When Mom Marries, Fortunes Change for Single Woman
Reprinted with permission of the author from j. the Jewish news weekly of northern California.
October 27, 2006
When Francesca Segrè, author of the novel Daughter of the Bride, returns a call for an interview, the irony is inescapable.
After writing her first book--a fictionalized account of her mother getting hitched while her own ring finger is decidedly bare--33-year-old Francesca is about to tie the knot herself.
Her mom, Elisabeth Segrè of Palo Alto, "is going to walk me down the aisle," the author says shortly before her wedding last month.
The excitement began four years ago, when Segrè's mom, a widow, announced she was getting married.
"The announcement threw me into a strange state of self-reflection," says Segrè, who was raised in a Reform household in Austin, Texas, and now lives in Venice, Calif. "Who was I--still single at 29--and who was she--59 and getting remarried?" she shares on her Web site. "Was I alone or part of a bigger trend of children watching their parents remarry?
"Were those adult children going through the same turmoil I was?
"To make matters more complicated, she was acting my age, I was acting hers, and when we went to the bridal salons, people presumed I was the bride."
Her emotional confusion provided great material for an essay, which The Washington Post published in September 2002, headlined "Bride and Joy: Guiding Mom Down the Aisle."
Two years later, "the article had landed me a movie deal," with Goldie Hawn wanting to play the mother-bride. That prompted Segrè, then a Manhattan-based reporter for Reuters TV who'd worked her way up from such places as Chico, Calif., to take a six-month leave to write a book.
Leaving New York's cold climes for sunny California, she jumped into writing Daughter of the Bride, which was published by Berkley Books last March. (The movie is still in the early screenwriting phases.)
But why fiction?
"Because the real story wasn't interesting enough," Segrè admits. "It really wasn't all that dramatic. I wasn't so angst- ridden like the character in the book."
In reality, she supported her mom's remarriage. And the most dramatic real-life scene was when mother begged daughter to help her find a wedding dress.
"She went off with me when I was completely desperate," Elisabeth Segrè recalls. "I was looking for a wedding gown, and I was not young. She flew out from New York City, and helped me in a significant way."
And Mom, a longtime English lit professor at U.C. Berkeley, was only too happy to later return the favor, giving editorial advice. Daughter would send chapters to Mom, who wrote comments and sent them back. "I can't imagine celebrating a mother-daughter relationship more than having a daughter ask her mother for advice on a book," says Elisabeth. "To me, that was the most exciting thing."
In the meantime, while writing her book, Francesca kept looking for love.
First, she laid down the law: "I will only date Jewish men," she writes in her first-person essay, "Girl Meets Goy," published in The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt.
"We'll share backgrounds, traditions and beliefs, and, if we get married, we'll do our duty--we'll procreate. Giving birth to baby Ezra and baby Shulamit will help ensure the continuation of Judaism. In short, to marry another Jew is fundamental to being a good Jew. So then why is it so hard?"
Taking "extreme measures," she recounts going to a Jewish singles party. "I was optimistic. I smiled. I met many good Jewish men that night. They were nice… But none stood out. None sparkled. None clicked."
Things changed when a former classsmate from Brandeis University introduced her to 32-year-old Bernard Chen. But how could she date him? He wasn't Jewish. She offers a hint at the end of "Girl Meets Goy":
"Over jasmine tea, I learned his family was all Taiwanese, but he was born and raised in Los Angeles.
"Really though, I'm just a kvelling yenta," he said. "Always trying to feed my friends."
"I looked at him in shock. Where did he get that vocabulary? This was going to be trickier than I thought.
'I have a lot of Jewish friends. Been to a pile of Jewish weddings and bar mitzvahs,' he answered before I asked. He hummed 'Hava Negillah'" as he grabbed real Chinese china from the cupboard. There he was before me, handsome, intelligent, funny. Feeding me."
She quit her job and moved cross-country to be with him.
They married Sept. 3, on a Rancho Palos Verdes bluff overlooking the Pacific. Her brothers made the chuppah.
In fact, to further strengthen the mother-daughter bond, the chuppah was of "the same cloth that my mom used when she got married to Marvin," Francesca says, referring to her stepfather, Marvin Weinstein.
Chen--who had been to just one Jewish wedding in his life but has many Jewish friends--crushed the wine glass.
The couple wrote their own vows "instead of using a traditional ketubah text," she says, and had Israeli artist Enya Keshet create their ketubah.
"It was a very Jewish wedding, which was a total thrill to me," says Elisabeth.