–Musing On Celebrations And Monuments: Reception Story
Since we’ve seen a lot of them this last year. Summer and fall waxed sumptuous with weddings in particular– a season of cake, flowers, and fare-thee-wells. I can think of six nuptial celebrations between June and October. These are big events–monumental even–especially when one is at your own door. In my case this summer, in my lap and pulling on my hair.
Because (remember) Maurya, my second daughter, engaged in June, got married at the end of July.
I was the bride-appointed wedding planner. Maurya didn’t want anything to do with planning her party. Happy to schedule the temple for her wedding ceremony, happy to collaborate with her intended on the honeymoon destination, but absolutely no… Not the reception. She was grateful she had a mother to handle it. A couple of years ago, she’d texted me from a friend’s bridal shower: “I’d rather poke my own eyes out than plan my reception.”
(The Reluctant Wedding Planner)
Mother Goose/The Reluctant Wedding Planner
I’d always imagined I’d love carte blanche as wedding planner. I am, after all, right brained…and a romantic. But in real life (with a budget, a bride, and a deadline), it was mostly terrifying. Sometimes, yes, exhilarating (like when the flowers I’d planted in pots began blooming). But then I’d make the mistake of peeking at Pinterest again. Pinterest, riddled with the opulent, the ridiculous, and the beguiling. Host of centuries’ worth of unrealistic expectations. A schizophrenic outgrowth of today’s entitlement paradigm, the DIY movement, and our misogynic history (rank with dowries and mail order/trophy brides). And keeper of some of the prettiest pictures I’ve ever seen. The most tempting pins targeted my adolescent longings for the ethereal with eery acuity: soft lights filtered through gauze, antique urns overflowing with blossoms, Irish linen, vintage chandeliers. Each one promised a world that exists only in photoshopped pictures and fairy tales.
Awkwardly balancing our narrow budget/timeline and my teenage dream/cultural angst—and ignoring the whining of my inner Crazy Puritan Woman (wary of enjoyment, suspicious of abundance, she relishes only the “guilt” in “guilty pleasure”)– we set out to make a reception for our daughter. It helped that Frank is left brained (and OCD); he made lists, took measurements, pre-hung curtains, strung wires, ran cables. It didn’t help that we hadn’t saved for the date, and that we’d learned of the engagement just before we sent Ez off on his mission, whilst in the throes of landscaping our newly acquired bare dirt. Nor did it help that I stubbornly persisted in the belief that I could make everything—bridesmaid’s skirts, groomsmen’s bow ties, wedding cakes, cream puffs, hor d’ouevres, decorations— from scratch (Maurya chose a dress off the rack; she looked simply beautiful, made Dennison’s year, and saved me from myself). As I recall the DIY I feverishly took on, I realize that Crazy Puritan Woman did find a way to assert herself after all. Insisting that Beauty pay in blood, sweat, and tears for her unbridled loveliness.
At any rate, we felt a little deranged sometimes. Occasionally, we whispered to ourselves, “Why Are We Doing This??”. Our only good answer: “Because We Love Maurya And Want Her to Know It”. We do love Maurya (Dennison too), and it is paramount to us that she know it. I think though that last summer, we questioned the efficacy of the means. It seemed, at least for a while, a preposterous way to show love.
(Bride, With Cake Pans)
But The Kindness of People…
Until the week of the reception, when the kindness of people put celebrations and monuments in perspective.
People offered to help, texting and calling from near and far. The offerers were insistent. Apparently, our celebration was important to other people besides us. A friend helped me make tart shells; another helped make cream puffs. I had a cream puff filling party in answer to even more offers of help. Despite my stress-induced ADD and the cream’s nasty tendency to spooge out of the tops of the pastry bags and all over everything bound by the laws of gravity, my friends filled hundreds of cream puffs, saving me at least two sleepless nights of cream puff stuffing all by myself. They even washed all my dishes afterwards.
An aunt and cousin dropped by and chatted while we gathered tulle skirts. Cousins collected empty cans for me (centerpiece containers, a clever idea I may have seen on Pinterest).
One friend lent me tin tubs. Another lent me all her cake pans….arguably enabling me to wander further into the nether reaches of DIY craziness…but in truth, it was so kind (left to my own devices I’m sure I would have tried to make cake pans from tin foil and hub caps). The morning of the wedding, her stack of pans (their mission accomplished) became an abstract but meaningful detail in a couple of Maurya’s bridal photos. Which were taken by my brother in law David Stark, choreographed by my sister Mara Lee (that task alone! the shoot—and the editing afterwards! an unimaginable gift).
