Throwing in the Towel

Pink bath towel set.

It was a simple task. Maybe it wasn’t really that simple since there was already a task in the queue. She would call them “errands.” She had no idea what he would call them.

The goal was a simple wedding, and, as far as weddings go it was. The time frame between “will you marry me” through “I do” was a week shy of three months. They conned a priest into marrying them in a church and selected the #2 readings with full mass. Honestly the only criteria for the service was to avoid the “submit to thy husband” reading. Any of the other Old or New Testament love readings would be fine. A box checked.

There was a maid of honor and a best man, no additional maids or bearers. She told the maid to pick out a dress that would be appropriate to the best man’s tuxedo. And any color. Except white. There were many compliments to the bride over the maid’s sartorial selection.

She bought her own dress off the rack from the fancier department store. It was left over from prom. She had a choice among four or five white or near white frocks. She was very happy with the one she bought. And it was on sale, too.

The reception would be in his huge group house where there had been many large parties with multiple keg runs. He had a roommate who had access to wholesale booze, and they found a caterer that would bring food and a cake and wouldn’t charge for the champagne flutes even though they were only pouring and not supplying the bubbles.

Her sole requirement for the catering was that they show up. She didn’t care what the food tasted like as long as it was there before the guests. When the caterer mentioned a bakery he worked with, she enthusiastically said “Yes!” even before he could sell her on the the airy, buttery cake with raspberries spread between the layers. Her only request was that the bride and groom at the top of the cake was a man and a woman. Done and done!

The week of the wedding was pretty busy. There was family and friends coming from across the country–at least one, and perhaps as many as six, said that they had to witness him say, “I do.” There was a house that they closed on two days before the wedding. And there were two separate households to move into the freshly mortgaged cottage.

He and his best man were heading off to pick up the three tuxedos, one for the father of the bride, too. This is where the simple task came in. She realized that there were no decent finger towels for the bathroom.

“When you guys are out, can you pick up some hand towels for the bathroom? Pink, please. And if they don’t have pink, white would be fine.”

The time to the rehearsal began to close in like the trash compactor in Star Wars. There were amazing wedding elves moving furniture about, sweeping and mopping, and artfully hanging these ridiculous white paper bells and twists of gray and pink crepe paper, but the list of things to do was still daunting. She was becoming overwhelmed. He knew. She didn’t know, so much.

She needed to get her clothes and check into the hotel, then change, then to the church for rehearsal, then the dinner, then back to the hotel. She kept going over her list around and around like that stupid zipper ride at the fair. The one where you go up one side and down the other in these cars that swing around and upside down and the people riding throw up. The elves checked in and she distributed more tasks.

The soon-to-be groom and his best man came back with the tuxedos. He handed her dad’s suit to her so she could bring it to the hotel. He wasn’t going to the hotel.

She looked at him.

“Did you forget the towels?” Her voice went sharp and a half octave higher from the strain of being calm. She was approaching the peak of the zipper ride.

“We got them. We didn’t know where to go so we went to the drugstore. They didn’t have many towels but we found these.” His brother showed a shopping bag. He pulled out four towels. They were more like kitchen towels, which would be okay, but they were not pink. They were orange.

She did not handle the color substitution well. Her disappointment was of volume. It was such that the women who would be her sisters-in-law the next day flanked her, grabbed her by the elbows and led her out of the house to work through her zipper list. She wasn’t sure, but it seemed that everyone who remained in the house was relieved when the squad removed the ticking bomb.

Anyway, The Spouse brought up those orange towels today. “Well at least it’s not as bad as when I got those pink towels!” (Yes, he still clings to his improper claim that they were pink. I kept the evidence for about twelve years.)

Why bring it up? It’s been decades of errands and lists and stress and explosions and near misses since that day. I guess the towels are an expression of something the priest read at our supersized wedding:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

1 Corinthians* 13:4-8

So when he reminded me of his abject towel failure, I asked him why with a crooked grin then a chuckle and then a belly laugh. Because I know exactly why he said it.

* for those keeping track at home, that’s pronounced First Corinthians.

Shiner Doc

This is the shore of Lake Superior, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. People are at the beach sunbathing. Those are NOT whitecaps but ice flows. Brrrr!

There was that time that I gave the Best Man a black eye. But I get ahead of myself.

When people think about Michigan, top of mind is cars and cold. Most folks don’t realize that in addition to the mitten–i.e., the Lower Peninsula–there is another slab of Michigan. It’s on the other side of the big Mackinac Bridge, which spans the four or five miles where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron kiss. It’s the Upper Peninsula (UP). The hearty people who live in the UP are called Upers.

It’s crossways the 320 miles between Wisconsin on the west and a narrow river separating the U.S. from Canada on the east. To the North is the greatest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior. You can tell it’s the greatest lake because it tells you so. Superior.

My friend’s brother went to school in the UP. I never quite knew how he got there from Milwaukee, but he went to Tech. He studied business at a mining college. Tech is way up north in the Keweenaw Peninsula. [I know, yet another peninsula. What is it with these people?] This Peninsula juts deep into Lake Superior.

