Monday, October 3, 2011

Sometimes You Go Home: The Wedding

The wedding ceremony was held at the lake/reservoir that supplies the town's drinking water, as well as a place to camp and party. My grandfather helped build the dam that blocked the river decades ago. Some people--not saying who--used to drink beer, smoke dope and make out sit in their cars and read the Bible up on Reefer Hill, which is to the right of the scene in this photo. To my knowledge, no weddings have ever been performed on Reefer Hill, although it's possible some actions taken there eventually resulted in weddings.

Every wedding I've performed had its own unique feel. I've done traditional Christian weddings, traditional secular, Buddhist/Pagan, Pagan, same sex, different sex. It doesn't matter to me. I work with the bride and groom to create a unique ceremony that reflects their personalities and beliefs. I've never performed the same ceremony twice, and even if I did, the people involved make each one distinct and special.*

One of the best things about performing weddings is never knowing what will happen: whether a torrential rain will stop before an outside wedding or whether a gathering storm will hold off until we're done; whether the bride will drink one too many Jack and cokes in the coat room; whether the groom will secretly change the recessional song to "Oops!...I Did It Again."  I tell couples not to worry about whether the wedding will be perfect, because the best stories come from the things that surprise us or go wrong. So I've done quite a few non-traditional weddings, but my sister Biker Babe's wedding was the first Harley Davidson wedding I've officiated at. Yep, my baby sister had a biker wedding.

I could write and write about BB's wedding and about the people who came. I hadn't seen some of them in decades. Some I never care to see again after that day. And some I probably won't see again unless I go home for a funeral. I could write a book, but don't worry. I won't. I'll just share some snapshots of the day....and maybe someday I will write that book and arrange to have it published posthumously.

Since I can't write the book here though, I'm going to make a list of....let's call them snapshots of that day. And then I will tell one story in a post of its own, because it has nothing to do with the wedding and everything to do with taking back my soul.
  • My baby sister has never looked as beautiful as she did that day, in her white skirt and fitted shirt with Harley printed across the back in silver script. I hope she felt as gorgeous as she looked, and I hope she can keep that feeling with her now that she's back to real life again.
  • I was the only one who didn't wear Harley clothes. I don't have any, but someday I will wear leathers when I'm riding behind Gary. I did wear a little black dress--first time I've officiated at a wedding in a black dress. People don't expect the minister to fit into the theme anyway.
  • The groom's sister brought a cooler of PBR Busch Light to the before-the-ceremony photo session. Although BB had told her beloved he was not to drink before the wedding, he only had two and he's big enough to hold a couple of twelve-packs before he has to belch, so he wasn't in trouble. In fact, when I went to the van where she was waiting for the ceremony to start to have my usual pre-game talk, BB had one in her coozie too.**
  • BB and her beloved wanted the ceremony to be funny, so they wrote funny bits about the Hawkeyes and shopping into their vows. When I said in the welcome that my friends back home did a double-take when I said I was going to Iowa to marry my sister .... ba da boom ... it took the celebrants a few beats to get it and laugh. It set them up for the big laugh when I accidentally said "blonde" instead of "bond" later and had to apologize to my sister, my blonde sister, for yet another blonde joke.
  • The groom was afraid he would laugh during the ceremony. Most of them worry about that. They horse around during the rehearsal because they're afraid to be too serious in front of people, and then they end up with tears in their eyes during the actual ceremony. Tough guys. He didn't laugh.
  • I saw relatives I hadn't seen in years. One of my aunts is suffering from dementia, but she knew me, both when they got there and when they left. She called me by my nickname, and in the parking lot as they were leaving she said, "Do you still have the quilt?" My grandma had started the quilt for me and then died before she could finish it. My aunt had  one of Grandma's friends finish it and then surprised me by sending it to me. I hugged her and said, "Yes, I still have the quilt. The yellow quilt." She smiled and said, "Yes, the yellow one." She smiled a lot that night and seemed happy to be there ... but even though she was right there with us, I missed her. And I'm so glad I got to see her.
  • The bride and groom drove away from the wedding on his big orange Harley, kids running behind, and stopped at a bar for a drink on their way to the reception at the country club. We had the roast pork, brisket, potato and macaroni salad and rolls out, and everybody had staked out a place to sit at the long tables. The bikers, who weren't invited to the wedding, were congregated outside smoking. Finally I called BB and said, "Get your ass over here to your own wedding reception. We're all starving." (When you're both the oldest and the minister, people are supposed to do what you say.) She said they were already on their way, but you can't fake talking on a cell phone from the back of a Harley. She lied to the minister on her wedding day. That's all I'm saying.
  • Since it was a Harley wedding, I designed the marriage certificate with the Harley logo in the background and printed it on orange paper instead of parchment. All of the guests got cute orange and hot pink coozies with the bride and groom's names on the Harley logo on them too. I brought home three because I didn't have any coozies. (You just don't put a glass of wine in a coozie. C'mon.)

The bottom says "Game Over."

