What could have been one bride’s nightmare actually turned out to be a heartwarming story of familial love—and it’s gone viral to boot. Earlier this week, Jimmy Fallon tweeted out a request to his 51 million followers to share their worst #WeddingFails, and novelist Amy Penza delivered, and then some.
“My mother-in-law wore a wedding dress to my wedding,” she wrote, attaching an image of herself and her mother-in-law standing side-by-side as proof. In the photo, both Penza and the groom’s mother are dressed in white floor-length gowns.
Twitter, naturally, erupted with commentary and criticism toward Penza’s mother-in-law for pulling such a daring move, which prompted the Ohio-based novelist to clarify that though the matching gowns did cause some awkwardness, it by and large didn’t impact her wedding day. “So, a couple people have asked for the story behind The Dress,” she began a lengthy thread. “Sorry for the delay! I have four kids (yes, I married him) on summer break, so my permanent state of being is ‘frazzled.’ I called my daughter ‘mom’ the other day.”
— Amy Pennza (@AmyPennza) June 19, 2019
Penza went on to explain that the morning of the wedding was hectic, and so she didn’t really have time to process that her mother-in-law was wearing a white gown (arguably, likely once used as a wedding gown). Her sister, the matron of honor, and several of her bridesmaids decided not to say anything, just in case seeing her mother-in-law decked out in a wedding gown would upset her.
“But secretly, they both spent the reception looking at me, then each other, then MIL, then me, then the cop the venue made us hire—hoping I didn’t go for his taser,” she wrote. But despite the initial shock of seeing her mother-in-law, Penza said, she didn’t let the faux pas faze her.
In fact, she hardly faulted her mother-in-law at all, knowing that it must have meant a lot for her to shell out money for an outfit for the wedding at all.
“Here’s the thing: My mother-in-law is extremely frugal,” she wrote. “And I don’t mean she just enjoys a good bargain. To understand her, you have to know where she comes from.” Penza then explained that her mother-in-law had grown up in extreme poverty, and as a result, was always looking for ways to scrimp and save, doing everything from taking the olives and celery out of a Bloody Mary to use in a salad later to painting her glasses frames red with nail polish.
“When you grow up with nothing, it stays with you. Forever, I think,” Penza wrote. “No matter how much money you earn, there’s always that little fear in the back of your mind that someone might take it all away.”
So when her mother-in-law spotted The Dress “at an incredible bargain,” Penza continued, “she couldn’t turn it down.”
She explained that while her mother-in-law does “feel terrible” about the incident now, to her, it wasn’t the biggest deal, because she knew that her mother-in-law didn’t wear the gown to be malicious or rude.
And in fact, she’s been a loving grandmother to Penza’s four kids now, which the novelist said she’s so grateful for.
“She never misses a band concert, sports event, talent show, science fair … you name it. She’d walk over hot coals for her grandchildren,” Penza wrote. “She gives them everything. Because, you know, she grew up with nothing.”
Her mother-in-law even seems to have a good sense of humor about their shared story going viral. “Sure, she wore a wedding dress to my wedding,” Penza wrote. “But she has more than made up for it since. When I told her about this getting a lot of attention, and said I worried it might hurt her feelings, she waved it off. ‘Whatever makes me famous.’”