20th Century Dowry

Cast you mind back to the year 1997. Before the world wide web really got on its feet. Before the DotCom bubble. Before Y2K (remember Y2K?) Most believe that dowries were an ancient tradition left behind when we carved a country out of colonial territory. Not so, my child.

In 1997 the custom of a dowry was alive and well in my parents' living room. The blueberry muffins had been consumed, the bird stuffed and safely in the oven and since we were all adults we had slept in late and waited for the food preparation before approaching the Christmas tree. For an all adult Christmas there were a LOT of presents on the tree skirt and overflowing onto the wooden floor. This gave rise to curiosity and fear that the haul wouldn't fit in our cars for the trip back home.

Now,despite my Venus of Willendorf figure (which was never criticized at home)I dated steadily through high school and my extremely prolonged work-wait-go back for a semester of my college career, then do it all again. My family didn't like my first boyfriend, largely due to the fact they had no idea that HE was preserving my virginity because we both wanted out of our birthplace. We shared the fear of an unwanted pregnancy that would doom us to stay. He was the one putting on the brakes though. I was all "what comes next"?! As an adult I became belatedly grateful for the care and probity of my high school boyfriend. He went off to college and broke up with me that Christmas, presumably because he wanted to broaden his horizons with a grown woman. I didn't understand why at the time and was heartbroken.

Less than a year later I found the (I thought) love of my life. We got engaged, we got busy at a hotel, where the staff thought we'd just gotten married. When we left, the hotel sign, directly on my mom's route to and from work, their big message board said "Congratulations Mary and ------!" I completely freaked out. I was actually scared to go home. Thanks to common names and the fact that mom was not going to notice a sign she passed every day, the maelstrom I was expecting never formed. I lied about our date activities and as far as I know she never doubted me. We were engaged for about 48 hours when he called me from the marine boot camp he had joined without talking to me about it. I wrote letters faithfully because I just couldn't break up when the poor guy was in boot camp. He came home hating and scorning women. It took too long for me to realize that he had changed forever, but when I broke up with him I really thought I could never love again.

Soon after my 19 year old brother had an asthma attack and was dead on arrival at the hospital, driven in by his frat brothers when the ambulance didn't come. Medical staff resuscitated him but he was brain dead. My boyfriend of the time and I felt happy just dating, with no plans to get hitched. I wanted children, he didn't, so we dated in a gloriously carefree manner. My parents did like him but my mom didn't understand why I would date someone I didn't plan to marry. "If you don't want to get married you should break up and play the field." Things turned sour when my brother's recovery was beyond hope, and my boyfriend who was Ba'hai thought my grief was excessive and self indulgent.

I got engaged again to a guy who turned out to be a jerk, but love is blind.. My mom and dad really liked him, he was a rich computer guy and outwardly pretty impressive. I moved across the country with him when he got a new job. Three months after our engagement he dumped me after I had already come back from a Christmas trip back home. I got my old job back, and my friend's only question was, "What day this week would it suit you to be picked up?" When I returned a few months later to move my belongings, my friend found the "Mary pros and cons" list that he'd left in plain sight. I wasn't even tempted to look.

My mom convinced my dad to pay off my college account, and I was able to return to school in earnest. I still had to work 60 hours a week while attending full time, but I got to go straight through to graduation this time. I met my husband on the Internet through a bulletin board (sort of like a list serve now). He was in grad school, I had my busy undergrad/work schedule. We lived 22 hours apart. Neither us had time to date in person, but passionate love letters can be sent 24/7. When introduced my family ADORED him. Which brings us back to Christmas 1997 and the dowry.

I admit I was greedily looking at all the gifts spread across the floor. We passed out presents one at a time. I got a sweater, Ed got the top of the line fastest modem around. Brother got a modest gift certificate to Best Buy, Ed got an obviously expensive watch. Dad got new slippers, Ed got a new down parka. Mom got a blue dress that reminded my parents of one dad gave her when they were dating, Ed got an electrical gadget that I forget specifics on. There was a second round of presents, after which a bunch of presents remained. Ed got them all. The only dowry gift Ed didn't get was a fine young goat.

I can only assume it worked, because on the Fourth of July ed proposed to me in the midst of the fireworks. We have the happiest marriage around, too. Maybe dowries SHOULD come back into style. Worked for me!


Anonymous said...

I read about it some days ago in another blog and the main things that you mention here are very similar