If you have known me for awhile, you will know that I love people, but I have a strange tendency to poke fun at "perfectly traditional Mennonite events." I used to secretly hate bridal showers. Or maybe not so secretly because one time I wrote an extremely sarcastic post about them. You can read it here:
Probably here is where I'm supposed to confess to just being jealous of all the glowing 18-year-old brides-to-be, and that was part of it probably. But I think in my personality there is just a deep mistrust of any event that goes off without a hitch. Bridal showers can be too perfect. The string lights and perfectly wrapped gifts too beautiful. And everyone is on their best behavior.
I tend to get bored when everyone is on their best behavior. That's why, the year I helped plan school meeting, we were all outside in our Sunday duds hitting balls of paper around with a broom - wearing badges with fancy cowboy names like Shotgun Johnny Rattlesnake. But that's another story.
I also seem to be a bad luck person, and if things go one for too long without at least a minor catastrophe, I'm a bit jumpy. I distrust calmness and perfection, because for me, it doesn't usually last. That's why, after weeks of planning a pack trip with some good friends in the Ozarks, we ended up losing the trail. We illegally pitched our tents at the wrong campsite well after dark after walking a couple miles because two horses had gone lame. The next day we were rescued by a nice park ranger, and we knew we could trust him because of his hat. But that is an even longer story.
I had the misfortune to be engaged during that unforgettable spring of 2020. My friends got a gift shower around for me and left all the gifts on a table in the Fellowship Hall. I remember going with my mom and sister to open the gifts one night. The fellowship was dark, and my heart felt lonely. The border between USA and Haiti was closed, and I already knew there was no chance that the date on my perfect little wedding invitations would be anything but a bitter disappointment. I video-called Eliezer and he tried to look sufficiently impressed as I opened the gifts and chatted away about my friends.
It felt ironic that after going to so many "perfect" bridal showers and feeling those pangs of loneliness, I went home from my own bridal shower with a vehicle loaded with gifts but a very lonely heart.
But I have persistent friends. A couple months later, when it seemed my wedding would actually be able to happen after all, I did have a proper Mennonite bridal shower. It was an outdoor party, under some ancient, sprawling live oaks draped with string lights. The trees were hung with Haitian paintings and there was a miniature market scene complete with an ice chest full of frozen drinks. They served Haitian marinad and pikliz for an appetizer, and instead of a game designed to embarrass the bride-to-be, we all lined up for a relay race scrubbing clothes by hand. I'm sure I ate a lot. I hope everyone else did too, because the food was good. And I hope no one's best clothes were ruined by soap suds.
That night I felt surrounded by people that really cared about me and my future. It was truly the perfect bridal shower for a very imperfect engagement journey.
Last Tuesday, I got to attend the second Haitian bridal shower since I moved her. You never have to worry about things being too perfect here. The concrete floor of the church balcony is uneven, and the benches creak under the weight of so many people crowded together. You dress up of course, but you plan on sweating a little. I love that - the raw edges of imperfectness make me feel relaxed and at home.
So I present to you another list:
Five Things Needed For a Perfect Haitian Bridal Shower:
Cocktail: The mangoes, bananas, apples, a single pineapple, and maybe a watermelon arrive here and there - pulled out of purses or wrapped in black plastic bags. Someone hauls a tub of water from the pump up the stairs to the church balcony to wash the fruit. I sit on a church bench with happy, chattering ladies and we peel the fruit and dice it into tiny pieces with dull knives. Children gather around staring longingly, and we slip them a few pieces of mango. The whole concoction is mixed with a couple bottles of 7 up and an ahem... secret ingredient... in a pretty glass bowl. To be passed around and slurped out of tiny plastic cups during the program.
Guacamole: I think this was my mom-in-law's idea yesterday. She probably made the acquaintance of guac at a party at Blue Ridge. While we were cutting up the fruit, another group of ladies concocted some exceptional guacamole full of lime, tabasco, and garlic. They passed it out during the program also - arranged on cheddar Pringles (the only chip brand you can buy on every street corner in Port au Prince) and club crackers, Haiti's well-loved "bon bon sèl." I tried both - and while I'd still choose Tostitos if I had the chance, it was very festive.
Counsel: The highlight of my afternoon was a very animated advice giving session. It got even more animated when the children were shooed downstairs so we could talk about "grown-up subjects." Forget marriage advice cards quickly filled in with cliches. Nope. Stand confidently in the middle of the group, start with, "May the peace of God be with you," introduce yourself, deliver your bit of everyday wisdom, and sit down to applause and "Amens." I learned a lot. The counsel was good.
Embarrassing Games: They took this to a new level. They quizzed the new bride-to-be about her groom's favorite food and what she liked best and worst about him. She was standing in the middle of the group like a guilty witness, and I did feel a bit bad for her. If she doesn't know his favorite color and worst quality now, believe me she will in a year!
Balloons: A bunch of balloons is often the only decor at a Haitian party, and I'm not sure why, but they tend to pop at odd times. It happened yesterday and our minister's wife jumped a couple inches. It adds to the unpredictability of it all and keeps everyone on their toes. Yesterday the balloons had questions in them. They wanted volunteers to pop them, then go to the middle of the circle and answer the question. Most of the questions were things like, "How did you feel the day the church announced your wedding?" "How did you feel the night before you were going to get married?" No one wanted to volunteer, but the party planning committee was very impatient and insistent. "Be fast! Be fast! This party can't go on for hours!" When the scolding didn't produce results, someone just went over and popped all the balloons and passed out the question slips. I love this practice. It happens in Sunday school too - the scolding, the choosing someone to talk, the reminder that we don't have all day. I have wanted to do it many times in the USA because I hate that silent, awkward waiting! If we're going to play embarrassing games, let's get them over with fast.
If you're planning a bridal shower soon - I hope it turns out perfect - but not too perfect. Have fun and show the bride-to-be you care. Give juicy advice (make sure the children don't hear) and try not to be on your best behavior. Because that's boring. And if you're looking food food ideas, may I suggest guacamole served on cheddar Pringles?
And if you want cocktail at your bridal shower, try Sallie's recipe in the party section of the Cafe au Lait Cookbook.