Thursday, January 26, 2017

Each of You, Shelter for the Other

We have a half hour to kill before the family photos.  Mom visits the bridal suite looking regal in a silky white shirt and long black skirt.  I line up the bridesmaids for a picture with her, feeling childishly pleased to nab a shot the photographer won’t have.  I’m not a competitive person.  Really.

Then we whisk and rustle downstairs to find Casey and PJ who have returned from their First Look photo shoot.  They beam at us and at each other, but there’s little time to talk as the photographer marshals us in quick succession up the raised platform at the head of the ballroom.  For a week, the forecasts had whittled away hope of a sunny, waterside ceremony, but gratefully, the rain had held off  - almost – for the wedding party and First Look photos. Now, however, it is pouring in earnest.

Quickly now!  It’s almost 5:30 – showtime! – and guests are milling around in the foyer as family groupings scamper to the stage to pose.  Hurry! No time for shifting positions, adjusting corsages, closed eyes, or odd expressions.  Coax baby Paul to smile!  Goofy faces and kissy lips,  “Hey Paul!  Hey little guy!” Then we hustle off into the back room while the guests filter in to take their seats.

Whew!  Breathe, breathe.  Yes, thanks, a flute of champagne would be heavenly. The staff, Laina and Eddie– our friends, by this point – are taking care of us.  We peek into the hall and see a line-up of loved ones, so we sneak out for hugs.  It’s hard to retreat because everyone in that line is someone we cherish.

OMG! The veil!  We forgot the veil!  Casey was not to wear it until the ceremony, so in the photo schedule flurry, it was left in the bridal suite.  Karis runs up to get it and returns.  Respectful of its age and delicacy – it has been worn by Ingersoll brides since the 1800’s - she gives the veil to me to tuck snugly into my daughter’s hair, just above her braided bun. 

Shouldn’t be a challenge, but I’m struggling.  The comb won’t slide in.  “I think it’s backwards,” says one of the bridesmaids gently.  She is right. But it’s not easy to wrest that backwards comb from the clutches of Casey’s elegant hairdo.  Again, I’m holding my breath, self-conscious before all of those watching and waiting. 

“I think it’s off-center, Mom,” says Casey.  Shit.  She’s right.  What is my problem?  I wiggle it a little and try to convince her it’s fine, but it’s not.  One of the girls takes over and eases out the comb, starts over, and it’s perfect.  Beautiful.  Tradition and the good wishes of all those generations of Ingersoll brides riding with her, flowing down her back. 

“All right everyone,” says Laina,  “Time to line up!”

We place champagne flutes on the silver trays offered, look around for our partners, and shuffle into line.  Which side?  Who goes first?  Why didn’t we pay attention during the rehearsal?  

I’ll be walking with Steve, Dave’s brother, who is officiating today.  He must be nervous, but he looks only happy as he takes my arm.  You’d never know that he and Casey’s cousin, Christopher, had rushed over during this morning’s downpour to dismantle and wrestle the arbor from the lawn by the shore, it’s initial, wistful placement.  Dripping wet, they had lugged it into the ballroom and reassembled it on the stage so Casey would be married beneath the arbor her father made, just as she’d envisioned.

As we take our places in line, I gesture to the ballroom full of loved ones turned expectantly our way and I say to Steve, “None of this would be happening if it weren’t for you and me.”

He looks puzzled, and I continue, “If you and I hadn’t met and gone sledding together on that snowy slope at Trinity in ’73, I wouldn’t have met and married Dave.” A smile breaks across his face and we snug our linked elbows tighter.

“Your turn!” says Eddie, and Steve and I, first in line, head down the steps.

                                    *                                  *                                  *       

“It’s a typical night at SBC, the restaurant and bar sounds ever present throughout the high ceilinged brewery. She’s new, confident, and catches his eye.  She checks out the frosted blond tips in his hair, diamonds in his ears, a lip ring, and thinks to herself, ‘He thinks he’s cooler than me.  So not true.’ 

“He watches her trying to be cute as she slowly approaches. The young girl then trips and stumbles.  All coolness gone, she looks up; he looks down…and they both start laughing.”

