Miss Sasha has lived in Charleston, South Carolina long enough to attend some weddings. She enjoys the traditions her new friends incorporate into their nuptuals like softball games, organized visits to beauty parlors, tons of gifts, dinners, barbecues and shopping excursions. What she failed to realize in the planning of her wedding was that neither the families nor the ceremony were located in South Carolina. We’re in New Jersey. Here, we bathe and primp, attend the service and/or the reception, and gifts are offered in a whirlwind of love, resentment and hair care products while everyone taps their watches. Thus, we gather for a barbecue at 1 p.m. the day after the wedding with a mixture of impatience and condiments. My mother calls twice before 10 to discuss that mass grave of fried chicken parts occupying the top shelf of my fridge.
Tata: I was planning to throw the whole tray into a 250 degree oven while I shower and dress.
Mom: Have you looked under the foil?
Tata: No. I can’t meet a friend or blood relation without them shoving food at me this week. The fried chicken had no reason to fear me.
Mom: Look under the foil.
Tata: It’s Chicken Armageddon in there! Why are we cooking anything else?
While I walk around a one bedroom apartment picking up detritus from my week of running from room to room shouting, “I MEANT TO DO THAT!” and “I MEANT TO DO THAT TOO!” the chicken heats on three big pans in my oven. I have all the time in the world to do this because Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, decided at 5 a.m. it was time for me to wake up and play with him. Just before Mamie picks me up, I toss the chicken into one of those blue speckled roasting pans, which I tie shut with some tulle. Yes, I ALWAYS have tulle. The storebought pies go in a department store bag with handles. It’s a lot to carry. Unfortunately, every member of my family brings twice as much.
Originally, the barbecue was going to be at Mom’s house but that plan went straight to Hell when Sister #1 had her baby and Mom spent two weeks changing diapers, so we’re setting up at the clubhouse in #1’s condo development. Mamie and I show up half an hour late. For the next hour and a half, members of Miss Sasha’s family show up and ask the same question: where’re the newlyweds?
We have a fine barbecue without them. We eat, sit around talking, eat again, sit around talking, eat a third time. We aren’t making a dent in the food. Three dozen people stare at each other with horror when Mom suggests we’re not eating enough. Some conversations happen over and over all day.
Topic A: Fashion
Celebrant 1: Did you see that guy in the guinea T at the wedding?
Celebrant 2: NO!
Celebrant 1: Yes! I looked over and there was a guy in dress shoes, dress pants and a guinea T!
Celebrant 2: Was it his formal wifebeater?
Topic B: Hotel-Related
Celebrant 1: Did you go to the after-party?
Celebrant 2: I didn’t. I heard the party didn’t break up until 11:30 this morning.
Celebrant 1: Going home in daylight sucks. I don’t do that anymore.
Celebrant 2: When other people are on their way to work, put down your beer and go to bed.
Topic C: Sharkey
Tata: Wonder where Sharkey is…
Celebrant 1: How long have you two been dating?
Tata: We’re not dating. He’s my friend. I told you that yesterday.
Celebrant 1: You’re not dating? I thought you were dating.
Tata: When my lips move do you think you’re hearing voices?
Topic D: The Cake
Celebrant 1: We’re having the Gaston Avenue hazelnut cake because the wedding cake was wrong.
Celebrant 2: Wrong? What was wrong with it?
Celebrant 1: Did you notice the display cake at the beginning of the reception was different from the one half an hour later?
Celebrant 2: Cardboard? Legos? PlayDoh?
Celebrant 1: The Pines put out the wrong cake. Then they put out a second wrong cake. They served the second wrong cake. So we’re having Gaston Avenue now.
Celebrant 2: Awesome. I’d eat that off a garbage can lid!
Topic E: The Kids Playing Outside
Celebrants 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12: Who’s crying?
Topic F: The Future
Celebrant 1: I am so glad that fucking wedding is over!
Celebrants 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12: Me, too!
Celebrant 1: I get my life back!
Celebrants 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12: Me, too!
The happy couple arrives around 6. I take one look at her and start twitching again. At the rehearsal, several members of the bridal party wore tshirts:
maid of honor
Miss Sasha is wearing a tshirt so post-post-post-feminist, I am speechless with rage for half an hour:
Mrs. [insert groom’s last name]
She doesn’t come near me. Later, Mamie is introduced to Darla, Dad’s third wife. She is brilliant, confident, cuter than bright buttons and Canadian. Darla, Mamie and I sit with Dad. Dara, bored, sits down. Mom, who is not Dara’s mother, asks if Dara’s had enough to eat. My little sister – like everyone else – is stuffed and says so.
