Weddings are noted in art and literature as wonderful opportunities to observe the human animal in some very raw moments and we were all coming to Houston for a wedding not really knowing what to expect.
A few of us were arriving on a Tuesday before the wedding and expected a quiet evening before the others arrived, but there was enough to do that even the quiet had a chattery quality to it and we waited for the others to arrive because there were still so many small but important details to be sorted out with only days and hours to the wedding.
A set of grandparents would arrive, then another with a precious aunt in tow, then a van with a trailer; grew up Amish but had been adopted in her late teens. The maternal grandfather was not there with his new wife and the maternal grandmother was to arrive with her “friend,” Whitey, a little later. (We had been told that the grandmother was struggling against lung cancer to make the seeing of her granddaughter getting married one of the last things she did.) So it was unspokenly clear that between the recent Amishness of the bridesmaid and the separateness of the maternal grandparents there was still some sort of recovery being worked out.
Friends of the bride and groom arrived by plane, by cars of their own and one even arrived in the bed of a pickup belonging to a stranger because he would rather hitchhike than miss his friend’s wedding. So the groom’s parents’ house was filled with layers of generations that each had their own reasons for being present: Some were there because in some way they were saying goodbye to the children they had raised, some because this couple was the first in their set to make a move toward something they had considered and they wanted to see it from the first to determine if the risk was worth taking themselves, some for the adventure, and one – at least – because she wanted to see with her own eyes that in some form her life might go on beyond her own time.
Each day to the wedding had its own random pattern that meant all of these varied people who would never have known each other under typical circumstances were forced to adjust their various comfort zones and scruples to share meals with each other and find commonalities to discuss. One would enjoy alcohol and another would try not to be offended by it, one would try not to take umbrage that the person nearest them firmly believed there was a heaven they were certain enough of that they were unconsciously resigning others to a hell that was possibly less harsh than one they had already been pulled from. A miraculous balance that was at first awkward and then unnoticed governed these meals and will be one the marking things I take from the event.
On the evening of the wedding rehearsal we all made our way to the chapel the chapel to get an idea of what would take place the following day. The grandmother of the bride had not yet made it, but was supposed to be present that night at the chapel. The proceedings held for her, but in the end had to go forward so the service coordinator could get back to her family and we all learned where to be at what cue and whom would signal to whom at the appropriate time. It was getting to the end of the run-through when a very slight woman with short grey hair, a gentle, warm smile and wearing a summer dress slid into the room and into the last pew just in time to hear her granddaughter sing with two of her sisters and conclude the rehearsal.
The grandmother cried in frustration at missing so much and the groom’s mother – not quite understanding that the tears were for more than just the rehearsal – reassured her that she was there for the most important part. Before everyone headed back to the Groom’s parents’ house for a rehearsal dinner the maternal grandmother introduced herself as Sharon.
When Sharon was complimented on her earrings it came out that she was very fond of jewelry and used to manage the jewelry department of a Macy’s back home in Wisconsin. Except…Sharon did not say that she used to do so; she said she was on leave and hoped to return to work very soon because she needed to stay busy.
It was not time in Sharon’s mind to talk of things in her own life in the past tense. She had enough to think of in her very short present; let those who would outlive her sort such things later.
The wedding day came humid and clear and everything that should have been ready was so. Tuxedos and dresses and stained glass did what it is that tuxedos and dresses and stained glass are supposed to do on such occasions and the wedding could not have been better.
It occurred to Sharon as she stood in the entry to the chapel that her own mother was fond of saying there were three sides to every story – his, hers and what the rest of the universe saw – and that this would be the advice she would pass on to the new couple.
As the evening wore on with its dancing, eating, laughing and the many goodbyes that marked the start of something new I thought to myself that it did not do just now to worry too much about the future and that maybe the groom’s mother – my mother – had been right when comforting Sharon at the rehearsal: She had, we had, been there for the best part and the future would have to be someone else’s to watch for.