Why do weddings make me cry?

My daughter is getting married next May, and sometimes just the thought of it brings tears to my eyes. So happens spring will also bring publication of my novel—the culmination of years of writing, some publication, lots of rejection, and always, always the tenacity to keep at it, a bag of emotion all its own. Then there’s the sorry state of our country, not to mention the seasonal melancholy etched into every falling autumn leaf.

But this is mostly about weddings and the emotional undercurrent they give rise to. I was weeks from turning thirty-five when I got married, an age at which the thought of being ‘given away’ in a walk down some carpeted aisle didn’t quite cut it. My husband-to-be and I found a venue styled to look like a turn-of-the-century French ballroom. Very hip. Very Greenwich Village. Very us. We did all the legwork, thankful to have very accommodating parents with simple requests. In the mixed metaphor that was, and continues to be, our lives, we were married by an Orthodox rabbi. The wedding may have been larger than I would have liked, but my family was large. I say ‘was’ because the generation that would comprise my parents’ siblings, cousins, friends, etc., is mostly gone. My husband’s parents, whose circle of family and friends was much smaller by comparison, could care less about what would seem to be a proportional imbalance. They were just glad that their son was getting married, and to a nice Jewish girl, who would in two years’ time give them their first granddaughter to dote on.

And dote they did. And on a spring night barely six months from now, that first granddaughter will find herself under a makeshift Chuppah at a Malibu ranch. We’re counting on her only remaining grandparent to be at the wedding. She’s 91, sharp and healthy, even if a little frail. She lives in northern California, the wedding will be in southern California. My future son-in-law’s grandparents plan to fly in from New York.

Like my wedding, my daughter’s is looking to be larger than she would like, and we’ve all done our best to pare the guest list. This is never an easy task, and one that feels even more emotionally complicated in a time when friends are more like family than the relatives I feel distanced from.

You can’t go home again. But you can feel the ache of what that thing called home, for all the convoluted emotions it encompasses, gives rise to. “You will have only one story,” says Sarah Payne, the fictitious writer/mentor to Lucy Barton in Elizabeth Strout’s tender and touching novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton. “You’ll write your one story many ways.” I don’t know that I have only one story, but I do know that the complexity of mother-daughter relationships keeps surfacing (hopefully in different ways) in my fiction and essays. Then there’s the more general exploration of familial ties: what happens when that thing we think of as family disperses almost to the point of dissolving?

I tear up during the ceremony at any wedding I attend. Down-the-aisle love songs have a way of tugging at my heart, hitting that nerve that sits on the edge of love and loss in the way that weddings do.

For better or for worse, a wedding is an affirmation of love. It reminds us what it is to be young (or old) and truly in love.

It’s another link in a chain of rituals that bind us.

It’s a reminder that the circle of life is held together by new links forged from broken ones.

It tells us that our children are grown now, moving on.

All those months, the planning and attention to details—the venue, the food, the entertainment, the guest list, the dress (a tradition with a history all its own)—

—to be funneled into a celebration, one day only, that embodies the future and the past.

Suddenly it’s here. We lift our glasses to the bride and groom. We smile. We laugh. We cry. We dance.

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How we hear music

Today I listened, for the first time in too many years to count, to an album that can only be associated with my mother. She was in that nether world between living and dying. At the wheel of my little red (station) wagon, I’d pop that thing called a cassette into the tape player. The year was 1993, and this particular cassette (which I still have even if I have no device on which to listen to it) got me through the drive to and from the hospital.

Enter Apple Music. In a flash, an easy search, and the album was mine for the streaming. Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter. Special Guess Helen Merrill.

The beauty of an album is its cohesiveness—the segue from song to song. In the days before CD technology took over, fast forwarding to the song you most wanted to hear took a certain finesse, not always worth the effort. Call it comfort. Call it an excuse to let the tears flow after time spent touching, smiling (even making jokes), then planting a kiss on the cheek or forehead of my mother to remind her I had visited. But that trio of songs on Side A—You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to/My Funny Valentine/Here’s That Rainy Day—was all I needed.

Today it’s snowing, even if the mildness of our Northeast winter this year had us thinking/hoping we’d go right into spring after so much snow from just one blizzard disappeared unusually quickly. (Then again, it is February, the shortest month, the leap-year month, the one most riddled with metaphor, on the cusp of spring as it is.) snow feb 2016The gift of looking outside through a picture window as my thoughts lure me inside is not something I take for granted. The snowfall is winding down, more like dust particles or what meteorologists call snow showers. One of things I always relish is the enveloping silence snow holds. And the way it clings to the bark of a tree.   Until it’s gone.