My sister Leah became my wedding cake doula, saving me from disaster at the midnight hour by Making The Frosting, using her own favorite recipe. I cannot overstate the save. It was a sort of Sleeping Beauty/finger on the spindle intervention: I’ve only had a handful of cake successes in my life, and was crumbling under the Crazy Puritan Woman dictum that now, on the threshold of my most important cake occasion yet, I would pay for the hubris of thinking I could actually make my own daughter’s wedding cake (notice that Puritan Woman is not only crazy, she’s also a hypocrite: she insisted I DIY everything in the first place). A certainty that Maurya’s reception would be the scene of The Most Epic Cake Fail Of The Century grew ever more perilous in my mind; it was mere hours away from becoming a self-fulfilled prophecy. Leah stepped between me and my self-imposed cake fate with experience, an objective mind, and a delicious whipped cream cheese frosting.
(Scullery Maiding aka The Great Cake Rescue)
(Naked Cake. On Purpose)
My sister Nola showed up with her best friend MacKenzie and flats of blueberries from my parent’s farm. Wafting the nonchalant breeze of Columbia River Gorge Bohemia—very relaxing. Granted, the blueberries weren’t originally meant for us. But somehow, they became ours… some even made their way onto the wedding cakes. Not enough good things can be said about home grown blueberries, Northwest breezes, or the bearers of them.
Another dear friend and his wife agreed to man the refreshment tables (despite the fact that he was recovering from a tumor and a collapsed lung). She asked me, “So, how do you want me to do this? Do you need a Refreshment Nazi, telling all the little kids that they can only have one, or do you want me to hover invisibly in the background, and refill as needed?” Her husband just smiled his mellow smile. When it came to it, their Un-invisible, gracious friendliness lent warmth and ease to the party. I don’t think anyone else could have done better.
Raising The Barn
The day of the wedding, we had three hours to set up for the party afterward. I had no idea how we’d pull it off…but there was the kindness of people again. My parents, Frank’s parents, my siblings, Frank’s siblings, nieces, nephews…some helping in the kitchen with hor d’oevres, some packing sparkly breakable things in boxes to be moved to the party site. Some hanging lights and curtains at the bowery, some loading and unloading furniture (yes, furniture), boxes, food, and really heavy pots full of flowers. It was like moving day…and we had all just that morning been to a wedding (and a luncheon put on by the groom’s parents in between–a delightful affair done with excellent taste)! Yet no one complained about the insanity of it…no one griped about the wedding planner, the demented person who wanted an entire house moved There and Back Again in one evening, just for a party. As a matter of fact, everywhere I turned, people said the nicest things about how beautifully it was coming together, or asked how they could help now. Instead of feeling exhausted, I was buoyed up. Crazy Puritan Woman shuffled her feet in the dusty yard, packed her black valise, and trudged back to Massachusetts in her ugly, practical shoes.
The party was magical. We felt so loved (it struck me then, still seems to me now, that attending each other’s celebrations is an act of generosity, a social kindness, and I am grateful for it). Our daughter and her groom were emotionally present (contrary to the culturally held standard for newlyweds), and beaming. My sister Nola helped with the music (she’s got great taste in music), and my brother Daniel spontaneously orchestrated a chair dance like the one in Fiddler on the Roof. We had a multitude of photographers, from my nephew Doug, who had rigged up a digital “mobile photo booth”, to my sister Andie, who asked people to kiss each other as she took photos, to Mara and David who made the wedding party look fabulous. I couldn’t have asked for more. It was one of the highest points of my life (“Sunrise, Sunset” kept going through my head—also “I Cannot Believe it, Did You Ever See A Night Like This”). And when it came to an end, people were still there—plus more! Big burly Barney cousins (and Super Kent), Aunt Marcielle and her van. So many people helped clean up. It came down fast. A miracle to me.
(Chair Dance, a’ la Fiddler on The Roof)
We–with our community– had built a monument. More than a beautiful tribute to Maurya and Dennison (and a communal pledge of hope and confidence in the life they’ve ventured into), it was a deeply generous expression of love for all of us. No man (or woman) is an island (Except maybe for Crazy Puritan Woman–but then she’s just a figment of someone’s imagination).
I’ve never experienced an actual barn-raising, but I like to think it would feel similar to our celebration/monument building, how it gathers a community in a cooperative spirit, creates the bond of not only a common goal, but also a common affection. And how it marks the significance of an event—a beginning, an embarking, a promise of future good will. How it is both celebratory and rigorous, all at once.
I’ll end with snapshots of Maurya and Dennison’s celebration, and a few from a couple of other wedding receptions/barn raisings I visited this summer and fall. I so love all these folks…
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch….(Chase and Alicia’s Reception in Central Oregon)
And in Rexburg, Kissing my Favorite Leprechauns at Kenya & Larry’s Wedding
(Photos Courtesy Primarily of David & Mara Stark and Doug Leonard, also Andrea Hill,
Frank. And me.)