Another thing you should know about Lake Superior is that it is cold. Average Keweenaw water temp–when it peaks in the summer–is still less than 60°F. It’s big. It’s cold. And it has a reserved, maybe even a foreboding, personality. If you stare at it too long, it will brush you off. It doesn’t care.

It was at Tech, on the Keweenaw Peninsula, strutting out into that cold, indifferent, arrogant, Superior lake, where the brother met a girl. She was an engineering student at Tech. She must have come from that Scandinavian stock that settled in the UP. The immigrants that set up the saunas in every deer camp that encouraged a naked plunge into the snow. Her long blonde hair cascaded over her shoulder like Upper Tahquamenon Falls. She had a quick smile and a smart wit that was punctuated by the wink of her cerulean eye. And legs for days.

She was from Hancock, which was the town across the bridge from Houghton. When she and the brother decided to make it official, the wedding was in her home town.

So the brother was getting married, and we were off to the destination wedding. Destination far. But we knew some people along the way. And we had bug spray. Fact: the mosquitos can be as big as birds up there on some of the inland lakes. I don’t think, though, they stood a chance off the frigid, Lake High-and-Mighty.

As was our modus operandi, we were late. I think that’s why I don’t remember the rehearsal dinner. It was likely embarrassing.

We were in Marquette for a few days before the wedding and likely slept in or decided on more coffee. There may have also been a side trip to someone’s childhood memories at a lodge purportedly haunted by a murdered doctor of John Dillinger. The purveyor of that story, however, was the step-father who was known to enjoy an acid trip or two and would tell you about his out of body experiences, even without you showing any interest. We didn’t see any ghosts. But I was scared to death when my friend told me about the wild dogs that were on the premises. This was an odd story, too, because the feral beasts were the spawn of a beloved bitch from his childhood named Penny. When I heard a howl or maybe it was a rustle of a bush, I ran back to the car. It might have been Penny’s mad babies. 

It wasn’t my family. And it wasn’t my affair. And I was along for the ride. So we missed dinner. But we did not miss the bonfire.

I knew my friend’s mom. She was awesome. I knew why he loved her so much. She was very kind to me whenever I was on a visit. And she would always bum a menthol off of me. She and her floating spouse smoked regulars. I don’t know if she preferred the mint of my Virginia Slims or just wanted a change, but she was always a little excited to take one out of my pack and light it between her lips. She was pretty, but like a mom. She was probably 44 at that time.

I think we were hungry, but, like I said, blew through any food festivities. There were literally no food options at 9 p.m. in Hancock, Michigan. The all-night diner closed by eight. I bet it opened at 4 a.m., though. For the working folk.

The young people, that would be us and my friend’s brothers and the friends of the betrothed, were on the move. We tried to catch up with them by downing a few cans of whatever cheap beer we drank then. It was likely a Wisconsin brew, since we were close to that border. Somehow I am thinking that we also ate cheese balls for our dinner, on the way.

We left the SuperBeetle behind and climbed in the back of somebody’s truck. There were trucks and vans and cars in the caravan headed to the pitiless and Imperious Lake. For a bonfire.

I knew the groom-to-be. He was super amiable. He and his fiancée were gracious and begged off from the ongoing celebration. They had a big day coming. They took their leave.

This was the first time that I had met the other brother. He was the family favorite.

I had heard his name many times. He was the eldest. The smartest. The chosen. The most charming. He was a medical student at a prestigious Jesuit university in the east. I never thanked him for my introduction to Washington, D.C., which I met on a trip for his graduation. The ceremony was at the Kennedy Center. I was much affected by our nation’s capital and vowed to return. Spoiler alert: I did two years later, for the duration.

There may have been a few dozen of us, with coolers full of beer and melted ice. My friend and I were grubby from the drive and the {mis}adventure of the day, but nobody noticed. The cars rolled up to the Super Lake. Lake Superior. We piled out, grabbed beers, and stood between the fire and the water. The bonfire of driftwood was going as strong as it would. It wasn’t big, but it was a fire.

The brother was in our transport. He was erudite. He was also condescending to my friend. Maybe it was their relationship, the older and the younger sibling.

I thought the brother was obnoxious. He wasn’t my favorite. No, not at all. He wasn’t like he was advertised by his family. He was tall, but slight. I thought that he was throwing me menacing looks. And me, buoyed especially by a few downed cold cans, threw barbs back his way. I may have been rude. I likely was rude. But I was thinking that he was not boss over me, I was not part of the family dynamic that excused his vainglory. To me, he was an ass. Not an asset.

He was peeved by my disdain, and I liked that. I dismissed him by turning away and taking another beer from a cooler. They were less cool now.

A few people were stepping into the ice water that was lapping along the sand. Some rolled up their pants. One stripped to skivvies and jumped in. I found that amazing. I was not that drunk. I don’t think I could be that drunk. And if I were that drunk, hitting that cold water would reverse any drunk that made me that stupid. But, I was from downstate. These Upers were made of this Superior Lake, of the pines around us, of the dark gray smoke from the damp driftwood. Maybe the copper was in their veins. Not mine, though.

