Something Old, Something New
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Where to start? I suppose it would be with the question I
asked my mother while we were planning my wedding ceremony. I was going
through a book that listed all kinds of rituals and traditions
pertaining to weddings and saw something I'd always wondered about.
"Have you ever wondered where this came from: "Something old,
something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver
sixpence in her shoe"?"
"Well, as it happens, I know where it came from," said my mother. "But
in our family it has a different meaning."
"Oh? Tell me."
"I don't think so," she said softly.
"Why on earth not?"
"When your father was still here, he insisted that you be raised
differently than I was. After the divorce I suppose I just left things
as they were."
"Mother! Whatever are you talking about? You were
raised just like anybody else your age ... weren't you?"
"Not by half, darling," said my mother. "Are you sure you want to know?"
"Why wouldn't I?" I was really curious now. She was acting so
"Because once you know, it might change your whole life."
"I don't see how finding out how my mother was raised would change
anything at all!" I insisted.
But ... as it turned out ... it did change my whole life.
Maybe I should have started with telling you about my family. I mean
they all play a central role in how things turned out, and it would
probably be helpful if you understood about them before I explain that
silly wedding poem and what it meant in our family.
My mother is Dorothy Parker and she's independently wealthy by virtue
of being a whiz at picking stocks. Daddy still pays alimony, but all
she ever did with that was put it in the kids' college fund. She went
back to using her maiden name after the divorce. She's forty, and it
doesn't bother her in the least. Once Daddy left and they weren't
fighting all the time, she's almost always had a smile on her face. She
got a lot of support from the family when the divorce happened, and
she's actually friends with Daddy now. She says some people can love each other, but just can't
I have a little brother named Ricky, who is seventeen and normal in
every way, which means he's a pain in the ass. My big brother, Tom,
flies fancy jet fighters in the Air Force, and goes all over the world.
I haven't seen him in over a year.
I mentioned the divorce already, but it's central to the story too, as
things turn out. It happened ten years ago, and it was ugly. Everybody
yelled at everybody else, and thought they were failures and all that
stuff. Us kids didn't know what was going to happen, and did a lot of
hiding and listening, though it didn't do us any good.
When Daddy finally left, he stayed gone a long time at first. That was
the hardest part, because while Mom didn't love him anymore, my brothers and I
still did. And we needed a male role model in our lives.
That's where Mom's brothers came in and, as you'll see in a bit, they
are really at the center of this story. They all flocked around their
sister after the divorce. Not that they were strangers before that -
well Tony was but not by choice.
I'll just tell you about them.
Uncle Dan is Mom's big brother. He's forty-four, divorced like Mom, and
builds houses. He's a huge burly man with thick, curly, black hair all
over his body. When I was little he used to pretend he was a bear and
chase me on all fours. I still remember peeing my panties once because
it was so scary and exciting. I can't believe I told you
that! Anyway, whenever he caught me - and of course he always
did - all he did was "eat" my neck and give me kisses. I loved it.
Then Mom has three younger brothers. The first is Uncle John, who seems
to be the only normal one in the bunch. He's an architect, and married
to a nice woman named Linda. He's thirty-five and they have two kids
who I cut my babysitting teeth on when I was a teenager. Uncle John's
hair is bright red. If I have something serious to talk about, I talk
to him, because he's willing to be totally serious with me.
Then there is Uncle Tony, who is actually the baby of the family. He's
twenty-eight and was an accident, according to Grandma. More about that
later. Anyway, when he graduated from high school he joined the Peace
Corps and went away to Africa and India and several other places I got
interesting letters from. I think I've seen him three times in the last
ten years, though I probably know him the best because of all the
letters we write to each other. Uncle Tony has hair that's what they
call platinum blond. It's really light, with just a hint of yellow in
I went out of order, by age anyway, but I saved Uncle Bob for last
because he's my favorite. You wouldn't think so by looking at him. He's
as bald as an egg, for one thing. He's not all that tall, but he looks
so wide you think you're looking at a brick wall or something. And he
has tattoos almost everywhere. His arms are covered with them, and his
neck. I only saw him in a swim suit one time, when I was twelve and we
were at a lake somewhere. His chest and back and arms and legs were all
covered with blue and black ink in whirls and patterns and pictures.