So began Casey and PJ’s romance, and so Steve begins the service.  Everyone in the ballroom cracks up at the story of this inauspicious first meeting.

One of the things Casey loves best about PJ is his sense of humor, and she likes that quality in herself as well, although hers tends toward the slapstick.  There’s nothing that makes her laugh like someone taking an arm-flinging, feet-flailing fall, although she claims she always make sure the person’s okay before she cracks up. In the days before the wedding, she was relaxed about glitches, saying, “If one of the flower girls runs out crying, that’ll be funny.  If I trip on the way down the aisle, that’ll be funny.”  But no one flees and no one falls, and the service, conducted by her uncle who knows and loves her, is funny without any casualties.  

Up on the platform beneath Dave’s arbor, their attendants flanking them, the room full of loved ones with glistening eyes, Casey, and PJ are radiant, beaming with emotion so powerful it crosses boundaries and spills into tears.  They had discussed this with Steve, Casey voicing her concern that she and PJ would break down bawling in the middle of the service.  Steve said he’d take care of it and would slip her a flask if she looked like she needed it.  She does and he did.  Luckily, the grandmothers don’t pick up on the exchange, but those who do howl with laughter.

And so the ceremony swings, from laughs to poignant and meaningful.  Lindsay, the matron of honor, reads a passage from Mitch Albom’s Tuesday with Morrie that closes, “[Morrie] ended the subject by quoting a poem he believed in like a prayer, ‘Love each other or perish.’”

Steve reflects on the saying, “No man or woman is an island unto himself or herself.  Both are part of a greater continent.”  He speaks of PJ, “a self-professed non-world traveler” helping Casey select the perfect backpack for her trip to Asia, even while fervently wishing she wouldn’t go.  He mentioned PJ’s return to grad school and his athletic endeavors, and Casey’s professional accomplishments at Lululemon. “You both possess spirits individual and adventurous, yet coming together, islands within that continent…You have maintained the ability to keep on laughing and remain silly, keeping your lives upbeat and calm, when at times I’m sure it feels like you’re awash in a sea of chaos.”

Maybe it was time to swing back to some humor?  So Steve tells the story, in PJ’s words, of the night PJ proposed to Casey.  “I had all FREAKIN’ DAY to stew on how I was going to do it, what my wording would be, and how smooth my delivery was going to be (yeah, right.)  Here I am – cool, calm, collected – until she pulls in the driveway.  Case gets home and instantly hops in the shower…ten more minutes of stewing…finally she comes out, freshly dressed and still wearing a turbie twist towel on her head.  I get down on my knee and pop the question.  After asking me if I was serious seven to ten times and leaving me down on my knee, she accidentally knocks the ring out of my hand and it goes flying across the room. I think we both agree we wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Songs and guitars have always played the background music of Casey’s life.  Since the seventies, it has been a tradition at Sylvestro weddings for the musicians of the family to play Paul Stookey’s Wedding Song.  There might have been some inward groans among guests not familiar with the song or the players upon hearing the game plan announced, but groans gave way to pleased grins and nostalgic tears as PJ’s Uncle Dan joined Dave, Steve, Trevor, and Christopher in performing the melody they’ve played together for decades. 

True to the bride and groom’s love of the bizarre and the funny, they have asked groomsman Tony Deluca to read Cath Crowley’s poem, Graffiti Moon: “If my like for you was a football crowd, you’d be deaf  'cause of the roar.  And if my like for you was a boxer, there’d be a dead guy lying on the floor.  And if my like for you was sugar, you’d lose your teeth before you were twenty.  And if my like for you was money, let’s just say you’d be spending plenty.”

The vows are a natural follow-up once the laughter quiets and Tony returns to the groomsmen line-up.  With eyes bright, full of love and tears, PJ and Casey promise to “love who you are now and who you are yet to become.  I promise to listen to you and learn from you, to support you and accept your support.  I will celebrate your triumphs and mourn your losses as though they were my own.  I will love you and have faith in your love for me, through all our years and all that life may bring us.”

