Monday, April 15, 2013

A Toast


His beard, white and as long as my uncle’s, is an indicator that I am outside my usual frame of reference spent amongst well shorn military personnel. My cousin had to ask this man one of the harder questions of his life, “Do I have your permission to date your daughter?” I haven’t lived among these men who work with their hands and brawn long enough to know intimately the codes, phrases, and ways operating below the surface, but I get that there is more said with fewer words. I am here to attend my cousin’s wedding.

The day is bright, crisp, with a gusty breeze. The sky is blue. We pass pine tree after pine tree before turning down an unfamiliar tree lined drive. It leads to a rambling house sitting atop a gentle slope, rented for the occasion. Green grass sets the house off like a jewel and ends at the water’s edge. An arbor stands at attention off to the side of six chairs under a lone oak tree’s shade. My cousin has built the arbor with the bride’s brothers. He tells us, “It’s not going nowhere. It weighs six hundred pounds.” The names of the bride and groom have been burnt into the wood along the top arch. It is adorned with a bouquet of roses on each side. Between the light and the lake’s sparkle, the setting’s starkness lends a solemnity and gentleness to the day.

The boys have smoked meat all night. The bride’s mother plays flute. I join in to help with a few finishing decorating touches. We roll white fabric for the aisle down to the arbor and pin it with tent stakes. The minister arrives with his white and green vestments. Eventually he calls us all to assemble. Guests scramble to bring folding chairs from the covered patio down to the lawn, most of us opting for the shade.

In their black suits the groom and four groomsmen span to one side. They have all known the bride since childhood, they are my cousin and her brothers. The bridesmaids, hidden away to dress and primp, emerge with striking black and white chevron designed dresses, coifed hair, and more roses. The bride’s father wearing a white embroidered shirt, like a Greek fisherman’s, and jeans, escorts the bride wearing a white strapless mermaid dress with a tulip skirt and train.  She carries a large bouquet of red roses. He chats with her as they pass. Afterward he walks back down the aisle to take a chair at the very back, but dead center, where he sips a beer from a table, quiet now.

The ceremony finishes with the official, “you may kiss the bride.” Guests return to the patio with its protective grape arbor covering, a reprieve from the sun and elevated just enough to catch the air moving. The wedding party photos are taken. It is time to eat, talk, and celebrate in the shade outside surrounded by trees. The light's gleam bouncing off the lake lends a magical quality to a perfect day.

A toast is called for as it nears time to cut the cake. The best man glosses over that his best friend has married his little sister with a quick, "Here's to the bride and groom."

The bride’s father is called up. He says, “I don’t know half of you here, but I’ve known this boy (gesturing to my cousin) since he was this high” as he puts his hand out about three feet from the ground. My cousin is six feet five inches tall now. He has known this man most of his life.

The father continues, “First of all I never thought he would live this long!” There is an appreciative chuckle from the crowd. My cousin has only the weekend before jumped out of a helicopter, sky dives as much as he can, and generally is known to ride the rails of life. "I’d do anything for him." There is a pause where you know he means this and probably has done it. With a smile twitching beneath his beard he says, "I damn sure never expected him to marry my daughter!” Everyone laughs because no one else expected this either-- they are ten years apart. He finishes with, “Hugs and Kisses! Kiss for you (he kisses his daughter) and hugs for you (he grasps my cousin in a bear hug).”

Here, here, xo.