Essays

Notes on the Wedding

M.A.C. Farrant

He looked like Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider

Daniel, the bride’s father, has given our son Bill a purple polyester shirt with a ruffle down the front. Daniel was married in this shirt in the early seventies as Bill will now be in a curious reversal of the heirloom gown. Man to man, a purple polyester shirt travels through the generations.

In their wedding pictures Daniel looks like Rick Danko from The Band; his bride, Pam, like Marianne Faithfull. There’s a cloud of smoke off to the left of their grinning faces.

Even though it is now 24, Bill says, “Far out!” when Daniel gives him the purple shirt.

“Far out” is an expression from the sixties and seventies meaning that some person, place or thing is unbelievably good. Bill also uses the word “groovy” from those times to denote something that is not as good as “far out” but nonetheless all right.

Bill is being ironic when he uses these terms.

My husband says, “Far out” when he hears about the purple shirt, but he’s using the term sarcastically. What he actually means is that he is “bummed out”—feeling disappointed—that Bill is not getting married in his leather suit, the one he was married in to Wife #1.

I tell him Bill claimed the outfit years ago and that no one knows where it is today.

Actually I am glad the dreadful thing is out of the house, what with the buckskin cowboy look, the codpiece and the scent of Wife #1 all over it with her going-to-my-wedding-in-a-horse-and-buggy theme. Good riddance to the leather suit is what I am thinking.

For our wedding my husband wore grey flannel pants and a navy blue blazer, an aggressively conservative outfit. To match him I wore a blue linen suit. We looked like an accountant and a commissionaire. The suit was “something new,” as was our “cop-out” in succumbing to the “Establishment,” meaning the pressure from our parents now that we were parents ourselves. This was 1978 and my theme was going-to-my-wedding-in-a-nursing-bra.

My husband’s brother showed up on the morning of our wedding wearing greasy bell- bottoms and a tie-dyed sweatshirt. After he used the shower and blow-dried his beard and long hair, he put on the leather suit for his transformation into best man. He looked like Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider.

His wedding gift to us was a bag of “grass,” that is, cannabis, not garden refuse.

In the pictures everyone except my father is grinning wildly.

For Wedding #1, I wore a knee-length cape, black tights and Jesus sandals that laced to my knees. I’d met the man at a Human Be-In two weeks earlier and married him because we thought it would be a “trip”—as in, a heavy cosmic experience. Plus he slapped his forehead when he got frustrated, which was often. I was nineteen years old and found this gesture cute.

If I were allowed to give advice I would tell Faye, Bill’s intended: Don’t wear Jesus sandals and a cape to your wedding; it’s bad karma.

Other than the purple shirt, we have no idea what they will wear when they marry, but we understand that they are “doing their own thing” and so respectfully do not meddle.

As it stands, no one is invited to their wedding. This is because they’re getting married in Greece—alone. They’ve bought a wedding package that includes a civil servant, an interpreter, two witnesses, a hotel room, dinner with champagne, the paperwork taken care of and a donkey covered with flowers. They are keeping quiet about the exact date of the wedding, saying only that they will call both sets of parents when the deed is done, sometime in June or July. We do know, however, that the island is Hydra, an island without cars and the location of Leonard Cohen’s house, the one he bought in the sixties with his first Canada Council grant.

For our honeymoon my husband and I went home and fed the baby, a.k.a. the “love child.” This is something we continued doing until three years ago when the love child—Bill— moved out.

Before Greece, Bill and Faye plan to attend a soccer game in Portugal. They’ve had tickets for a year.

“A European Cup game!” Bill exclaims. “Whoa!”

“Whoa” is a recent term meaning “far out.” He is being sincere, not ironic, when he says “Whoa!”

Bill and Faye are now twenty-six years old and have advanced university degrees in anthropology and sociology, respectively.

The name Bill, by the way, is a “counterculture” name, meaning it is nonconforming alongside the names people were giving their babies in 1978: Jeremy, Jason, Matthew, Ryan, Sean. We tell this to people at parties.

It’s become clear, though, that “blowing minds”—shocking people— isn’t what it used to be. Lately we’ve been asked, “What’s counterculture? Some ‘flower power’ thing from the sixties?”

