Forty years ago last August, for reasons no one understands, a beautiful woman named Karen Asher agreed to marry me. After my initial shock at her acceptance of my proposal wore off and I was capable of speech once again, we set a date, chose our invitations, and she went wedding dress shopping with her father.
She didn't have many options. You see, we lived in a part of the country known in the vernacular as a "backwater". The largest town around was forty-five miles away and was small by the standards of almost any other state in the union.
They found a tiny wedding shop and looked through the meager offerings on display. And, lo and behold, miracle of miracles, she found the perfect dress.
I've heard it described several times through the years: it was very traditional, Spanish in style, with tight-fitting, long sleeves that came to a point at her wrists, and it was small at the waist with layered scallops of lace dropping down the bustled back to a cathedral train. It fit her willowy frame perfectly.
Wait, you say. You've heard it described? Didn't you see it on the wedding day?
No; sadly, I did not see that dress. Ever.
Lacking the proper means of storing the dress, they decided to pay the shopkeeper to keep it safe until the big day two months later. The week of the wedding, Karen and her father went to retrieve the dress. And it was gone. At first, the shopkeeper tried to pass off another dress as the one they'd chosen. When pressed, she finally broke down and admitted that another bride who'd considered that same dress had decided to purchase it. The shopkeeper sold it, intending to replace it before Karen and her father returned. But the dress could not be re-supplied. Karen was devastated. Her lovely dress was gone.
The owner of the shop offered them any dress she had at the price they'd already paid, even if it was her most expensive. Karen, of course, did not take advantage. Still, even with every dress in the shop at her disposal, there were difficulties. The problem was that she was a very slim young woman and few dresses fit her properly. Eventually, she settled for a dress that was two sizes too big for her, but looked nice. It was beautiful, but of course it was not her dress.
Now, I've lived long enough to know what some soon-to-be brides would do in that situation. After an enormous hissy fit was thrown (and justifiably so), the wedding would be postponed until the dress could be properly replaced.
Amazingly, astonishingly, Karen decided that marrying me at the appointed time was more important than wearing her perfect dress on that one day that comes but once in a lifetime.
Through the years, she has never told me this tale, or sought commiseration from me. I've only heard it on those occasions when I've eavesdropped on her conversations with her daughters or her friends when the subject turns, as it so often does between women, to weddings and dresses.
Not being able to wear her chosen dress on her wedding day is but one of the many disappointments my elegant, lovely wife has graciously endured through forty years of marriage to me. Through times both thick and thin, she has been my loving and relentlessly optimistic companion. And the times have been "thin" far more often that they have been "thick".
This year, 2013, was our fortieth wedding anniversary. We decided three years ago that we would save up the money to go to Paris. We scrimped, we saved, we diligently planned. What she didn't know was that I had a separate account into which I slipped a hundred dollars here and a hundred dollars there - every time I found a hundred dollars that wasn't absolutely needed elsewhere. On my birthday this last Spring she gave me five hundred dollars to buy new golf clubs; a new driver perhaps, or new irons.
She drew her own conclusions from the expression of joy that came over my face.
A couple weeks after my birthday, she asked to see my new clubs. "I'm holding onto the money," I told her, "until I see the new Callaways that are coming out in July." She frowned but then nodded. "Okay," she agreed, "just be sure you get those clubs."
By May, our plane tickets for Europe were purchased, our hotel reserved, and our expense money on hand in Euros.
One day in June, I emptied my secret account. "Let's go out for lunch," I suggested. Twenty minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot at Glamour Bridal in San Antonio. She looked at me with raised, questioning eyebrows. "I can't replace that dress you lost all those years ago," I told her. "That dress is gone." I pulled the money from my wallet. "But I can buy you a new one."
She cried pretty much all the way through the appointment I'd made with the shop earlier in the week. In the end, we found a dress that really made her cry. With happiness. I even had enough money left to buy her a jeweled hairpiece.
As we left the shop later that day with her beautiful new dress, a form-fitting Maggie Sottero, she wiped her eyes and looked over at me. "What are we going to do with this dress?"
"You're going to wear it," I replied. "In Paris. We'll go to a church and take pictures. We'll take a cab to the Eiffel Tower and take pictures. Then we'll go to Le Procope (the oldest restaurant in continuous business anywhere in the world) and get the waiter to take more pictures. Basically, we're going to take thousands of pictures of you - in that dress."
And we did. First, though, I surprised her with a bouquet from the florist near our hotel. (That was another thing that required "setting right". Someone forgot to give her her bouquet forty years ago, so she walked down the aisle without it.)
First, we took pictures at the church of St. Germain des Pres:
Then, of course, at the Eiffel:
And finally, at dinner at Le Procope:
And here is my lovely bride in her "dress for one day".
As we walked the streets of Paris, young women asked again and again to have their photo taken with my lovely bride, assuming that we were newlyweds. I didn't correct them; I felt like we were, too.
Once, as I was standing to the side while yet another group of young women were having their photo taken with Karen for good luck, an older gentlemen nudged me in the ribs and said, "You have you a young, very pretty one there, don't you?"
As usual, folks assumed that I was a man of means who'd landed a "trophy wife". They couldn't know that this beautiful woman had done without many things for many years just to be with me and raise my children.
She's not a trophy; she's a treasure. My treasure.