This Month

While American industry is trying for more regular year-round employment, marriages continue to bunch up in June. This puts an unnatural strain on the national economy, leading to hard feelings and even bad language in otherwise amiable households. The private citizen has just paid up his coldweather obligations and convinced himself that there will never be another winter with quite so much unforeseen expense, when the cascade of engraved phraseology rolls over him.

“What are we going to do about Mary?” his wife asks him.

“Mary who?”

“Mary Jones, of course.

I told you about her last week.”

“What’s the matter with her?”

“Nothing is the matter with her. She is getting married.”

The householder tries to toss this aside with a quip: he doesn’t intend to obstruct Mary’s wedding plans or to “do anything” about the marriage. He babbles on, rather taken with his witticisms, but his wife hews to the line.

“Don’t act like that,” she says wearily. “You know we have to send them something.”

The stereotype is familiar. Who is Mary’s man? Never heard of him. Where is he from? Spokane? Mary is going to live in Spokane? Well, why on earth . . .

This conversation recurs for each of the horde of other imminent brides and grooms. The result never varies. Mary must have a suitable gift, because the invitation was not only to the wedding but also — to the Reception! The householder has been tapped, elected. He is an Old Friend — that is, a donor. Not to respond, he is made to feel, would throw the bride into hysterics, delay the rites, blight the romance, and even lend a tinge of scandal to the whole project.

The rules demand that wedding gifts must have a permanent quality —no canned goods, potables, pots of cheese-in-wine, or sweet-grass baskets. Divorce statistics are showy, but the assumption holds that the wedding present is necessarily for the ages.

The donor-to-be never does learn who invented the rules, but his gift must be silver — sterling silver. Just as the Amsterdam diamond buyer can spot the imitation at forty paces, so can the wedding party identify plated ware even before the wrappings are off the package.

The smallest piece of silver which can qualify is a marmalade spoon. (A pickle fork is just a little too scrawny.) A seasoned donor could very well buy a gross or two of marmalade spoons and dispose of shopping risks once and for all. The less experienced Old Friends will flounder among candle snuffers and sugar tongs and even become trapped in bulky items like bowls (although you can sometimes find an extremely small bowl), candlesticks, and such.

Silversmiths realized long ago where all this was heading. Rather than lose their position to the tooledleather crowd or Bohemian glass, they developed sterling silver objects of a truly remarkable thinness. An ounce of gold, flattened to a 150,000th part of an inch in thickness, can be made to cover hundreds of square feet, but the goldbeaters have nothing to compare, in thinness, with the “solid silver” used in wedding gifts. A careless flick from a polishing cloth will dent a wedding gift bowl. Wedding candlesticks, at those points not reinforced internally by concrete, sag and buckle under nothing more than the impact of tallow drippings. Another kind of “hollow ware” is found in the decoy carving knives and forks — very handsome, only don’t ever squeeze the handles too firmly.

Some revision in the rules is plainly overdue. The theory of permanence is backfiring. A year later, the bride’s friends can’t tell whether that is a onetime picture frame or a coffeepot on her buffet. The donor, instead of being fondly recalled as the Old Friend who rallied round in the clutch, is denounced as a skinflint. He may even figure in the divorce proceedings. The more one analyzes the matter, the more inescapable becomes the case for the marmalade spoon. (About $3.75.)

While he is still learning the ropes, the donor will try to balance his books by means of the wedding reception. After all, he reasons, some champagne and sandwiches could be laid off against the marmalade spoon; with any luck, he might nearly break even. But wiser heads than his have schemed the reception. Champagne and sandwiches there will be, in seeming abundance; but no one, donors included, will deplete them by so much as a crust or cup.

The protective technique consists merely of inviting six times as many guests as there is room for. They are immobilized hub to hub in rooms that are too small and too hot. At short intervals, a waiter squirms his way through the crowd, holding aloft — well out of reach — a tray of delicacies, glasses, and a display bottle or two of French champagne. His air is purposive, he manages to keep right on moving, and the guests can only conclude that one of the bridal party has been taken faint, and yonder go her restoratives. From time to time, usually behind a screen, corks are popped and the donor’s hopes revive, but he comes to realize that these are intended only as sound-effects. More waiters, taller men and holding the trays even higher, pass to and fro. More guests arrive, more sound-effects.

The donor struggles to an exit and goes home. The reception was ill-planned, he complains: how could they expect guests to get anything to eat or drink in such a paralyzing crush? It takes several receptions before the donor finally understands that the bride’s mother always knows a thing or two about marmalade spoons and balancing books, herself. C. W. M.