After the Greek wedding Bill and Faye will be travelling in Europe for six weeks. They’re well organized, have reservations in decent hotels, have purchased additional health-care coverage and will be carrying valid Visa cards, vials of Ativan, cell phones.

My husband and I, on our separate trips to Europe, hitchhiked and slept on floors. Red wine cost ten cents a bottle in Spain then; you carried your matchbox full of grass in a leather pouch hidden somewhere on your body, often next to your “God’s eye”—an amulet made of wool and sticks—and your bamboo flute.

At home, on August 7th, Bill and Faye will have a reception at the Polish Hall in Victoria, a place large enough to accommodate two hundred people and three bands. Apart from the fifty bottles of wine that Faye’s parents are providing, it will be a potluck and BYOB affair.

The Polish Hall has accommodated wedding receptions for over fifty years. There are plastic rosettes stuck permanently to the walls, round tables covered with white cloths, a stage, an area for dancing. You can almost see the ghosts of sweaty children with their best clothes askew, chasing one another during the after-dinner speeches, the drunken uncle passed out on one arm across a table strewn with empty plates and wine bottles, a Conga line of middle-aged boozy women.

Of the two hundred invited guests, approximately one hundred and sixty will be under the age of thirty. They will “party hearty,” a new term meaning that they will dance, get drunk and scream. The remainder of the guests will be geriatric—parents, older relatives, family friends. These few, I worry, will be “expanding their consciousness”—gaining insight into the ways of the world—in the back kitchen. They’ll be doing this by not getting “strung out”—fretting—over the meagre size of the potluck offerings; the many bags of nacho chips, for example, brought by the young who have not understood that “potluck” means casseroles and/or salad.

As the wedding preparations have advanced, word has gotten out that I was bitter—“freaked out”—about not receiving an itinerary of the trip to Europe. Faye’s parents received one. We did not. I assumed that several years of Insight Meditation had rendered me immune to incoming turmoil. Apparently not. My reaction— received as “tart”—must have belied what I thought of as serenity. Instantly, a woman who in her heart still wears flowers in her hair becomes the slighted, frumpy mother-of-the-groom in all those wedding movies, the one wearing furs and stout shoes—in other words, my grandmother.

Early on, Faye announces: “There’s no way I’m going to be walked down the aisle by a man and given to another man like a commodity.”

“I totally agree,” I say.

“Totally” is a word favoured by the current young; my use of it means that I am completely in agreement with her, and also that I am hip enough to speak this word although I run the risk of being regarded as “a flake”—pathetic—by doing so.

“We lived together four years before we got married.” I mention this fact as an alternative.

“Isn’t that sweet?” Faye says to Bill.

“Yeah, my parents are cool.”

“Cool” is a far out approval rating.

Three months before the wedding, Daniel and Pam visit and put their family’s misfits on the table.

Everyone understands that families marry one another.

A crazy aunt is mentioned, a paranoid grandfather. We in turn divulge a schizophrenic cousin, several drunks, a tendency to hypochondria, and my husband’s brother, who, in these egalitarian times, is not called an old hippie but rather a “free-spirited alternative.”

Though we are no longer “beautiful people” and have left our “matchboxes” far behind, we assure Daniel and Pam that we have retained some of the values of former times. To this end, we mention that Bill has been raised on whole grains, organic fruits and vegetables, vitamin supplements and supervised TV.

Later we wonder if Daniel and Pam, in spite of their wedding pictures, were “heads” or “straight” back then, a coin toss meaning wanderers on the astral plane or uptight members of “The System.” They’re grey-haired now, like us, own their own home and drive a Toyota.

“Hard call,” my husband says.

Bill and Faye have asked us to make the party invitations.

“Because you’re so good at making cards,” Bill smoothly adds.

He’s thinking of a Christmas card we made called “Kristmas Kraft” with instructions on how to make a Kraft nativity scene: “First hollow out a three-pound brick of your favourite luncheon meat so that it resembles a stable and so that you, looking down through its roof, look like an angel . . .”

“We don’t want anything cheesy,” Bill has instructed. “No bells or birds or fog or cakes. And nothing that says: ‘Two Lives. One Path.’ We got one of those and threw up.”

They want a party invitation that is ironic—unique and hilarious. A card that is not clichéd, or, if it is, ironically clichéd.

