Infatuation is when you think he’s as sexy as Robert Redford, as smart as Henry Kissinger, as noble as Ralph Nader, as funny as Woody Allen, and as athletic as Jimmy Connors. Love is when you realize that he’s as sexy as Woody Allen, as smart as Jimmy Connors, as funny as Ralph Nader, as athletic as Henry Kissinger and nothing like Robert Redford – but you’ll take him anyway.
~ Judith Viorst, Redbook, 1975
It’s always a bit unsettling to learn the facts.
When it comes to most events, especially those of which we were never an integral part, we tend to carry around a romanticized set of mental images and ideas of how things went down.
Consider this happy bunch of folks. Decked out in jet black suits and red, ruffled gowns. They’re smiling. All the ducks are in a row. Everyone just said “Cheese!”
Except this one:
That’s my Uncle Jerry. My dad’s brother. And he’s clearly not paying attention. Perhaps he’s daydreaming. Wondering when he’ll get to walk the aisle at his own wedding. Or, knowing my Uncle Jerry, odds are good that there’s a bacon sandwich somewhere close by and he’s contemplating a way to get to it. Rapidly.
Or maybe it was the terror he abided just getting to the church. For, as my mom told me just the other day, several days shy of forty years since the wedding of my parents, the weather did not cooperate.
According to the almanac information I Googled just this morning, the temperatures hovered in the low-to-mid 20s, and there was “Rain and/or melted snow reported during the day.”
Apparently, that doesn’t begin to cover it.
The rain? The melting snow? It froze. It took my grandparents over two hours to drive the seventeen miles from their door to the ceremony. Others arrived so unfashionably late that they ended up delaying the service almost thirty minutes.
I’d never heard this part of the story before.
And it might help explain that bewildered look my uncle is sporting in these very expensive wedding photos. Two hours in the car with my grandmother? Yeah, that’d do it.
With other parts of the story that led to this day, February 14, 1970, I am intimately familiar. That this was the second marriage for my father. His first ended just four months earlier when my mom passed away. My dad has shared with me bits and pieces of moments he just barely lived through during those four months, and they are dark and hellish.
Of these five people, let’s just say a majority of them didn’t really care to see this day happen. Things were going too fast. The silly kids weren’t ready. Only they weren’t kids. And they have made it.
Not that they haven’t had their share of challenges. Well, one handful in particular. See that dwarf in the front there, with the form-fitting brown suit?
With the finger in his eye? Yours truly. Apparently I was having none of that picture taking nonsense. Just show me the way to the Lincoln logs and no one will get hurt. Or have their big day ruined any further.
And, Oh! What a day! There was face-sucking . . .
. . . cake-noshing . . .
. . . and bouquet-tossing goodness.
This photo gets me every time. I can hear the laughter reverberating through the hall. The cackle that my cousin Retha must have let loose as she charged in. The sudden exhalations of joy as my mom tilted her head back and clapped her hands at the craziness of it all. She has always loved a good laugh.
I see what my dad saw in her. I mean, my GOD, just look at that smile!
Yet, I’ve seen her frown. And I’ve seen her cry. The kind of crying that starts deep inside and then just erupts in hot tears and words rendered unspeakable by pains not physical but universal. I caused no small amount of heartache over the years. But she is still here. She’s always been here. In my heart, where things are muddy at times but sunny on the days when I choose to remember that she loves me. To think about how she took me and my dad into her arms and gave us a home. Where that smile means we are cherished, honored, respected, and loved.
I shudder to think of where I’d be today if it weren’t for her.
For them, really.
They made it. The story is theirs to share. And I’m honored to have been a part of it.
For forty years.
And all the years yet to come . . .