Family Tradition

The stakes are high when saying ‘Yes!’ to the dress competes with college football

By George Valadie

Oklahoma-Texas. Notre Dame-Florida State. Tennessee-Georgia.

If you know anything about our family, you know we love our college football. We gather early and stay late, munching multiple meals throughout.

We wear our lucky clothes, dance when we score a touchdown (that’s just me), and we absolutely have to rearrange our seating when our team’s fortunes start down a bad path.

If you’re out of the room when a rally starts, you’re going to have to stay there. One fall, Nancy made the mistake of going to the bathroom down the hall just moments before our luck changed. We made her stay in there — I kid you not — until we scored.

You can’t mess with a team’s mojo.

So when 2020 shut down school after school and event after event, we worried that our favorite season was in danger.

No, not the end of the world; it wouldn’t have even been in the Top 1,000 list of COVID tragedies. We’re not that coldhearted or obsessed. It’s just a family tradition we’ve really come to enjoy.

So when conferences finally announced foot-ball would resume, we were thrilled. And it’s where we have found ourselves each of these fall weekends, enjoying the games and each other.

I’m the worst of all, the sort of fan who starts early in the morning, tuning in the three hours of pregame nonsense known as College GameDay. The talking heads talk while break-fast consists of bacon and bagels and whatever hype they want to feed me.

Every Saturday … well, except the last one.

Because that’s the day “we” decided to go wedding-dress shopping, although I use the term “we” loosely since the deciding of day and time might not have been a unanimous vote.

Dad that I am, I was torn between “Are you kidding me?” and “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

Sarah, our youngest, is getting married, and I could not be happier for her. The girl has literally not stopped grinning.

She arrived in the world a full six years after our first two had been born only 19 months apart. Not exactly their peer, she spent her youth mostly tagging along, living in her own little world, admiring theirs.

While the older two were enjoying their proms and their balls, she played in her room of make-believe, eager to report if their arrival was a minute past curfew.

Katy has now been married 15 years, and it’s been 10 for Meg. I recall teasing Sarah that we’d need another five-year gap to save enough for her soiree.

Thankfully, it’s actually been 10 years since the last, but if this first wedding purchase is any indication, it might not have been long enough. Nowhere near in fact.

Our dress-shopping appointment turned out to be for our family alone. A sign hung on the door welcoming Sarah — not another soul allowed in the store. When the owner locked the door behind us and pointed to the water and snacks she’d set out, I wondered how long our captivity would last.

Does this woman even know that kickoff’s at noon?

Just like the show on television, we began with introductions. I wasn’t sure why, we all knew each other, but it’s apparently a thing. Mother-of-the-bride, sisters, niece, future step-daughter, and me. I’ve watched the program enough to know that the more people you have, the higher the odds for drama and tears.

Seemed like too many to be locked in a room.

Good at her job, our host worked her way around to asking Sarah to describe the “theme” she was envisioning.

It’s here that you need to know a little about our girl. She lives a stressed-out life of anxiety, worrying about all sorts of things she cannot control that likely won’t happen. But when it comes to the “things” in her life, she’s as chill as they come. She’s the sort who buys a pot only if — and not until — she discovers she has a need to cook in it.

Since she was six years old, she’s sworn that all she’d ever want at her reception would be chicken nuggets, cubed cheese, and chocolate chip cookies.

So that’s when we all turned toward her mom as Sarah asked the exact question we’d all been thinking: “Mom, what sort of theme are we having?”

Nancy does indeed tend to have “visions” of how she’d like life to go. Control freak is a more apt description. She’s already looked ahead one full year and has voiced disappointment that the moon won’t be as full as she would like.

Sarah meekly offered, “I was thinking I might like a dress with sleeves. Does that count as a theme?”

And so we began the mandatory procession of A-lines, ball gowns, and mermaids. High waists and low waists, open backs and neck-lines galore. When the discussion turned to which came with built-in support and which did not, I remembered a make-believe phone call I suddenly needed to make.

A cute idea, the first dress got to hang in a special spot in the room reserved for “The Favorite” and was replaced only if another was found to be more favorite, which happened with the second. And you get the idea.

In the end, Sarah said “Yes!” to a dress — and a veil and a seamstress session I didn’t even want to know about.

Turns out, 10 years really isn’t enough  time to save.

But the smile on her face was worth whatever they’re not telling me about the dent in our credit card. Because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen her so genuinely happy to be alive.

She has endured quite a few years of self-made trials. She made college harder than it needed to be, has battled through depression, and reclaimed a life of sobriety. She buried herself in a financial hole but climbed back out to level ground. And she spent way too much time comparing herself to others, always certain she had come up short.

And the girl even hangs up her wet towels now.

It was a great day all around. She got the dress and the guy of her dreams, and I made it home before kickoff. Now if I can just get her to hold tight to that cubed cheese thing.

Dear God — Thank you for the gift of partners who love devotedly, fiercely, forever. Please help everybody find somebody. Amen.

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