We select three possible images for their consideration: red and beige graphics from a matchbook—a rooster and a hen above a caption that reads “Best Match,” a drunken scene from a Hieronymus Bosch painting and the Roy Lichtenstein comic book painting In the Car—a blonde woman in a leopard-skin coat, a darkly handsome man driving. Bill and Faye reject the “Best Match” image because no one will get the joke. It would look too cute, they say, and anything cute must be avoided. They like the other choices, though, and pick them both.

Our parents-of-the-groom outfits for the Polish Hall party are hanging in the closet. I’m going as a Greek matron in a black dress and shawl. My husband is wearing a white short-sleeved over-the-pants shirt with blue and yellow embroidery down the front. When he takes the shirt into the bike repair shop to show his friend, the owner, the tattooed kid who works there gasps, “Dope shirt, man. Rad!”

A digital camera will be one of our wedding gifts to Bill and Faye, along with the Polish Hall rental and a donation toward the trip. The camera purchase does not go smoothly.

After we finally settle on a particular store and model, a camera is bought. Later my husband consults the Internet and discovers that his camera choice was not a good buy. He returns it, unopened, the next day, intending to exchange it for a model that costs twenty dollars more.

The salesman is incredulous. “You mean you didn’t even try it out?”

“That’s right.”

“You mean you believe those reviews on the Internet?”

“Right again.”

“Any idiot knows those reports aren’t reliable! One bad review and just like that it’s all over the world!”

“Look, I just want to exchange the camera. And who are you calling an idiot?”

This goes on for half an hour. The manager is called in.

The salesman says, “I can’t believe you didn’t even try the camera.”

My husband says, “Look, forget about that. I don’t want to try the freaking camera. I want that one there, on the shelf.”

The manager says, “Now, now, no need to get excited.”

“Who’s excited? I just want—”

The manager says, “Just take the camera home and try it out. See for yourself.”

“No.”

The salesman, a pudgy red-headed guy about fifty, says through clenched teeth: “Let me put it this way. I know about cameras and you don’t. Everyone has an expertise. Mine is cameras.”

And my husband, who’s spent most of his working life in the school system dealing with the “problem cases,” says loudly, “Well, I have an expertise, too. And mine’s dealing with assholes.”

In this instance an “asshole” is a jerk.

My husband gets the camera he wants.

The wedding plans expand when Bill and Faye announce that they’ve bought a Canadian marriage licence because they’ve decided to get married in a civil ceremony here before the Greek wedding.

“It would cost six hundred dollars to get the paperwork done between the two countries,” Faye tells us.

She also says she’s heard from a friend that in Greece it takes five to ten years to get a divorce, which is practical thinking on her part. Really, quite adult.

Being that adult about my wedding would never have occurred to me—either time.

They want a significant date for their Canadian marriage ceremony and have chosen June 1st because that is Bill’s grandparents’ wedding anniversary.

On that day a marriage commissioner is going to their house. The only people invited are their best friends, who will act as witnesses.

Once again, they are “doing their own thing” while we, in response, are acting “laid back” because we don’t want to send any “bad vibes”—negative feelings—their way.

We do send a dozen yellow roses, though, timed to arrive before the ceremony.

Afterwards, Bill phones to say the deed is done.

“What did Faye wear?” I ask after the congratulations.

“A black top. Some skirt.”

“And you?”

“The purple shirt. Jeans.”

Faye gets on the phone and tells us that she would like their Greek wedding to occur on Canada Day, July 1st, so that whenever she hears fireworks she’ll be reminded of her second wedding day.

We tell her this is a brilliant idea. Get the first marriage over quickly, as we did. Move on to the second one, the one with the fireworks.

We open a bottle of champagne and phone Daniel and Pam. They’re also drinking champagne. We talk on four phones.

“Mind blowing, isn’t it?” my husband says. “To think that once they were babies.”

“Yeah,” Daniel says. “Outtasight.” He sounds flat.

Later we wonder if Daniel is being ironic when he uses the term “outtasight.” Or whether, like us, he is feeling “down,” as in, left out, a little sad, old.

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M.A.C. Farrant

M.A.C. Farrant is the author of fifteen works of fiction, non-fiction and memoir, and two plays. She lives in North Saanich, BC.

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