She was a big fan of Billy Eckstine, which always suggested something to me re: her appreciation for voice. Sure, she had a thing for Sinatra, too, but Ol’ Blue Eyes encompasses something even bigger than his voice. An inscription at the beginning of David Lehman’s love song of sorts, Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World, says it all:

May you live to be a hundred,
And may the last voice you hear be mine. – FS

 I listen to his voice a lot, with an appreciation that has only grown over the years. If that Come_Dance_With_MeLP with a winking Sinatra (Come Dance With Me!) or the one with a harlequin Sinatrapainting on the cover, one tear dropping from Sinatra’s eye (Only the Lonely) didn’t captivate me as a young girl, there was always a movie (A Hole in the Head) giving me “High Hopes.”  Years later would come late nights in the East Hampton design shop that had me pinch-hitting for the friend/ partner my husband lost to AIDS, the open door and Sinatra on a summer night an invitation as good as it would get to get past window shopping.

But this isn’t about Sinatra per se, even if listening to him can still bring on the tears and the memories. It’s about chords that reach deep, simply by virtue of the music they make.

To my surprise, I did not get weepy at that trio of Billy Eckstine songs. It’s easy enough to chalk it up to time passed, and with it, the smoothing down of those jagged edges of memory. But maybe there’s something else at play as well. Yip Harburg, legendary lyricist who gave us “April in Paris” (not to mention all the songs in The Wizard of Oz) is credited with this quote in Lehman’s book:

Words make you think thoughts. Music makes you feel a feeling. But a song can make you feel a thought.

So here’s a thought: maybe music is my madeleine. And even if a song can fill me with a longing for something long gone, listening to it years later is as much a reflection on all that’s changed in my life as it is a reminder that, whatever visitations I get, there’s no real going home to a home no longer there.

Coda: Lo and behold, it turns out that music occupies a room of its own in our brains.  My neurological music room is a full one, for sure, and a mixed bag that surprises even me with the moments of serendipity it conjures.

 

 

 

Snowball Wedding

My parents’ wedding album is, by any standards, a treasure. Leather-bound eggshell white, photo sleeves edged in stitched piping, it pretty much took a shelf of its own in a small foyer closet mostly for sheets and towels. Pulling it down was something I could never take lightly: it was an investment in time, going through the photographs, beginning to end, enamored in a way by the prince and princess who would become my mother and father. She was gorgeous, elegant, smiling. He was handsome, dapper, clearly in love.bride and groom

Takes a certain kind of bride to want a snowball wedding—her bridesmaids all in white, like her. It was November 1948, she was barely twenty-one. From the first pages of the album, a satin doll posed at a vanity in my grandparents’ Brooklyn apartment, to the ceremony and celebration in what seems a grand ballroom, there’s an intoxicating splendor to it all. Not to mention the cheap thrill of recognizing even a small number of relatives and friends in a younger incarnation. We’re talking solid working class, whatever resources it took to do it up with style.

My own wedding album is of a more makeshift variety, put together by yours truly. No bridesmaids, thougThe ring pleaseh the ceremony was traditional by Jewish standards. It was November 1984, I was a few weeks shy of thirty-five. I’d been seeing the man I would marry for about a year and a half. I liked the sound of doing something life-affirming in an otherwise auspicious year. Here’s how the marriage proposal went:

Setting: an Upper East Side studio with a panoramic view looking north (and in which everything, from the colors to the lighting to the custom-designed furniture, speaks to the interior-design brilliance of its occupant).

She says, I think it’s time for us to do something . . .

He says, You mean like get married.

She nods. Yes.

He says, Okay. After which her nerves get the best of her and she goes into the bathroom to throw up.

La Belle Epoque
Within months we’d chosen a venue in downtown NYC , a club/ballroom designed to evoke La Belle Epoque. No wedding planner, just the two of us making all the arrangements—catering, music, flowers, invitations. I had no interest in a formal wedding gown. And even if years on my own made me feel a little awkward about the notion of being ‘given away,’ I took it in stride—pleasurably so—when my mother and father walked me to the Chuppah. It was a granWedding day smilesd day, on every level.

 

Yes, coming of age in the ‘Sixties can do a little something re: a woman’s consciousness when it comes to career/marriage/family. I’d pretty much lost contact with high school friends, and of those I was closest with, only two married in their early twenties. I made my bridesmaid’s dress for one wedding—a jumpsuit—ice blue satin, fitted bodice with soft, flowing pants, which, for all practical purposes, looked like a gown. The bride did not like the idea of pants. These were pure palazzo, so wide I could loosely stitch the inseam of each pant leg together and no one would ever know.