After the exchange of rings, Casey’s cousin, Trevor, reads an Apache blessing, assuring them, “Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other…” And Steve follows with a benediction universal in its message:

The way is long – let us go together
The way is difficult – let us help each other
The way is joyful – let us share it
The way is ours alone – let us go in love
The way grows before us – let us begin.    

There is the briefest of solemn moments as Steve’s words die away, then Casey hoots, “WE’RE MARRIED!” She and PJ kiss and kiss and kiss, then the bride pumps her bouquet in celebration, and the new husband and wife strut on down the aisle.  





Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Bride, but for the Buttons...

When I joined the girls in the bridal suite at the Inn at Longshore on the morning of the wedding, beautiful bouquets of white roses and pale green succulents rested in water-filled vases atop a round walnut coffee table.  Duffle bags and shoes littered the floor along one wall.  In the bedroom, flowing chiffon dresses in varying shades of gray hung from hangers hooked over the door.  In their midst, an oversized garment bag, promising in its puffiness, cloaked the wedding gown from view. 

Casey and her bridesmaids were red of lips and flawless of complexion through the wonders of youth and cream foundation. Lengthy false lashes fringed their eyes.    They nibbled strawberries and sipped champagne from slender flutes, striving to minimize jaw and lip movement that might create creases and smudges in their make-up.  Each of the maids wore yoga pants and a black tank top with “Bride Tribe” inscribed across the chest; Casey’s tank was white and declared her the “Bride.”

While Casey and several of the girls were lavishly coifed with hair pinned, braided, and twisted, Lisa, Casey’s cousin-by-marriage, sat immobile in a chair, still in process as the hairdresser worked her craft with a curling iron and blow dryer.

By 1:30, the assembly of maidens was ready.  Casey and PJ’s “First Look” photos were scheduled for 3:15, the bridal party at 4:00, families at 4:30, and the service at 5:30.  Easy. Plenty of time.

Lindsay, the matron of honor and Casey’s friend since childhood, had ordered lunch. The girls bit off tiny pieces of pizza with their teeth, carefully drawing back their lips to avoid contact with greasy cheese.  We wondered how their elaborate hairstyles and make-up would remain fresh for the next ten hours. 

Throughout the day, the photographer, Monika, had been in and out of the suite, taking shots of the make-up and hair-styling process, capturing the girls’ excitement as they helped each other with hair pins, curls, mascara, and eyeliner. The flower girls, two Avas and one Tessa, arrived in voluminous tulle dresses, as proud as the princesses they resembled.

Suddenly it was 2:45 and the tempo shifted from languid to bustling.  As the girls padded across the carpet and lifted their dresses off the hangers, I zipped upstairs to take pictures of the groomsmen.  Such a different scene between the men and the women!  No make-up to blot or lipstick to freshen, just a little help with each other’s ties, a quick swig of beer, a glance at the TV to see how the game was going, then shrug on their jackets.

 “Where’s Tucker?” PJ, my soon-to-be-son-in-law, asked me.

“Tucker?” I said blankly, glancing around the small room as if perhaps PJ had missed seeing my son in the chair by the window.  PJ was correct; Tucker was not there.

“He’s a groomsman,” PJ said.

This I knew.  But Tucker was also “family,” and the time I’d heard bandied about whenever schedules had been discussed at home had been the time for family photos:  4:30.  Oh dear. 

I also knew that Tucker and Lisa had Paul to contend with, and like scientists tweaking the timing on a new experiment, they’d been adjusting my grandson’s feedings and naptimes in order to ensure, as best they could, a cheerful child during his big moment as ring-bearer.  It must also be said that Tucker is a Sylvestro and they are not known for punctuality or attention to schedules.

Stomach knotted, I called Dave.  He said there’d been a misunderstanding.  Just as I’d thought, Tucker had keyed in on the time for family photos. I could imagine the wild scuffle when that error was discovered, but Dave said not to worry; they would arrive at the inn “soon.”  Wisely, he opted not tell me how recently they had left.  We live half an hour away and “soon” might be a while yet.  Sternly, I glowered down my hand-wringing inner control freak, forced her into retreat, and went back downstairs to Casey and the bridesmaids.

It was time for my girl to unveil her dress, slip it on, smooth the soft fabric over her hips, and zip up.  Again, easy.

