Sunday, September 23, 2012


If you recall the movie Father of the Bride, you'll remember the scene where the party is over, the guests have left and suddenly all is quiet. Well, we didn't have a party at home, there is no mess but for the odds end ends that were carted over here last night and still, I feel that sense of quiet. And I mean internal quiet as much as the absence of noise. All went well. Day is done.

And only now do I understand that there is a load of worry that accompanies each big event, transition, move -- there, because you know how much can falter, how quickly  a small thing under normal circumstances can become a big thing if it comes at the wrong time. A fever, a flat tire, a lost shoe, a lost opportunity, a stumble over words, the wrong words, the wrong gesture, a wilted flower -- the list is long.

So I reel in the quiet of the day, with memories throwing me back to the wedding. A wedding that, initially, in the planning stages, I was mildly amused with. I'd never been part of such a large affair before and I wasn't sure that the essential element -- that the maximum possible number of guests enjoy themselves -- could be easily accomplished.

After all is behind us, I think that I misunderstood up to this day the purpose of the whole thing. Yes, sure, the ritual, the celebration, the good time to be had by many, yes, that. But as I watched my daughter's radiant smile the whole day long, as I watched my younger girl's tear-filled eyes -- filled with that emotional joy you have when someone you love so terribly much is embarking on a good path in life and as I watched the willingness of so many to come from all over the country and from all neighborhoods and places in and around Madison and Chicago to cheer my girl and her now husband on to their next stage in life, I understood how affirming this was, how important and strength giving to think of your world as standing behind you in this and whatever else you do in life.

So sit back, if you want, and watch the reel of photos and if you think that it's too much about the people rather than the art of the surroundings or presentations, well yes, you're right, it is about the people. I'll try to fill in the relevant information, but see if you can just take in the joy of the day from looking at the faces of friends and family, of my girls, their dad, their loved ones, and of Ed, and of me too.

The day began, for me with mild concern about the weather. How could it not? The temperatures have dropped significantly. And for this one day in the month of September, the forecast has been of rain.

And yet, you can hope, right? So I wake up too early, hoping, and hoping.

And sure enough, the chill is in the air (it never topped 60, I don't think), but it doesn't matter, because the sky is like this:

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Okay. A calm morning. My little girl goes off to be with the bridal party. Ed and I sit down for our breakfast routine.

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My turn to go do something with my hair and face. I stopped wearing makeup (lipstick doesn't count) years ago. Today, I want a pro to take a stab at it. So, at a tiny hair shop just a short distance from here, I let two young women transform me into something suitable for a wedding.

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And now it's time to put the motor on. Hold on, not yet. We need food. You can't ignore nutrition. Ed and my little one's boy friend and I head for Paul's coffee shop.

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But, but -- you're asking what's Ed doing there? Many of f you know that Ed asked that I choose one wedding event for him to go to and the girls and I chose the reception. But on the morning of the wedding day, he changes his mind. I'll go to the service, if you want -- he tells me. I'll walk you down the aisle. 

I hadn't admitted to him or to myself how much I wanted him to do this. He knew, of course and even though he isn't quite himself yet (the fever of last week really knocked a lot of oomph out him and he remains terribly weakened by it), he is willing to put in a good many hours to a day that is going to be filled with traditions and events that are so much not part of what he loves in life. But, Ed's good soul comes through so often in these times where either my girls or I are made better by his presence and support. And he is there for us on this day.

Pick out something for me to wear, he tells me, opening his drawer of ragged t-shirts and wrinkled pants. And I do. A black t-shirt and chinos that have seen better years (and if you notice that he's in jeans at the reception, it's because he goes home, rests and changes between one event and the next). Very fitting for him and, therefore, making me very proud.

We arrive at the church early. I want to make sure things are smooth with the bridal party. That everything is in place. That no one is unhappy.

One o'clock. The church is empty still, but for the quartet setting up off to the side.

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Downstairs, in the dressing room, I encounter my girl. The bride (with the little sister of the flower girls).

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...and her own sister, the maid of honor, attending to the rings.

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These are the last minutes, the final checks before the ceremony.

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Wait, what's that in the background? A flurry of activity, as the big sister of the flower girl fixes the hair and the mother notices and removes the remnants of old finger nail polish, while other sisters look on.

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My girls' dad comes in, casts an approving glance.

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And now it's very close to two. I'm upstairs and I hear strains of music. The quartet is playing and they are so good! You could come in and listen to them alone and it would not be time wasted.

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I greet Diane and Ernest -- Ocean friends will remember them from many many previous posts.

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Ed is napping in the car still and I hurry him inside. I tease him that as between Ernest and Ed, a bystander may think that the other guy is the partner to the mother of the bride.

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And now it's just a few minutes after two, and the quartet begins to play the Ash Grove -- a traditional Welsh song, my own childhood favorite. The groom's parents walk down the aisle. And then Ed and I walk, holding hands, as if it were a country walk through the woods, casually, slowly.

We sit down and the quartet switches to J.S. Bach (Sheep May Safely Graze). This is the time for the bridesmaids and the groomsmen to walk down. And for the best man,  and the maid of honor -- my little maiden, with the prairie flowers in her hands.

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After the flower girl, out comes the ring bearer, her sister.

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They join their family. The quartet now launches into Sondheim's 'Being Alive' and eyes turn to the the rear.

