Table Place Settings Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By Amy Phillips Penn

Having been engaged rather a lot of times, Zsa Zsa Gabor was asked whether a lady should give back the ring. Her answer? “Of course, Dahlink, but first you take out all the diamonds.”

She’s young, she’s engaged, and she’s registered at Tiffany’s. It’s official!

Getting engaged in New York is an epic poem in its own right.

When I was engaged, I went straight to Tiffany’s and registered. A woman who looked like she knew everything about china patterns, brides, and life beyond, took out a beautifully bound book, lowered her bifocals, and informed me that I would need eight of everything: dinner plates, salt and pepper shakers, various glasses and forks fit for salad, lobster, dinner, serving, and simply a conversation begging to happen.

It was time to stamp my brand on the china pattern of my choice. My fiancé could care less about such matters, leaving these executive decisions to me; I was delirious.

I was no Holly Golightly, dangling a golden cigarette holder over my matrimonial decisions; I had purpose, plans, and definite taste that dare not be diluted. Who needs a white picket fence (especially in New York) when you could pick out your own Tiffany’s china pattern?

I fell in love once again, not with my fiancé, but with Coalport, made in England; an understated floral blue bouquet of designs on a white understated pattern. It was so me, so us, so New York and…it bore no resemblance to my mother’s china, my mother-in-law’s, or my grandmother’s. My Tiffany’s counterpart’s bifocals inched down her powdered nose in approval. I had arrived.

Here comes the part where I recommend eloping. China patterns be damned, they can come later. The sitcom of marriage begins, bangs the monogrammed drum loudly veering toward melodrama, and a perfectly sane and welcomed ritual goes, well, berserk.

I was living with my parents at the time. Each package that arrived from Tiffany’s deserved its own “ooh and ahh,” and an immediate, handwritten thank you note on stationery selected at Marianne Strong’s.

I opened my dinner plates. I was in love, big time. “You can send those back,” my mother all but ordered. “Your Aunt Leona is getting them for you wholesale in England. It may take a few weeks but you’ll have them. You can thank her now.”

My new-found independence was becoming nauseous. Why not just keep the plates, and have extras when Aunt Leona came through? She was confusing the Plaza with the Waldorf, and all our names were getting scrambled, so why get her involved in the plates that I loved?

The plates went back.

Cut to my first dinner party when I had eight sets of everything, but no dinner plates. “What happened to Aunt Leona’s Coalport connection? I have no dinner plates?”

My mother called Aunt Leona, then called me right back.

“Aunt Leona wanted to know if you would like something of hers. I said you would be delighted.”

“I’m not delighted. I returned the Coalport.”

The next day a set of weary beige Wedgewood plates, wrapped in the Herald Tribune, arrived from Aunt Leona with a note. They were in a used Bonwit’s box. I didn’t bother with the note.

Then there was the hat.  I wanted to be married in a hat. My mother and I headed to Bergdorf’s. We had both taken a Valium to deal with this harrowing experience. I was a virgin Valium bride until now. The Valium hit hard. It hit my mother harder. We were both wobbly and giggly, and the thought of making a decision about a wedding hat seemed overwhelming. My mother was playing her favorite shopping game: let’s see how fast we can get out of here, without tripping over the queue of Hare Krishnas swooping outside.

“Let’s take that one,” she pointed to a supple white hat with a wide rim, anchored in fake flowers and ribbons.

My mother didn’t “do” fake flowers.

“What about the flowers?”  I asked in shock.

“We’ll deal with that later.”

And deal with it we did. We unraveled one flower at a time, then one bow, and the Bergdorf hat that had cost close to $100, now resembled the poor cousin from Seventh Avenue (God forbid).

Beauty is in the eyes of the bride-to-be. Stay focused.

“I like it, but it’s yellow, and I’m like, I didn’t want yellow for my engagement ring.” So very Paris Hilton.

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