Weddings of post-college friends are what I remember most, few and far between as they were.

By the time this year comes to an end, my daughter, in contrast, will have attended four weddings. Last weekend it was Aspen, a camp friend’s wedding. She was a bridesmaid. A few weeks earlier it was New York, a high school friend’s wedding. October and November bring her back East again. Clearly the wear and tear (traveling long distances for short weekends), coupled with pressure (money spent on air fare, dresses, shoes, bachelorette parties, wedding presents), is no match for the need/desire to be at a best friend’s wedding. Besides which, isn’t there something binding about rituals and rites of passage? And doesn’t friendship itself have a new face in a world where BFFs are only as far from each other as their smartphones?

 

 

Summer of Love

I’m now at that age where it seems like everyone is starting to get married. My fridge is full of invitations and save the dates. My desktop is full of links to registries. And it’s just beginning . . .

All of which has me thinking about all the time, money, and effort that go into planning a wedding. Aside from the weddings I don’t remember going to as a kid, one of my first real experiences in the factory of wedding making was as a PA on what I prefer to refer to as an unnamed wedding show. I think we filmed at four or five weddings in a span of five or six weeks (it’s been awhile) — one of which I missed out on to attend a wedding as an actual guest. It was nice to be able to enjoy the wedding for what it was and get dressed up and feel pretty and eat and drink my face off — as opposed to standing on my feet for countless hours, tired, making little money and being totally turned off by the consumerist aspect of a wedding going on around me. I won’t deny that it made me a hater for a while; it also definitely put things into perspective with regard to my own priorities when I think about getting married one day (a day far in the future, if my father has anything to say about it, and since he’ll probably be paying for, maybe he gets a tiny bit of input). I’ll wedding shoeswear the blue Carrie Bradshaw Manolos and eat a cake made by my talented friend. And this will all take place in Bora Bora, so please send money if you can’t make it!

At just about every wedding I’ve been to, one parent in a toast, makes a joke about the money spent on the wedding. And at every wedding, you can tell where the money went — what the couple’s main focus was, be it food, or venue, or band vs. DJ. You marvel a bit at the spectacle. You let your bride or groom friends complain about different planning aspects — do we include a tissue paper separating the inserts in the invitation? Is it tacky to include a meal choice with the RSVP? How many bites do we have at cocktail hour? You listen and try to give an opinion but whether you’re informed or not, it’s not your day and you can’t read your friends’ minds about what they actually want.

As a guest you worry about what to wear, what to give as a present and in some cases, how to get to the wedding and whether or not it’s something you can afford to do. You make all these big travel plans months in advance and then the weekend arrives. You worry about over-packing, but what if you can’t decide what shoes to bring? You obviously need two choices “just in case.” What about what to wear? If you decide last minute that what you packed isn’t right, you justify a need to go shopping for something new (as long as your wedding destination is in an area where you can do that).

Then you attend the event. An event that your friend or family member has spent months and months planning as close to perfection as possible (no one ever wants rain, but you roll with the punches knowing that it’s going to be an amazing occasion no matter what). They do whatever it is they do before the ceremony, primping, taking pictures, probably freaking out a little. In this day and age, the ceremony is the shortest part of the wedding, but in actuality the most important. It’s why you’re there. For a half hour to an hour or so (depending on the religion or non-religion of the ceremony), you’re reminded of what you’re actually celebrating — a lifetime of love and companionship. Your friend or family member has deemed you important enough to be celebrating arguably one of the most important days of their lives with them. For that short amount of time, you’re reminded why you’re there. It’s not about the lamb chops at cocktail hour or the open bar or busting your moves on the dance floor. It’s about love. And in a blink of an eye the ceremony is over. In another blink, the party is over. All the planning that went into the wedding on both sides of it is finished. You take as many photos and videos as you can to remember it, maybe even a flower centerpiece or two, no one’s looking!

As this year goes by, with the weddings I attend as a guest and as a bridesmaid, I’m embracing the celebration of love. I’m truly honored that my friends have chosen to include me in their special days as a guest or a member of the wedding party. I know the stresses they feel when they get caught up in the planning and the money aspects of their weddings, and I have my moments, too, in my own travel planning and all the money that goes into it on the guest side. But I look back on the weddings that I missed out on for those exact reasons — the planning around jobs, the money I would have spent — and it’s something that I truly regret, missing out and not being there. I remind myself that it’s all worth it in the name of love. That one day or night that I witness my friends commit to a life with the man or woman that he or she loves and then subsequently celebrate, really, truly is priceless and a reason to party on.