There was some red and yellow and green in there too, but I was scared
to go up close and look.
Not that he was scary. Except that he was, kind of. Back then all I
knew was that he rode this huge, loud motorcycle, and wore black
leather pants and a jacket with all these patches on it and big letters
on the back in an arc that said "SAN REMO ANGELS" on it. He had
earrings in both ears and a bushy Fu Manchu moustache that tickled like
crazy when it rubbed it against my neck under my ear. He did that every
time he came over, when he greeted me.
I guess he looked scary, even though he always treated me so nice. I
got the best presents from Uncle Bob, and when I was sixteen, he took
me for a ride on his hog and I almost peed my pants again when I looked
over his shoulder and saw the speedometer needle bouncing around at the
110 mark. I spent hours looking at the dragons on his arms, and tracing
the lines with my finger.
But the reason I loved him so much was because of his work. Imagine the
man I just described, walking into a children's cancer ward dressed in
scrubs. He is a registered nurse, and kids with cancer are his passion.
He organizes motorcycle rallies that raise funds for cancer research
and supply"s things to the kids that the hospital budget
won't support. It seems like everything he does is for those kids.
Of course I didn't know that when I was little. He was just
kind-of-scary-but-oh-so-interesting Uncle Bob back then. He called me
"Princess" and made me feel like one too. It was complicated, with
Uncle Bob. When I was twelve I was convinced I was in love with him and
was going to marry him some day.
Actually, I loved all my uncles. I was their only niece, so even though
I didn't realize it back then I got special treatment. My brothers
would call it spoiled, but that wasn't it at all. It wasn't about me
sitting on their laps a lot, or that they tickled me and chased me and
stuff like that. That all just seemed normal. I realized how special
our relationship was when I figured out that I could talk to all of
them about anything in the world, and know that they'd never rat me
out, or laugh at me, or tell me what they thought I was 'supposed' to
hear. They were absolutely trustworthy, and would do anything I asked
them to that wasn't dangerous.
I mentioned Grandma in passing, but I should say a few things about
her. Her name is Mona, and she's on her sixth or seventh husband. The
first three took off for reasons I'll explain in a minute. The later
ones seem to get worn out and die. That sounds horrible, but as far as
I can tell they all died happy.
I didn't know it before all this wedding business came up,
but Grandma was ... maybe still is ... apparently something of a
slut. That sounds horrible too, doesn't it, but it's basically just the
truth. Husbands one, two and three left her because of it. Remember all
those hair colors I mentioned about my uncles? Well Uncle Dan
and Mom were supposedly sired by husband number one. Mom is a natural
blond, as is Grandma, but husband number one apparently had red hair. I
don't know the specifics, but the way I understand it, the genes just
don't add up for Uncle Dan to have all that curly black hair if hubby
number one is really his father.
I guess the same thing happened with Uncle John and Uncle Bob, who
allegedly belonged to husband number two, except that the math didn't
work out there either.
And then there was husband number three, who had a vasectomy before she
married him, which was why Grandma called Uncle Tony her little
accident. I guess she got her tubes tied after Tony, but her bedroom
habits didn't change, which caused husband number three to give up and
move on. The next ones were older, and I guess they figured it was
worth sharing her to get to be with her themselves or something. In any
case, having to compete with all her other men is probably what wore
them out and led to their demise. Suffice it to say Grandma was ...
and apparently still is ... highly-sexed.
It turns out Mom is too, but I didn't find that out until I asked that
question that changed my life.
I almost forgot me. I'm Megan, twenty, just your average girl, and was
the most surprised person in the room when Roger asked me to marry him.
I stand a little over five-six in my bare feet, weigh a hundred and
fifteen, have black hair and green eyes, and one of my pinky toes is
longer than the other. Normally I wouldn't tell you this, but based on
where this story goes, I'm not going to have any secrets from anybody
anymore anyway, so I'll tell you I wear a 34 double A bra and that my
hips are twenty-eight inches around. I've been described as cute, but
only Uncle Bob ever told me I was beautiful.
