In 1954 my parents planned to drive from Michigan to Nashville, Tennessee, during spring break. I was there working on a master’s degree at George Peabody College for Teachers, but mostly I was deciding whether to marry Bob, a flute teacher from Los Angeles whom I had met two summers before at Interlochen Music Camp in northern Michigan. When we met, he was on leave, going to Peabody for a master’s degree. By the next year he decided to get a second one if I would join him and get a master’s. We could get better acquainted, he said. Sounded good to me. I was lucky to land a job as last chair viola in the Nashville Symphony and I applied for and received a scholarship. I was on my way.
That spring we looked forward to showing my parents the Parthenon, The Hermitage (Andrew Jackson’s estate) and other Nashville attractions. We were far too snobby to take them to the Ryman Auditorium, home of The Grand Ole Opry. We were classical musicians, after all.
On Valentine’s Day Bob and I became officially engaged and we began to plan a June wedding. When we called my parents with our joyous news, Mother immediately said, “You can wear Marjorie’s wedding dress.” She had made the dress the previous fall for my brother’s November wedding.
My mother was an excellent seamstress. All my life she had made my clothes and, because of this, my idea of excitement was to wear something “store-bought.” I was not enthusiastic about wearing the dress my brother’s wife had worn. I wanted my own dress. Not realizing how hurtful my words were, I said, “I really want to buy my wedding dress.” We hung up with much less joy and without a resolution.
A few days later I got a letter from Mom. It said, “Since you are buying a wedding dress, we won’t be able to come down to Nashville during spring break. It’s just too expensive.” I was shocked and bewildered. This was so unlike my mother. I had never known her to be manipulative, didn’t really know the term then. But I did know that the issue wasn’t money and wasn’t even buying the dress. It was her feelings, and it hurt me that I was the one who had caused her pain.
I had lived at home all my life, including four years at Michigan State. My mother had always been in charge and I had never really dealt with being a separate, adult person. I knew I stood at a crossroads.
I sought out Lyle, another graduate student, thinking, “He’ll know what to do. He’s old, probably at least 32. He’s married. I need to talk to someone who knows about these kinds of things.”
We sat in the sun on the front steps of my graduate women’s dorm and talked for a long time. This was more than 50 years ago and I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I know wise old Lyle helped me. He was clearly ready for his career in counseling. Somehow he made me understand the situation and helped me fashion a few tools that I could use to deal with – tools I have used many times since.
A few days later I answered my mother’s letter, saying, in essence, “I’m really sorry you won’t be able to visit during spring break. We were looking forward to it. And I am very sorry that I hurt your feelings. It wasn’t intentional, believe me. You are the best mom possible, and I love you.”
They came to Nashville. We had a fine time seeing the places Bob and I had selected. At a store, I modeled my dress for my mother. It cost $97, modest even for those times.