I was ambushed from behind. Lifted above his head onto his shoulders. My swagger quickly displaced my shock. The brother started walking to the water, telling me matter of factly that he was going to toss me in. I was feeling the control leaving me as he stepped into the water. He didn’t even have his pants rolled up. I cursed him loudly, in my deepest strongest voice. He laughed. I told him that he was going to turn around–because now I was unable to leave his shoulders without having a dunk tank experience. He laughed again. That was when I took my fist, and I pummeled it into his head as hard as I could.

He stopped. He was very angry now. Too angry to humiliate me any further because he was being humiliated, too. He took the strides back to the shore, and I jumped off. I found my friend and we had another beer. The brother left in the next car. We left a little bit later.

I was ill-prepared for a wedding, and I was grateful that it wasn’t fancy. The wedding party dressed in gowns and tuxedos, but the guests were more relaxed. The bride’s sisters helped me with my braid, and my friend’s mother fretted over the use of the wrinkle cream she brought. None of us twenty year olds had any clue how to apply it.

The groom and his best man presented themselves to the mother. She screamed. Not loud, but not a little. The best man had a black eye. The pictures!?! I said nothing, but the story came out. And the mother was not a little angry with me. It was unfathomable that her favorite would have earned that shiner.

I, on the other hand, stepped away and lit up one of those Virginia Slims and felt very, very, very proud of myself. Almost, Superior.


Ever After?

old fashioned bride and groom cake topper

My parents didn’t go to my Sib’s wedding.  Mom boycotted and Dad wasn’t crossing her pickett line.

I’ve always given Dad a bit of a pass on this, holding Mom more accountable in this ugliness. Because it’s ugly when parents don’t show to a child’s wedding.

The entire scenario had many missteps that played themselves out in the worst ways possible. A secret romance, an inability to tell the secret, and a toxic build up of resentment and expectations and disappointment. I’m not quite sure that there was ever an actual invitation. But everyone knew.

I was assigned the making of the meatballs. I had finals that week and the following week. My Sib asked for a couple hundred of my “famous” meatballs. Really not famous other than it was one of the things I could cook. It was literally the least I could do, so since not much was asked, I made the meatballs.

I was a broke student. I didn’t have any dress clothes that weren’t a costume.  I borrowed my friend’s dress. It was a simple heavy cotton t-shirt fabric with a boat neck and green and pink and yellow stripes. It was as dressy as we could find. It wasn’t my best look. (I never returned the dress. I never wore it again, either. It hung in my closet for years.) I did have some pretty shoes, though.

My boyfriend and I drove the VW Superbeetle into town. I think we went right to the church. We helped a little with the set up. Warming up the meatballs. Setting out some favors. Not much. My Sibs, the one who was getting married and the one that lived at home with her and the parents who were not scheduled to attend, and the bridesmaids did most of the lift.

This is my memory and my story, and I know that I don’t have many of the details. I was busy and self-absorbed and living away. The main story is not mine.

Others can likely remember with more clarity and more particulars and much more flavor. Others experienced their own feelings–their own sadness and incredible joy. But I mostly remember two things.

We sat in the front row, on the bride’s side of the church. It wasn’t our church. I’m not sure it was the groom’s church, but it was a church. I sat in the row with my Other Sib and our respective boyfriends. Nobody else from our family attended. Not one of my father’s eight siblings or their families. Not one of my mother’s six siblings or their families.

My Other Sib and I were pretty sure that Dad would come. We were definite that Mom would remain absent. But Dad wouldn’t let his daughter down. We waited in our seats and our Sib appeared at the back of the church. She had a pretty ring of flowers, a crown, in the curls of her hair. Still no Dad.

She was on the arm of some short old man that we had never seen before. He was spry enough. I guess this stranger was going to give my Sib away. It really should be Dad. I exchanged glances with the Other Sib who was having the same thought.

I guess there had been music the entire time, but I didn’t notice until this weird little guy was walking my Sib down the aisle. I looked beyond them to the door of the church. This is the time when the man who belongs there walks in and takes her arm and does his job and there are tears of joy and relief that all is well.

Instead I was standing there like Princess Buttercup in the Princess Bride. When she believes that she was married and her true love did not come and save her.

CUT TO: BUTTERCUP standing there. Dazed.

BUTTERCUP: “He didn’t come.”

He let my Sib down. He let us all down. He was supposed to come and save our hearts from breaking. Instead they felt trampled, even as my Sib was saying her vows. He didn’t come. There was no Hallmark moment.

But it was still a wedding. A time for dancing and drinking and meatball eating. There was a lot of food in addition to my two-hundred homemade meatballs. There was garter throwing and bouquet tossing (this was the beginning of my streak of 5 catches). And at the end of the night, we helped clean up. 

The Other Sib’s boyfriend was the D.J. for the night. One guest was especially stewed and didn’t want the evening to end. She kept requesting one song again and again in her drunken slur.

Turn the Page.

Turn the Page.

Turn the Page.

Turn the Page.

That’s the other thing I remember. Turn the Page.

After the sweeping and storing, I kissed my Sibs goodnight, and me and my boyfriend got back into the Beetle and drove back to school.