sorry. I never saw this.”
Rosemary stared at the ceiling, willing herself not to cry. “Mother and I found it in the attic,” she said, speaking in a rush, “in a hatbox, wrapped in newspaper. I thought . . .” She reached for the goblet. “Look,” she held it up and ran her finger along the side of the cup, her voice shaking. “It’s engraved. See? It says Eleanor.”
And then Jim was beside her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders, folding a handkerchief into her hand.
“I want our friends to meet you,” he said and, giving her time to wipe her eyes, he led her into the crowd.
She shook hands with the guests, one at time, while Jim told stories of the wedding and how Rosemary was such a big part of it. And Rosemary smiled and smiled and clutched her great-grandmother’s silver goblet until her fingers ached.