  • The country club has a 9-hole golf course and a clubhouse. In the clubhouse are a kitchen and two rooms, the big one with the dance floor that overlooks the downstairs patio and golf course and one smaller for whatever. The bar is downstairs. Drinks are $3 for well liquor and $4 for premium, served in a plastic cup. They'll stick a Tony's frozen pepperoni pizza in the microwave for you too. If you fall down the stairs to the bar, it's time to stop dancing and just stay downstairs at the bar. If you fall up, you're OK to dance until you fall down.
  • Something happened that knocked my knees out from under me right before BB got there--something I'll write about in a separate post--so I escaped downstairs to the bar to get Suzy another vodka and tonic. I told the bartender to pour slow, because nobody else was down there and I needed a moment. Just as I paid him, a tall familiar guy came down the stairs. I screamed and ran to him and he picked me way up in his arms, about four feet off the ground. Finally I said, "Better put me down. I think my panties are showing." And he said, "It's nothing I haven't seen before....and I'm not even wearing any panties today." It was my very first best friend, and later my first crush, Steve. We walked to kindergarten together. His mom would walk him up the the block to our house, and then we'd take off together to walk the 3/4 mile or so to school. I can't imagine any moms letting two 5-year-olds walk that far out of their sight these days, but we made it to school and home every day in time for lunch. I hadn't seen Steve in years, but he was one those serendipitous gifts that shows up just at the moment you need somebody to lift you up in his arms and make you forget why you want to crawl in the van and leave spraying gravel. We got a chance to catch up a little bit, share photos of our grandbabies, and later to dance--even a slow dance--and show up the youngsters with a little disco. It was like high school, except that I danced with his wife too.
  • I missed my dad. He died of a sudden heart attack at age 46, when I was 24 and BB was just 12. He's missed a lot over the years....
  • After dinner I danced a lot and drank a little and caught up with a lot of people. The groom's biker friends--who were all very tall for some reason--flirted and bought drinks for me at the bar. They were sweet and edgy at the same time. A couple of them would be really hard to handle drunk and pissed off. They liked drinking with the red-headed minister though. Not everybody hates gingers.
  • However it was neither the bikers nor any of the rednecks there who caused a big drunken scene that embarrassed the hell out of Suzy and me and shouldn't ever have taken place in front of my sister's kids (and new in-laws and friends). I'm not going to write that story, but it's the final event that made me want to pack my van and tear out of there that night instead of early the next morning. Several things happened that night that the kids shouldn't have witnessed, but they never need to see an adult lose his temper and yell obscenities at other people. I can forgive almost anything that happens to me, but I don't forgive when kids are involved. Especially that night.
Suzy, Mom, her husband, and I left while people were still partying. I'd pronounced the marriage and signed the marriage license, so my job was done. BB told me before I left--knowing she wouldn't see me again before I took off--that her wedding had been perfect, just what she dreamed it would be. So my memory of that night is divided between the joy of my baby sister's wedding and the other two events that had nothing to do with her or the wedding, but that hit me like an emotional wrecking ball. It's very easy to keep the two separate though. I have no regrets about driving home to perform BB's wedding. It was a privilege I wouldn't have missed. And there were some people there that night I've known all my life but may never see again. It's always that way when you live far from home though. Somebody's always gone the next time you go back. And somebody always reminds you, in one way or another, why you should be very very careful with the people you love.

* Although I will never get married again--ever--I love performing weddings. Love it. If I could make a living just officiating at weddings, I would do that for the rest of my life. Every one tells its own story, and I always feel privileged to be a part of each story, even as an outsider. It's even more amazing when it's someone I'm close to, like when I did my cousin and her wife's wedding a couple of years ago, and now my sister's. It's one of life's gifts.
** Everybody in my hometown uses a coozie on their beer can, even if they're sitting at the kitchen table drinking a beer after work. Oh, you thought I meant readers have such dirty minds. That's coozie, not coochie. A coozie is a foam sleeve you slide onto a beverage can. You'd have to be pretty drunk to mistake one for a coochie.

Leaving the wedding Harley style!


  1. Going home is always a wonderfully terrible experience for me. I sincerely hope the wonderful outweighed the terrible for you.

  2. Even the terrible left me with a couple of valuable epiphanies. But it was definitely wonderful to marry my sister. :-)

  3. It was a wonderful day and I'm sorry that anything bad came out of it! You would think with Bikers and Rednecks there would have been some fist fights but only one fight (I missed it)! I believe that all those big, tall manly men understand they could hurt each other badly - and don't want any! It was a fabulous weekend and if you didn't notice; I saw moisture in the tough guy's eyes during the ceremony (he will deny it). And thank you for the compliment! I just know I was happy to be marrying my soulmate!

  4. It was a wonderful day, BB. A beautiful day. Anything bad that happened had nothing to do with the wedding. And I had a ball with those big, tall manly bikers. I wish I could have brought a couple of them home with me!

    Indeed there was moisture in the tough guy's eyes. He might deny it in public, but the three of us know the truth, don't we? How could he not be moved to tears knowing he'll spend his life with the most beautiful woman there?

    Love you.

  5. Okay, I informed the Big Guy that you told everyone that he was drinking PBR and he flipped out a little. Therefore, I have been asked (ordered?) to make this amendment... he has never and will never drink PBR. It was Busch Light and that is what accounts for them all being exceptionally on the tall side (he has no scientific proof of this). I just made him laugh while brushing his teeth; which could be a choking hazard! I'm not sure why he wasn't capable of making this distinction on here but I have done as doesn't happen often and someone should write that on a calendar somewhere!

  6. How am I supposed to see through a damn coozie? Everybody else was drinking PBR and it's not because they're trendy hipster types.

    I have corrected my mistake.