It’s not mine or even my daughter’s, but my step-daughter’s wedding that suddenly appears over the horizon like a glowing ball of tendriled flowers. We will sit down with thirty-five others who love her and the adorable groom. What to do with the jubilation? Her father, my husband, spent all his alternative energy years ago protesting Vietnam. For this happy occasion, he goes out and buys a new sport coat. That’s it. He will not propose a toast nor sing some version of the Minnesota Rouser–Hat’s off to…..
As I orient myself toward this celebration, images of my own parents flit through my memory. Both my weddings occurred elsewhere than Charleston, S. Carolina, where I grew up. My parents flew north, first to New York, then to St. Paul for these weddings, some twenty years apart. As we sat around the opening dinner for the second, my father, the gregarious Italian, smiled around the table and commented, “We are here to honor a marriage. Is it yours?” He bowed slightly to my dear friend at his right, missing me entirely. A few moments later, he said, “I have two daughters, and I see one of them is here.” He looked at me, but did not recognize my sister from Boston a few seats away.
Aghast, I cried later to my friends, as we stood outside: “Why didn’t my mother tell me he was losing it?” My mother: Queen of Denial. Only now years later do I recognize the justness of her behavior. Why trouble me about something I could do nothing about? Why incite me to dis-invite them, which I hate to admit, I might have done at that age.
For the rest of the weekend my father behaved rather normally. Only as we sat in the airport restaurant for a final meal did he show off his rambling brain. As his finger scrolled down the menu, he asked the waitress, “Can I have this and this and this and this?” She queried me with her eyes, and I shook my head. “He’ll have the chicken cacciatore,” I said and turned to listen to my mother effuse at the other side of the table. She was describing her years as a librarian cataloging ancient collections of Charlestoniana.
I don’t want to shock my step-daughter or her fiance. May there be no discordant behavior at their celebration. I’ll probably nothing more than smile broadly and hug them hard. Yet two poems skip and jump or burn brightly when I think of them: “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Lear, for starters. It’s about marriage; it’s humorous, and each of the partners glows with charming idiosyncrasy. The lines that pop up this morning are
The Owl looked up to the stars above
And sang to a small guitar
“Oh, lovely Pussy, oh Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
Then there’s the “runcible spoon” which helped them dine “on mince and slices of quince” before
…hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced to the light of the moon.
Since I’m ga-ga for cats and birds, it’s not surprising that this charmer follows me around.
But for serious wishes, for wishes of swoon, nothing can beat Keats’ “Bright Star”:
Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendor hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel forever its soft fall and swell,
Awake forever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.
I know, the ending breathes the poet’s youthful death and his love’s long pining. I probably won’t recite it. I don’t want to frighten them or speak of death on the occasion. Yet Kerats’ poem carries such beautiful, expansive yearning. I carry it with me, its lines slipping into consciousness, twined with the Owl and the Pussycat, as I go out into this chilly October morning among the falling leaves and the last brilliant maples.