The Wedding Gift
C. M. White
"Mom, have you ever heard of anyone doing something nice that they didnít have to?" asked sixteen year old Lisa trying to make sense of the world.
"Of course, honey. It happens all the time," I replied.
"No, Mom, I mean something big. Something that was way beyond the norm. Something that was unplanned, unexpected, and could never be repaid?" she continued.
"Yes, honey. It happens." I was hoping she wasnít going to ask for an example because I was drawing a blank.
"Give me an example," she asked, her big grey eyes unblinking.
"Well, let me think for a minute. Can I make us some herb tea while Iím thinking?"
"Okay, but make it fast because Iím waiting," she said with the impatience and insistence that all mothers know.
I boiled water and thought about it and remembered a story I had heard once as a child from my grandmother. I poured hot water on the tea bags waiting patiently in our cups and carried them over to the coffee table in front of the couch.
"A long time ago in the 1950īs, before I was born, there was a lady who was a friend of my grandmotherís. Her name was Rose, Rose Alden. Mrs. Alden and her husband had a daughter, a beautiful girl who was their only child. Her name was Cheryl. Cheryl was lovely in every way possible: pretty to look at, nice to talk to, kind-hearted and gentle, intelligent and hardworking at school, and friendly with everyone. After an uneventful childhood, Cheryl grew up into the kind of young adult that all parents wish for. She finished school; she was self-supporting, self-sufficient, happy, and well-adjusted in life.
When Cheryl was in her early twenties she met a wonderful man, and she married him. Both Cherylís parents and the young manís parents were thrilled, and they worked together to put on the wedding of the century. It was a lavish wedding with loads of guests. Champagne flowed for days, gourmet foods crowded buffet tables, and gifts were piled high at the reception as well as at Roseís home where a rehearsal dinner had been held a few nights before.
When the wedding was over, the young couple left on a honeymoon. They went to Bermuda, an island in the Atlantic, not too many hours flying time from New York. It was a common honeymoon destination in those years. It was also common in Bermuda for tourists to rent motorbikes to tour the island-I donít know; perhaps they still do.
On the second day of the honeymoon, Cheryl and her new husband were both killed in a motorbike accident while sightseeing in Bermuda. I guess I donít have to tell you that all of the parents were devastated.
Rose was in pieces. The death of a child is the worst thing in the universe. Itís a freak of nature. Parents never expect or want to outlive a child. And Cheryl was Roseís only child, an only daughter who had a glorious life and a promise-filled future ahead of her.
So now Rose had not only a funeral to plan, but to compound her agony, she still had to finish off the wedding details because the wedding had only been a couple of days before. Rose had the final bills to pay, flowers to find homes for, and the house to clean up-because she had had guests and parties galore. And letís not forget the gifts. There were piles of exquisite wedding gifts all over her home and at Cherylís.
My grandmother went over to Ruthís house to try to help her. You can imagine how sad it was for two old friends, and the gifts were the hardest part. It was to be a very complex and time-consuming job to figure out where each gift came from and where it should be returned. Who sent it? What store did it come from? What was the address? How would it be shipped? It was like a jigsaw puzzle of nightmarish proportions.
My grandmother offered to do the job for Rose, but she refused. So the two women found one gift obviously from Hammacher Schlemmer, a beautiful old highly respected department store in Manhattan known for its unusual gifts, and they figured that was where they would start. And so on a busy Monday morning, the two women in their sixties took a cab with one gift and went to Hammacher Schlemmer.
They found the right department and a salesperson to help them. Rose started to explain that she needed to return this gift but she wasnít sure how, and within moments she collapsed in tears on the floor from grief and exhaustion. The salesperson called over his manager, and they took my grandmother and Ruth into the managerís office away from the crowds. When the manager started to hear the story, he beckoned them to hold on for a moment. He went out and came back shortly with his own manager, the General Manager who was in charge of the whole store.
The General Manager asked to hear the whole story, and he listened while my grandmother explained to him their predicament, as Rose was too tearful to speak. After a few minutes he told them they should not worry anymore and that he would take of it. ďTake care of it?Ē my grandmother asked. He told my grandmother that he needed to make some phone calls and get organized but she should take Rose home and then call him at his office.
He said that he was going to send a truck with some of his people to Roseís house and then to Cherylís house and he was going to collect all the gifts, no matter who had sent them or where they were from; and he was going to appoint some staff to figure out how to return everything. He said all he needed was a guest list with phone numbers and addresses, and they would take care of the rest at no charge.
Rose was too upset to fully grasp what was happening, but my grandmother understood and took Rose home. For the next few days my grandmother liaised with the store manager, and as he had promised, his people collected all the gifts and returned all of them. There were a couple of gifts left over that they couldnít place, which were eventually returned to my grandmother to give to Rose, but by that time, Rose was starting to come around and was able to cope with returning those last two presents.
Of course, that good deed did not lessen Roseís grief, but it did help her to survive the first few days after this unimaginable tragedy."
"Wow, Mom, is that a true story?" my daughter asked, her eyes heavy with tears.
"Yes, child, it is. I just want you to know that while we all face sadness in our lives and at times more than we think we can bear, there is happiness too, kindness that springs from unexpected places beyond what we could hope for." I reached out to touch her hair.