On very few occasions have each and every member of my family agreed – to the very last man, woman and English-speaking child – about anything. In small groups, we agree on relatively minor things, say:
+ Broccoli and macaroni can make a tasty salad.
+ …okay, we agree broccoli and macaroni can make a tasty salad but only if the broccoli is crisp and the macaroni is al dente and the salad dressing is spicy and not too heavy on the olive oil and you present it in a beautiful bowl with nice serving spoons and the temperature outside is a pleasant 74 degrees with a light breeze. Did I tell you to use the extra virgin olive oil three times because you never listen?
Another small group agrees to all those conditions and freshly ground black pepper but the temperature has to be more like 80. I fall into that faction. I don’t know what made me say this.
Tata: Ever watch that show Monk? It’s about an obsessive-compulsive, phobic detective. I know in every scene what’s going to set him off.
Everyone dropped forks, swallowed in a perilous hurry and squealed, “Me too! Me too!” Families have their own kinds of crazy. We count bathroom tiles, level picture frames, wash our hands a few dozen times; none of us can tolerate accidental asymmetry. It’s a good thing we’re good looking because we’re one prescription pad away from medical experiments.
I wolf down lunch. Sharkey’s coming to pick me up at 1 for the 2 p.m. ceremony. Sharkey’s always late – fine by me since Bianca’s making guest appearances on All My Children. He will escort me down the aisle, through the wedding ceremony and throughout dinner so if I throw down my formal cigar box purse and go after a bridemaid, Sharkey will toss me over his shoulder and take me to Time Out. Yes, I’ve got my own bouncer. In the car, I’m too nervous to make conversation. At the church, guests fill the atrium. The same conversation recurs.
Tata: This is my friend Sharkey.
Guest: Your Friend?
Tata: No, my friend. You have friends, right?
Sharkey is a handsome, olive-skinned man with impossibly blue eyes. His black hair is always perfect. My family met him years ago, forgot and met him again, which is fine because despite his prodigious IQ he has the memory of a tse tse fly. We stand in the lobby well after the guests are seated and bored. With the rain, it takes three people to get 90 lb. Miss Sasha out of a limo and into the church’s glass atrium. Bridesmaids and more bridesmaids spill from the long white limo and dash in behind her. I’m standing around without a clue. They ask me what to do.
Five Girls In Navy: Where’s the bride’s room?
Tata: Um…how about this one filled with papier mache?
Five Girls In Navy: Okay!
The wedding planner and Miss Sasha have evaporated into thin air. Sharkey and I stand around picking lint off each other like primate grooming partners. Other than latecomers, the only other people in the lobby are the parents of the groom and the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm). Something’s up. The wedding planner runs by and gives us permission to use the restroom. Someone’s in the stall when I walk in, so I examine my hair.
Tata: Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.
I pass the groom’s mother and lock the door behind me.
In the lobby, we line up and march in. Sharkey’s got me by one arm and good thing because I keep trying to sprint in silver brocade slippers with an adorable kitten heel. I sit down next to my former Mother-In-Law, who couldn’t be more marvelous if she were dipped in gold. Sharkey slides in next to me. My five-year-old nephews Tippycanoe and Tyler Two march to the priest with all the dignity ring-bearing little boys in suits can muster just before they need cookies and naps. The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) delivers the bride to her groom in an arcane series of steps. Yesterday, I described this to Sister #1.
Tata: This. That. This. That. This. That. I said to the priest, “We will never, never remember all this.”
Sister #1: It’s that complicated?
Tata: This Virginia Reel had better have a really good caller.
He sits down next to his mother. The bride and groom turn to face the priest and then it happens. Simultaneously, every member of my family sits up straight and starts twitching. The priest talks. The choir sings. The priest talks. The choir sings. The priest talks and talks. The back of Miss Sasha’s wedding dress has my complete and undivided attention. A bow in the middle of her back appears to have unsnapped and it dangles. I whisper to Sharkey, “The whole left side of the church is trying to fix that bow telepathically.” Meanwhile, my former Mother-In-Law is narrating in the way only older people get away with.
fMIL: That is a lovely dress. Of course, she’s a beautiful girl. It’s too bad about the rain. Your cousins look marvelous in their gowns. Which one is your sister? Have you ever been in this church before? That’s your mother’s choir, isn’t it? They’re not with the church. What beautiful voices! Isn’t that Tom with the choir too? Is he singing? I’m so glad, that makes it special…
I am not at all encouraging her by asking questions. That would be rude.
A year later, the best man comes to escort me to the altar, where I am inexplicably trusted with something ON FIRE. Up the steps, off to the left and my wrist corsage gets caught on a flower arrangement behind me. The assembled gasp. I yank my arm free, though I fail to break anything. I light the candle and CLOP CLOP CLOP back to my seat. Everyone laughs.
fMIL: That really lightened the mood!
Tata: Thank you, darling!
The priest talks some more. The choir sings. The priest talks. He announces the happy couple’s going to give their mothers flowers and mmmpyouhhyyyoppphhhhh. That’s what I heard. The kids hand me a bouquet. I buss them both on the cheeks. They give his mother flowers and everyone kisses some more. They have a third bouquet.
Tata: Where are they going?
Sharkey: They’re giving flowers to the “Virgin Mother”.
He makes little quotes with his fingers.
Tata: That’s idolatry!
The happy couple says “I do” and “I do” early on in this ceremony so we all think we’re waiting for a pronouncement of “husband and wife” or “bowling partners” or something recognizable. It never happens. The people with the new monogram smile and walk back up the aisle. The bridal party looks baffled. They get up and march out. The rest of us follow. A small army of women waving safety pins forms a wedding dress pit crew, spending the rest of the evening chasing and re-pinning that stubborn bow because we will all go mad if it’s crooked another second.
Tata: Play Point&Laugh with these Italians you don’t resemble in the least but are somehow exactly like.
Sharkey: I’m hoarse from laughing at you and my pointing finger is sore.
Receiving lines were invented by the Spanish Inquisition. It can be no other way. I smile stiffly and say, “Thank you for coming” to people I want to talk to and people I hope to never meet in small claims court. After the guests dutifully depart the church we’re all photographed more. And more after that.
We hit the road and Route 1 is instantly socked in with an accident. The guests are on the other side of it; the families and the wedding party will have to be especially clever to get to the reception at all. Sharkey blows through the farm roads. Somewhere there’s a bartender with our names on him. The hunt is ON.