Back in the spring, after coming up empty at The Plumed Serpent and Kleinfelds, Casey, her friend Jayme, and I tried another bridal boutique:  A Little Something White.  When we met our rep, Kelly, we liked her immediately.  She was friendly and relaxed, and made us feel she cared as much about this dress as we did.

Casey had run through her usual list of “don’t wants”: no satin, no strapless, no bright white.  She was cheerful, but by this time, the search seemed more urgent. In addition to our prior hunts, she and Lindsay had taken a jaunt up to Madison.  There, she found a dress she liked, but still, she wasn’t smitten.  And at every store she’d visited, she’d been unnerved when the salespeople looked startled upon learning the wedding date.  “Wow.  So soon?  You mean September of this year? We better get on it then!”   

The dresses arrayed for Casey’s consideration at A Little Something White were lovely, some ivory, some lacey, some V-necked.  Several were satin, strapless, and bright white.  My inner bitch was whipping off snide remarks about Kelly’s listening skills, but apparently she knew her business better than I knew my girl, for when Casey emerged in one such gown, her face was beaming… beaming. I gazed in wonder at my beautiful daughter.  “Omigod sweetie.  It’s gorgeous.  You are gorgeous.”

Jayme had her phone in hand and up before her eyes and was snapping photos while Casey turned and swished, her eyes shining as she followed her image in the mirror.  “Still, maybe we should go back to Madison and try on that other dress again?” she said.

“Absolutely,” Kelly encouraged her.  “And when you’re there, compare that option to this dress… the way you look, the way it makes you feel.  Imagine yourself walking down the aisle toward your fiancĂ© and think about that moment.  Which dress do you want to be wearing?”

For a minute, Casey was quiet… then she burst into tears and said, “This one!”

And now, it’s time.  As if embracing a beloved friend, Casey wraps her arms around the impressive garment bag and lifts it from its mount on the closet door.  She lays the bag on the bed, unzips it, and slides out her stunning, satin, strapless, bright white dress.  Having stripped off her tank top and yoga pants, she steps into the gown and shimmies as she pulls it up and into place.  Monika calls in from the adjacent room, “Are you dressed?”

“Almost!  Just have to do up the buttons.”

Monika enters and directs Casey and me to stand near the window.  She wants the muted light to glaze this wonderful mother-daughter moment:  Casey, statuesque, a bridal goddess, her mom bending with matronly pride and calm to fasten the satin-covered buttons that will mask the zipper.

But shit, this dress is tight, tight and form-fitting to complement Casey’s voluptuous figure and eliminate the need for bodice-tugging when the dancing begins.  And the zipper and its attendant buttons (endless buttons!) start at mid-back and flow in a graceful, sinuous line down to the floor. Plus, the designer in his wisdom felt that slim loops of thread would be just right to secure the buttons, just right if they weren’t ripped out by fumbling fingers, fingers now rushed, sweaty, and totally inept because this impossible task was taking forever and it was time for Casey to go for the “First look” and there were still countless buttons to fasten.

“Perhaps some of the bridesmaids might help the mother?” says the photographer sweetly, her eyes kind, her Swedish accent appealing and non-accusing.

Lindsay and Karis, the maid of honor and Casey’s partner in conquering Asia, lend their lithe fingers to the task, the three of us fighting with those little loops.  “Does anyone have a crochet hook?” Karis asks with a laugh that holds a twinge of hysteria.  Of course no one does, but that’s what we need. 

“How about this?” asks Lisa, and a bobby pin is passed from hand to hand.  Oh honestly, a bobby pin?  Yes!  For picking locks and securing innumerable fabric-covered buttons, a bobby pin does the trick.  Thank god.  The three of us step back, waving hands ineffectually before our faces, the girls patting – not rubbing! Careful of the make-up! – their glistening foreheads.

