Whoever started the custom of a new chasan bringing a gift to his future in-laws for his first Shabbos in their home, has a lot to answer for—at least in our home. Unless these poor nervous young boys are given some adequate female guidance, their choice usually ends up being more of a liability than a welcome addition to the home. My very own sons-in-law are perfect examples. The first one was obviously told by his mother that a nice white Shabbos tablecloth can never go wrong—and in fact she’s right. But evidently, no one ever told the young fellow that tables come in different shapes and sizes, and you actually have to read what it says on the package before buying the tablecloth. But how could he know that? He was so eager for us to use his gift that he sent it over with a friend on Friday morning, obviously expecting to see it spread over the Shabbos table when he arrived. I took one look and realized that even if we folded up our table to its smallest size, this little piece of fabric would still only cover
half of it. So what did I do? Well, I couldn’t embarrass the poor boy by not using his gift, but I couldn’t embarrass him by using his gift. either. I had no choice. I sent one of my younger daughters off to Geula, where there are plenty of shops that sell tablecloths in all sizes and patterns. I instructed her to buy one big enough for our table, with a pattern as close as possible to the one he had bought (in the unlikely event that he was even aware of the design). So that gift cost me dearly in both time and money, not to mention an even more fraught Friday that was already fraught enough, being the first Shabbos we were entertaining our first chasan. Our second son-in-law decided that bigger was better, and in his enthusiasm bought us a bright pink plate, almost the size of our dining room table when it’s opened to its fullest. Had we placed it on the table there would have hardly been room for any tableware or food.
Adding to its charm was the fact that it was, to be quite frank, hideous. Needless to say, I kept my thoughts to myself, and gushed over the delightful gift (and then nearly dropped it when I tried to lift it up by myself). My mind went into overdrive thinking of where I could put it and what I could use it for. I would have needed to take out a mortgage to fill it with fruit. I could have used it to store all the LEGO in the house, but then where would we have put it? And it’s not fair to dump such a highly breakable dish on the kids. Storage presented another problem, because there was no cabinet big enough to hold it. So if we couldn’t use it and we couldn’t store it, what should we do with it? I have to confess that I had considered staging an “accident” and thus end all our deliberations, but I just couldn’t do it lest it upset my daughter as well as her chasan. So for years it stayed perched atop the kitchen cabinets, only to be taken down once a year before Pesach for a quick dusting and then carefully replaced. Two daughters married, another four to go. What would happen next time? You realize that these events weren’t happening in a vacuum, and all the other members of the family were experiencing these incidents with us. Each time, the kallah/daughter in question undoubtedly thought that the gift was heaven-sent, but the other, younger, ones were the ones who had to run to Geula and brainstorm with me about how to deal with giant white elephants (or giant pink china dishes). Our next daughter to get engaged decided that she would try to “help” her chasan choose a gift. Baruch Hashem, he was delighted to be helped. His rav had told him that buying a gift was expected, but his parents could offer no advice as he was the first one in his family to get married and they didn’t know it was expected.
After consulting with us, my daughter suggested a simple holder for our bentchers, as our last one had fallen apart some time ago. This was a simple enough gift to find, and not expensive. On the Friday afternoon of his first visit we went to pick him up from his yeshivah, as we were in the neighborhood anyway. As we were making our way back to our house, we couldn’t help but notice a car weaving in and out of the traffic behind us. Suddenly it started honking, and I saw our new chasan turn around and go white. “Do you know the people in that car?” I asked innocently. “Yes,” the poor chasan mumbled as he sank lower and lower into the car, apparently trying to bury himself in the upholstery. Suddenly his cell phone rang. “What?! Oh my gosh. Okay, thanks.” He sat upright and coughed. “Um, I’m terribly, terribly sorry, but could we stop for a second? It seems I forgot something and my friends have brought it.” We stopped. They stopped. Our dear chasan ran out of our car and ran towards the other one. He returned with an attractively wrapped box and sheepishly got back in the car. It was a very nice bentcher holder, and we’re still happily using it 11 years and six grandchildren later.