A family affair. A wedding on a gorgeous (almost) autumn day, Duchess County, New York. A distant cousin walks up to me. “You know who I am — right?” She says her name at the very moment I recall it. “You look the same as you always did,” she tells me. I smile at the compliment.
The truth be known, I feel far from ageless. If anything, seeing the distant cousin, and all the others I see only at these few-and-far-between family events, both joyful and sorrow-filled, has a way of heightening the sense of something long gone. We talk about the grandparents who were cousins, and the affection our own mothers had for each other. We used to see each other (a little) more.
Nothing is the way it was, I remark. Everything just is what it is.
The father of the bride (a close cousin of mine) walks with a cane. One cousin of the bride has flown in from L.A. (with his girlfriend); other cousins, from Ohio, came a few days early to visit with family. Friends and family from the tri-state area got an early start for a ceremony scheduled for 1 p.m. on the lawn of Mills Mansion, an historic site that overlooks the Hudson. With weather as perfect as it is, who could even complain that the ceremony would end up taking place more than an hour late? Whatever it was that delayed the bride will turn out to be well worth waiting for when we see a white Rolls Royce pull up, delivering the princess of the day. My daughter, also in from the West Coast, sits next to me. What more can I ask?
Maybe this is what we mean by ‘stolen moments.’ In another time, an earlier one, this very same celebration of a marriage would have been just another link in the chain of family events, an assumption across generations. Yes, there would be a touch of acrimony (former husbands and wives bristling at being in the same room, siblings holding their rivalry in check) thankfully overshadowed by the joy of it all.
Just a month ago a death in family brought at least some of these same cousins together. I felt a little more saddened by my reason for not attending the funeral than the fact of not being there.
What happens when the yoke of obligation gives way, the glue of ritual thinned to a paste more water than starch?
‘Bittersweet’ has long been a favorite word of mine. Today there is no bitter, only sweet. Yes, there is a sense of something not here, except in a ghostly way, reflected in the tears I see filling the eyes of a cousin who I can only imagine is thinking about her mother, the grandmother of the bride, long gone. The very same cousin who, reflecting on the good time had by all — laughing, sharing photos from our iPhones, doing shots with our (now grown) children, dancing to Sister Sledge (not to mention the hora) — becomes wistful: why can’t we do this more often? Her heart, always in the right place, would love nothing more. I grant her this much: yes, I feel the tug of nostalgia, but more, perhaps, as a room to visit from time to time than a house in which to dwell.