Okay, so I think you have enough information about the background that we
can get back to the question that started this whole ball of wax
rolling. I'll repeat the ditty for you so you don't have to page back
to find it. It goes like this:
"Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and
a silver sixpence in her shoe."
And I asked my mother if she'd ever wondered where it came from and
what it meant. She started with what turns out to be the traditional
meaning of it.
She explained that most people think it came from Victorian times in
England. Each item in the poem represents a good-luck token for the
bride. Supposedly, if she has all of them on her wedding day then her
marriage will be happy and successful.
The 'something old' symbolizes continuity with the bride's family and
past. 'Something new' represents optimism and hope for the bride's new
life ahead. 'Something borrowed' is supposed to come from a family
member or friend of the bride who is happily married, and whose good
fortune in marriage is supposed to carry over to the new bride.
The 'something blue' part is the oddest, because it goes back to
ancient Roman times, when blue was considered to represent purity and
fidelity. Apparently, up until the late nineteenth century most brides
wore blue. The tradition of wearing a white gown came long after that.
It's just a theory of mine, but I think white came into vogue because
it's so fricking hard to make something white stay really white, or
Just like it was hard ... okay impossible ... to keep me pure. That's
because I've been in a constant state of horniness since I was twelve
and fell in love with Uncle Bob.
Anyway, that's neither here nor there. She went on to say that a
sixpence is a British coin (I knew that) that, in the bride's shoe, was
supposed to represent financial success. She said a dime or a penny is
often used in the United States, what with sixpences being a bit rare
here, and all.
She told me all this as she did some embroidery on my pure white
wedding dress, which she made from scratch, and which looks like it must
have cost a million dollars.
"But you said it meant something different in our family," I reminded
"Yes," said my mother.
"Aren't you going to tell me?"
"I don't think so," said my mother.
I was frustrated by now. I might have yelled a little. When you're
raised in a house where a lot of yelling goes on, it's pretty easy to
think that yelling is normal.
She let me yell, and just kept taking tiny little stitches in my gown.
"Why won't you tell me?" I finally asked calmly.
"Because you'll think I'm a slut," she said, just as calmly.
"And your grandmother. You'll think she's a slut too."
"No I won't! I don't understand this at all," I moaned.
"That's because you weren't raised like I was raised," she said with
that maddeningly calm voice. "It's possibly the one good thing your
father ever required of me."
"Oh come on," I scoffed. "You guys were in love once upon a time."
"Yes," she admitted. "We shouldn't have been, but you never know that
when you're young."
"What about me?" I asked. "Am I making a mistake marrying Roger?"
"I sincerely hope not," said my mother. She looked up at me, and her
face was very serious.
"How is anybody supposed to know?" I asked.
"That's the hard part," she admitted. "And the part that was all mixed
up with this tradition I don't think you should know about. It's
complicated, darling. Besides, it didn't appear to work for either your
grandmother or me, so let's just forget the whole thing."
"I can't forget it!" I moaned. "You've got me so curious that it's all
I'll be able to think about at all!"
"You're different than Mamma and me," said my mother. "Take my word for
"How am I different?"
"You're not a slut."
"You aren't either!" I almost yelled.
"Oh yes I am."
I could not believe this, of course. This was my mother, the woman who
had put Band-Aids on my scrapes, and nursed me when I was sick. She
took me shopping, and bought me clothes. She went to the concerts at
school that I sang in, and PTA meetings. She was just my mom ... not
"And I'm supposed to take your word for it even though I don't
understand any of this," I said flatly.
I stood up. "I have to go make a phone call," I said.
"Who are you calling?"
She looked up sharply.
"He'll tell me the truth," I said, playing my ace.
She almost looked angry, but then sighed.
"All right. But remember ... you demanded this! I have a
feeling you'll be sorry, but if you're going to hear it, you're going
to hear it from my perspective first."
And then she told me about Grandma's wedding day, and her own wedding
When she finished I was in shock, to say the very least. No, that's too
tame. When she finished I wondered who this woman was, and what the
aliens who had put her here had done with my real mother.
It was that crazy.
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