And Casey is ready.  Her auburn hair twisted in elaborate braids and loops at the back of her head.  Her dress, sleek and lustrous, those damn buttons tracing a graceful line down her back to the floor.  Her precious face reflecting a welter of nervousness and joy.  With the back of a curved finger - and mindful of mascara, eyeliner, and lush lashes - she blots tears that threaten to spill down her cheeks.  We, her maids and mother, stand in a circle of loving admiration. She gives us a radiant smile and thumbs up, then leaves the room to show PJ his bride.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sawdust, Glue, and Panda Sheets

The whine of a sander drifts up through the floorboards, and a path of sawdust leads from the top of the basement steps, across the TV room rug, and out the back door.  Knowing her father’s joy when he’s armed with tools and wood, Casey wisely assigned Dave several woodshop projects to prepare for her wedding.  Slabs of freshly cut cedar are arranged on the kitchen counter for my inspection, their centers blood red, ringed with rough bark, their fragrance potent, conjuring childhood memories of hamsters nestled in aromatic shavings.  


While Dave works on a cedar cupcake stand, an arbor for the marriage ceremony, and a massive frame crafted from old chestnut salvaged from our house during a renovation, I squint at my computer.  Scrolling, scrolling, I skip through the years in our archive of family pictures, seeking photos for a slide show.  PJ’s Aunt Christy sent me a thumb drive loaded with images of Casey’s fiancĂ© and his family, and I have loved seeing his transformation from infant, to red-headed toddler, to a tolerant kid feigning glee over gifts of shirt after shirt on Christmas morning, to a brawny football player, to a young-twenties PJ, tending bar.  Now, I gaze at shots of our funny, spirited girl as she grew from chubby little one, to budding actress, to Asian explorer, to confident store manager, and my nose prickles, tears close.   I’ve said to her, “I love the wonderful woman you are, but I wish I could keep all the Caseys from every stage.”

At this moment, our daughter is at work, yet as completely as if she snuggled right next to me with an arm over my shoulder, she is here with us as we work on our projects in these weeks before her wedding.

In a way, planning for the event itself is very familiar.  Much like the benefits I’ve organized over the years for Eagle Hill, I am both saved and tormented by to-do lists.  Every morning, I check the pad on my bedside table, trying to decipher whatever reminders and notes I jotted down during the night while lying in bed wide-eyed, trying to convince myself I would remember my reflections, knowing I might not, and finally caving, wearily raising myself on one elbow while fumbling for a pen, and hoping I’ll be able to read whatever I scrawl in the dark. 

Casey has her own to-dos, and we communicate often, cross-referencing our lists, adding, starring, and crossing-out as we go. While occasionally the mental detail whirl sparks a wish for the relief of an event completed, I try to catch myself short.  This is not a gala.  Our girl is getting married.  Cherish these days of frequent phone calls, plans, projects, and visits.  And usually, I need only that nudge.

Our friend Janet advised me, “Delegate where you can.  You are the mother-of-the-bride. Be there with Casey. You don’t want these days to pass in a blur.” So, when our friend Joanie graciously offered to write out the place cards and table numbers once Casey, PJ, and I finished the seating chart, I took her up on it.  Oh, the checking and double-checking on that chart!  It has happened only a few times at my events at school, but I know the anguish of seeing an expectant face sag while searching for a place card that isn’t there.    

Most of the important stuff is done.  Casey and PJ picked up their wedding license yesterday.  Dave’s brother, Steve, who is officiating the ceremony, has finished writing the service.  The invitations for the rehearsal dinner arrived two days ago, and I’ve had many conversations with friends about outfits and footwear.  I dropped off at the florist a carload of lanterns to be artfully entwined with succulents, white roses, and laurel leaves for the centerpieces. PJ checked the weather forecast for the 30th and no hurricanes are churning off Florida, so, while rain might douse the outdoor cocktails and wood-fired pizza station planned for the patio, we should be in good shape.

There will be last minute scurrying on the day prior to the wedding:  distributing welcome bags to the various hotels, purchasing bagels and fruit for the post-wedding brunch on Saturday, and picking up cupcakes.  I have changed the sheets on the beds for Tucker and Lisa and set up the Pack-and Play crib for baby Paul. Since Casey will sleep in her old room at our house on the eve of the wedding, her well-worn panda pillow-case is on her pillow (as a teenager, she cried when I threw out the threadbare matching sheets) and her Pink Bunny and Piglet are propped there too, waiting for her.