For Australian bride, gift of love carries $133.62 duty Customs requires payment to release wedding dress

March 14, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

What price do you put on love?

The U.S. Customs Service tags it at $133.62. That's how much Jane L. Metcalf has been told she must pay to retrieve her mother's homemade wedding dress sent from her native Australia.

Government actions left the bride from down under in tears after a customs agent in Los Angeles placed a value of $743 on the garment made by Miss Metcalf's grandmother for Miss Metcalf's mother's wedding 30 years ago.

The Postal Service then refused to deliver the dress unless Miss Metcalf, 27, paid the duty of $133.62 an amount she says she can't afford because her tourist visa prevents her from working. She and her fiance, Timothy K. Golden, 29, are living with his parents in Towson while saving money for an apartment.

"I spent all of my money on the $3,000 plane ticket just to get to this country," Miss Metcalf said. "My family isn't really well off at all, and the $60 my mother spent on mailing the dress here was her wedding gift to me."

A fashion statement of another kind brought the couple together.

In September 1993, Miss Metcalf was a secretary and part-time bartender in Fremantle, Western Australia, where Mr. Golden, then a Marine, was on leave.

Miss Metcalf had taken the weekend off from work and gone to a pub with her sister. Her mother had expressed concern that Miss Metcalf was not dating, and the young woman assured her that "the next man I meet I won't even ask his name just his star sign because I'm supposed to be compatible with Leos."

"I saw Tim, and he had a tattoo of a lion over his ear that he had just gotten two hours before," recalled Miss Metcalf, who says she usually is shy. "I said, 'You wouldn't happen to be a Leo?' and he said he was, and I said, "Well, I'm your perfect match.' "

Quicker than you can say "G'day mate," they were in love and inseparable, at least for the next three days until Mr. Golden shipped out for California by way of Okinawa. Two years, dozens of letters and thousands of dollars in phone calls later, Miss Metcalf journeyed to Towson to be reunited with Mr. Golden, the assistant manager of the Nordic Track store in Towson Town Center.

By Valentine's Day, they were engaged.

Miss Metcalf couldn't afford a wedding gown, and her family couldn't afford to attend the nuptials, so her mother scraped together the $60 postage to mail her dress and a letter of best wishes.

Then the bureaucracy caught up with romance.

In a series of phone calls, Miss Metcalf tried to explain her circumstances. The Los Angeles customs office referred her to the Virginia office, which in turn sent her to the Towson post office.

Miss Metcalf said a postal worker told her she could pay the customs fee for the dress and try to have the money reimbursed, or the dress would be sent back to Australia today .

Daniel Norman, a program officer for the Customs Service, said Miss Metcalf could file a letter with the post office stating that she was conditionally refusing delivery. That would keep the dress at the post office until his agency could reassess its value.

"There should be a customs declaration of what it is and what's the value, but, if there is not, you just have to scratch your head and say, 'I can guess or I can open it up,' " Mr. Norman said, , explaining how a customs officer may have arrived at a worth value of $743 for the dress.

"What you are blending here are the requirements of two different agencies, and when that happens sometimes there is a little confusion," he said.

Meanwhile, the dress languishes at the post office, where Miss Metcalf planned to bring her letter today.

The wedding is scheduled in May.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.