potluck

When I think back on the weddings I’ve attended, though all of them have been joyous affairs, one simple celebration sparkles in my memory, all covered with love and joy and fairy dust. JE & JO spent very little time on the frills that we so often associate with weddings. They decided to get married, and then they got married.

Like, two weeks later.

I was moving at the time, and in those days before ubiquitious cell-phones and email, I was hard to contact. When JE tracked me down, she invited me over the phone, gasping it out in one excited, scantly punctuated sentence. “Can you come down Saturday after next I know it’s short notice we’re getting married I’m not pregnant!” I laughed and told her I wouldn’t miss it.

I arrived at their home and followed the festive signs to their backyard gate. The yard was framed with potted trees and flowering shrubs. An aisle, marked out with smaller plants, led the eye to the open space under their majestic pear tree.

JO wore comfortable shoes, a fancy new tie, and a ready, open grin. JE glowed and giggled, and floated around the garden in a simple white chemise. She hugged me and whispered two secrets into my ear: she’d found the dress on a sale rack for less than a pair of movie tickets, and she was wearing two round Band-Aids under (ahem) the dress, for modesty’s sake.

Fewer than forty people were present at this wedding; the couple invited a tiny core of good friends to celebrate with family. About ten of the guests were under the age of eight. There was laughter and chasing and tickling, and the bride was responsible for much of it.

After the ceremony, we went inside the house, where the first floor had been cleared of the usual furniture. The clerestory dining room was completely empty, with stereo speakers peeping in from upstairs, blaring out jazz and popular children’s tunes and Rosemary Clooney and classical guitar. We danced. Oh, we danced. Everyone got a chance to dance with the bride, with the groom, with the kids.

In the living room and study, chairs lined up around the walls, and the few tables were laden with food. Gorgeous food, lush and lavish food, spectacularly prepared platters of shrimps and tomato salad and bruschetta and greens and breads.

The most formally set table delighted me the most. On a pressed linen cloth overlaid with lace was: an ornate silver platter paved with PB&J sandwiches, cut into flowers and circles and wrapped in colorful cellophane; a silver punchbowl full to the brim with Goldfish crackers; an elegant pitcher holding shimmery pinwheels; and a basket of Mad Libs booklets and bottles of bubble-blowing goo. The table was low, for easy grabbing by little hands.

As the food was refreshed, I clued in: it was a potluck. Because I was between apartments and traveling to the wedding, they hadn’t asked me to pitch in, but JE and JO had asked some friends and family to bring their particular specialties to be a part of the wedding buffet. The contributors beamed with pride as they received well-deserved compliments.

As the wedding wound to a close, I noticed some of the guests picking up their potted plants and trees from the backyard before they left, or their chairs, or their coolers. The happy couple had asked their non-cooking friends to bring other elements instead. Almost every guest had contributed something of themselves to the simple beauty of this wedding.

As the bride (and no one else present) knew, I was in the midst of a sad breakup that weekend, and feeling lost and lonely. This wedding refreshed me and raised me up, reminded me of the abundant love that good friends share.

I carried the joy and generosity of this wedding with me for a long time. I carry it still.

I’ve thought of JE & JO’s wedding often as The Fella and I plan our own wedding. Though we’re following a different path than JE & JO, I hope we’ll arrive at the same place: a party, not a pageant. A place for love and giggling and games. An occasion for sharing our joy.

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4 thoughts on “potluck

  1. My husband and I got married at 4 weeks notice and I’ve often been grateful we didn’t have the time to get sucked into the vortex of wedding-hype. Not that we’re into all that wedding stuff, but I suspect that over a period of time, the sheer weight of it and other people’s expectations can lead from one thing to another and another and another et al. As it was we just had time to organise a fabulous party which is all we cared about anyway, celebrating it! Good luck with yours!

  2. As a “wedding vendor” who has seen many kinds of weddings in the last two decades I have a few observations-
    #1) the more the couple thinks about representing their true selves (which of course has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with money), and offering a gift of a reception to their loved ones and not vice versa, the more likely they are to have exactly the kind of day of which they have dreamed. The more they (or the mother, or the planner, or whoever) is freaked at the idea of rain, or the perfect flowers not being quite open enough or just too open, or the colors of the napkins not quite matching, or a bridesmaid not fitting into her dress, well, the more they are likely to bring upon themselves just such a thing. Not a complete disaster, but enough of something going wrong to spoil something for someone. (Imagine if someone had bitched about the weather at B&T’s wedding. But if anything it made it more intimate and special. If it had been a lovely day we would have marveled at the view and never known what we were missing all huddled in the tent.) If what you are truly sharing with your guests is your love for each other and your sudden joy in the public commitment ceremony, it is bound to be lovely.
    #2)When I meet with a bride and she talks all about her colors and her bridesmaids and her dress and her favors and her mother and not one word about the groom, I think (well, first I think that I am a stranger and why would she mention her deep and abiding love for her groom to me) that all this wedding planning is so totally beside the point. It is like all the foofoo that goes along with being pregnant and then one day you realize oh my god this is not the end result here, this is only the beginning of something that will change my life profoundly forever in ways I can not even imagine yet. And being pregnant you get nine months just to get used to the idea. That ties in nicely with my
    #3)The planning of a wedding is stressful and fraught enough to test your bonds-commitment, civility, different family values, oh yes, it is all in there. And you get to see just how you work together at problem solving and compromising and being gentle with each other. And I read somewhere that compromise in marriage is very rarely 50/50. It is often 100/0. As long as it is also sometimes 0/100 it will all be ok.

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