[By the way, if you’re reading this and you’re a Brit: I know exactly what you’re thinking and you’re thinking it about a thirteen-year-old, you freaking pervert. Quit it!]
A thing unprecedented happens. Mom addresses Dad, slides her hands under Dara’s armpits, lifts her a bit and shakes. This is highly uncharacteristic behavior. It hangs in the air for a second, then Dad doubles over. She is making a joke only she and Dad understand. In my 42 years, this may never have happened in my presence and since the seventies, they have few nice things to say about one another. They tell us a story I’ve never heard before.
Dad: There was a restaurant in a house on Easton Avenue in Somerset. The restaurant was run by a big woman and there was no menu. Mama would take a look and decide what you wanted. “You will have the pork chops. You look like the turkey to me.” And then she would bring you that.
Mom: Vegetables came in large bowls.
Mamie: Served family style –
I kick Mamie under the table. She wordlessly threatens me with a plastic fork. The story continues.
Dad: Exactly! Family style. There was no such thing as “I’m full.” Once, I said. “I’m full” and she grabbed me under the arms –
Mom: She lifted him up –
Dad: She shook me from side to side like this –
Dad shakes himself like a ten-foot Eastern European woman is making a heavily-accented point with him.
Dad: Then she says –
Mom: “Now you eat more!”
Dad: “Now you eat more!” In self-defense, I DID!
My brother and Sister #1 – younger than me, and who may not remember when our parents were still married – sit at a table maybe 15 feet behind Mom and Mom’s husband Tom, who sits down between Mom and Darla. I wish desperately my siblings could eavesdrop on the conversation but jumping up and down and shouting, “GET A LOAD OF THIS…!” would disrupt the congenial mood.
We are drinking white wine. Mom, Darla and I are very concerned when the wine we’re drinking runs out. Mom opens two bottles. Dad picks up one and shakes his head. Jubilant in a moment of experimentation, we all talk at once.
Mom: So regular bottle or Dysfunctional Family size?
Dad: Don’t drink that. You will find it very un-tasty.
Darla: This is terrible! Taste that!
Tata: Go put the regular bottle on the table with all the nursing mothers. They won’t drink it and we look very generous!
Mom goes, comes back with the bottle.
Mom: #1 said the same thing.
Dad: The pinot grigio in the Dysfunctional Family size, then.
Tata: I wonder where Sharkey’s been all day.
Mom: I like him. How long have you been dating?
Tata: We dated years ago for a matter of minutes. We’re friends.
Dad: I like him but –
Mom: He’s not our favorite of your exes.
Dad: We liked Ned but –
Mom: We liked him but not for you –
Tata: Did you say “we”?
Mom: We liked the most recent one.
Dad: He was smart.
Tata: You said “we!” Paulie’s great. We’re fast friends.
Mom: So who’s next? Got a new amour?
Tata: I can’t be trusted to pick a lover without a Sherpa guide and a guard dog?
Dad: How about a quorum and a detective agency?
The most important conversation of the day isn’t a joy for anyone. Darla, Mamie and I are minding our own business – possibly talking writing or politics – when Mrs. Lost Her Own Identity makes her way over to us.
Tata: It is taking every ounce of restraint I have not to rip that shirt off you.
Mrs. Missing: Mommy, I’m just going to enjoy this for one week, then –
Tata: Enjoy WHAT? Being someone else’s PROPERTY?
Darla: I can’t believe you took his name!
Mrs. Missing: I’m just going to enjoy being Mrs. Sasha for one week –
Tata: You can be Sasha or you can be Mrs. [insert his name] but not both. Miss Manners frowns on it.
Darla: It’s true! One or the other. And the meaning of it is ownership.
Mamie gets up. She’s been listening to me bitch about the blood vessel I almost burst at the reception last night and she knows I’m going to bitch about this topic for weeks to come. She figures she’ll get ten minutes of Shut Up, Tata now. Darla takes my point and runs with it. For once, when I’m tired of talking I tag a teammate who doesn’t turn out to wrestle for the other team. Mrs. I Won’t Think And You Can’t Make Me dismisses us with a good natured wave and sashays off to play with the kids.
A good time is had by all. A stroke is not actually had by me.
By the time Mamie and I leave, my braces have stabbed very painful holes in my tongue and I can’t talk anymore. That’s okay. Everyone knows what I think without another word.