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 ...because this is the time when the bride walks down with her dad.

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And now the set is complete.

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The priest has instructed the audience to watch it with the cameras (he said 'flash,' but he was severe about it). I had to restrain Ed from groaning then. (Bossy. He whispers, barely under his breath. Less quiet was the moment he chose to crack his knuckles a few minutes later. I have to think he did not realize sound carries in such vast spaces.) Mostly, I keep my camera well under cover and let myself sink into the sequence of rituals. But, my girl had told me earlier that she wants people to do what they are comfortable with throughout. Besides, I do not use flash. And so toward the end, my camera is out again. So that I can catch this moment:

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And this:

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And this:

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Yes, that's her spark of blue. Color is everywhere, but you have to look for it. I suppose it's most obvious in the early fall flowers.

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...and in the bracelets. And in the sash. And in the shoes.

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And now the wedding party goes off for a photo shoot and Ed goes home to rest for an hour or two and I take a coffee break with Diane and Ernest and my other good friend, Barbara -- the third prong of a triangle of closeness that has held solid through many years since our first meeting more than thirty years ago in law school.

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There are buses that take guests to the place of the reception, but I ride in the luxury of my friends' car. The weather plays with us now, sending gusts of wind and an occasional gray cloud our way and it's clear that the planned hour of outdoor mingling and snacking should take place somewhere where it's warmer. We're just half an hour out of Madison, in an old mill (The Old Feed Mill in Mazomanie) -- a setting that is just so pretty and rich with the colors and forms of the Wisconsin palate.

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The staff do a splendid job of readjusting: the many many appetizers -- from cheese and tomato bruschettas to stuffed mushrooms to phyllo asparagus and mini Wellingtons and pulled pork -- are placed in the corridors between the upstairs rooms and we mingle and eat and drink as if we hadn't done anything of the sort for ages and ages and we now have to have our fill.

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The groom has reproduced imitations of airline tickets which give directions to destinations (places that the couple has traveled to, including Fitchburg!) that happen, too, to be tables. Instead of place cards, there are farmers market honey bears with names of each guest. My friends look for theirs.

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Ed is here now and we sit and eat -- foods from a buffet of chicken, mushroom strudel, veggies, baked potatoes...

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And I look around and here is where I see the goodness of coming together like this. Here behind the  prairie bouquets, you see my girl's two good friends: one now in Davis, the other in D.C, joined for this one evening at a table in Mazomanie.

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My little girl checks in on us often. She loves it when we smile back. And that's easy to do on this day.

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photo by Ed

I glance over my shoulder frequently as well. It's so satisfying to see your kids this happy, this loved.

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There are some 175 guests, seated at long tables, but just for the dinner. Later, they'll mix and move between rooms.

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The meal, of course, includes the wedding cake. Topped with a koala couple (does anyone remember that eventually they will travel to Australia for their honeymoon?).

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We, the guests eat the most heavenly cupcakes from Bloom Bake Shop. The New Glarus Raspberry Ale chocolate one is absolutely the top of the top.

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Oh, almost forgot the cake cutting:

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Ah, the formalities are almost over. Time to exhale.

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Wait. Some of us are still focusing on the cupcakes.



There are a few more memorable moments. One especially is important from my point of view -- the toasts given by the parents, the best man and the maid of honor. I have to say, mine is only three minutes long and yet, the memorization of it, so that it is exactly as I want it, has been my preoccupation this whole past week. It's insignificant in the scheme of things, but I want it to bring out so much of what is profoundly emotional without it being emotional in the choice of words and, indeed, with as few words as possible, and with the occasional smile inducing two line story that we all wish we could insert into our public speeches.

It all goes off without a glitch, including my sung rendition of a favorite verse of Oh Susannah, and we end the toasts with a beautiful one delivered by the maid of honor, whose love and wit and humor are so evident that it would put a smile on the face of the most dour person.

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The bride and groom lead off the dancing (I'm in Love With You). The Gomers play and they play very very well.

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I miss the father - bride and groom - mother dances. (They had been scheduled for later and I go by the schedule!) But I hear they went well. And in case I haven't mentioned -- the groom's parents, traveling from Buffalo and the groom's sister and brother in law, traveling from Cleveland and Chicago, are enormously kind and good people. My girl's family grew and it grew in wonderful ways.

And now is the time that I can let go of any last wisp of anxiety about things working well for my girl, for her husband (!), for everyone who came this far for their wedding event. I dance to all three 45 minute sets of music (carefully chosen by the bride and groom). The only ones who threaten to keep up with me, dancing along until 11 p.m., are the little flower girls and their even littler sister. Ed watches in the background.

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When the music slows, I look around and I pick out my daughters. (I keep on dancing. I do not mind moving alone to slow music.)

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And then it picks up again and we're off and spinning and jumping and doing who knows what.

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It all must end, of course and it does, but it is an ending that comes with the greatest satisfaction of knowing that those you most love are happy.

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We are given warm fried cheese curds for the ride home (a bus stands ready to take weary people back to their Madison hotels and destinations). But there's one last thing: the send off. With sparklers.

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the groom's family

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hearts, fashioned out of twirling sparklers

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The couple goes off to their overnight destination. Ed drives my girl, her boy friend and me back to the farmette. I had thought that I would just give in to sleep, but it doesn't come right away. For a few last minutes I think about all the good things that came with this day. There are many.