SCENES FROM A WEDDINGThis account was written by John Cartan for his Archipelago friends on July 26, 1992, a few months after his wedding to Betsy Brazy.
I feel as if some comments about my wedding are, well, expected. It was, after all, the culmination of a life-long search, and I am, after all, always willing to ramble on about far less momentous occasions. The trouble is, I don't really have that much to say.
The whole weekend went by very fast and was, for me at least, surprisingly easy. I felt as if I was being swept along by a warm current, like a leaf on the surface of a stream. My friends and family lined up along the shore to watch me pass. I had only to wave, and sail on...
The experience was rather different for my poor darling Betsy. If I was floating then she was white water rafting, stabbing at boulders with her paddle, leaping over falls and battling her way out of whirlpools. After a year-long campaign, she was engaged in a final battle with her mother, and by day's end the field would be strewn with the bodies of florists, photographers, caterers, and musicians.
The most remarkable thing, though, was how well everything went and how much fun we all had. It was a good wedding. Looking back on it now I feel a warm glow. There were moments when all the diverse players came together and experienced a kind of harmony. We were, as Joseph Campbell would say, following our bliss.
Here, off the top of my head, are a few random memories:
The Japanese BanquetI had originally intended it to be an Archipelago banquet. Then my mother invited herself, and dad, and my sister (with husband and new baby daughter), and grandmother, and other assorted relatives, some flying in from the west, others driving in from the east. So it became an Archipelago and Groom's family banquet.
Then, over dinner the previous evening at Betsy's parents' house, Mom casually invited Mr. and Mrs. Brazy to join us. I had expected them to be busy entertaining all their many friends and relatives, but, to my surprise, they agreed to join us. Then most of Betsy's friends began to join in. Before I knew it, the evening had become the Everyone-but-Betsy Banquet. And so Betsy finally agreed to finish the list.
I had tried to prepare the restaurant staff with a series of increasingly frantic phone calls, but by the time we all arrived things were already out of control. We washed ashore in three big waves and immediately overflowed the reserved banquet room. Various waiters pleaded with me to herd a subset of the crowd over to one of the Tappan tables; I asked for volunteers but my voice was lost in the roar. Vainly I tried to arrange the seating but, caught in an undertow, I was pulled down into a chair and quickly surrounded. One of the wall panels was pushed down or shoved aside and about a third of the crowd flowed into the main dining area and out of view.
Soon the saki began to flow and the roar settled into a sustained cacophony punctuated by the shrieks of my new niece (who was not at all happy about her very first plane ride). Janine's distinctive laugh could be heard from the next room. Amidst this pleasant commotion various Archipelagoans met each other for the first time. Roger and Stuart eyed each other from across the table as Paul looked on, draining his Saki cup and snapping the occasional picture.
About midway through the festivities more relatives began to arrive. My father was despatched to the airport to pick up Cousin Dave, and my Aunt Carol and Uncle Dick arrived by car from Washington D.C. This was a welcome addition, as it turned out, because Carol and Dick had recently returned from the American Embassy in Tokyo and were able to smooth ruffled feathers with the manager of the restaurant. Carol and the manager were soon bowing back and forth and all was forgiven.
Throughout the evening Betsy was at my side holding my hand and immediately winning over all of my relatives. Betsy's mother fell in love with Stuart and chatted with him all night long. And the food was superb. By the time we all spilled back into the street everyone knew everyone else and a Mardi Gras atmosphere was established that would prevail for the rest of the weekend.
The PicnicIn accordance with Murphy's Law the only rain to be seen in South Bend for weeks before or after our wedding fell on the evening of our rehearsal picnic. But it wasn't too bad, more of an occasional mist than a rain. And an excellent catered dinner was waiting inside a kind of lodge next to a roaring fire in a county park.
Paul and I arrived with Betsy's mother and our friend Bill Lortz well after the picnic was supposed to begin, only to discover that we were among the first. Interestingly, the picnic was situated a few hundred yards from the state line between Indiana and Michigan, which are in separate time zones. So whether our guests were early or late depended on where they were standing. Unruffled by any of this, Paul and Bill and I tossed a Frisbee in the rain and waited.
The cars pulled in one by one. My mother, who was supposed to help set things up, was off finding baby supplies for our youngest guest and arrived an hour late. Stuart and Kathy soon appeared and Stuart valiantly attempted to join us in the Frisbee toss. Then Betsy pulled up with a car packed full of giggling bridesmaids, fresh from some kind of secret mission to purchase garters, a very breakable wine glass for me to step on the next day, and other things new and blue. Before we knew it the place was overrun with embracing relatives, long lost friends, and high-velocity children.
The dinner was great. Betsy and I sat together at one of the picnic tables and watched birds gathering at the feeder just beyond the window. The place was packed and Betsy and I spent most of our time mingling. We mingled here and we mingled there. We mingled all around the square.
Finally, after the sea of plates filled and ebbed away, my father rose to give a toast almost identical to one he gave at my sister's wedding. It wasn't so much a toast as it was a careful assessment of the situation. He admitted that Betsy and I were in fact going to be married, that marriage was a major commitment, and that although our future together could not be accurately predicted we had as good a chance as the next couple of muddling through. And then Mom stood up and said something like "Eat all you want and have a good time."
The Bachelor PartyOne of the little perks that came with our block of rooms at the downtown Holiday Inn was a key to the hospitality suite on the 15th floor. After escaping from the picnic, Paul and I found our way to this oasis, armed with sackloads of chips and beer (and Pepsi). It was rather too elegant a setting for a rowdy poker game, but we did our best to make our guests feel at home by kicking off our shoes and dribbling food into the sofa.
The bachelors-for-a-night filed in, the cards were shuffled, and the game began. Paul, who as best man was technically the host of the evening, consistently tried to get me drunk in order to increase his winnings, but I kept my wits about me. Stuart was our rookie, venturing into this den of inveterate card sharks with his usual unflagging exuberance. And Roger stood off to one side, playing vicariously.
The other men, all in their 20s and 30s, made an interesting mix. There were several young reporters from around the country, cynical but not yet ruined by their profession. There was my Cousin Dave, a San Francisco lawyer and poker-playing machine who quietly raked in about 10-12% an hour by never varying from his probability tables. And there was Bill, a programmer/banker, jolly, black-bearded, and endlessly mischevious.
An hour or two into the game the door burst open and a wave of bachelorettes crashed into the room, with Betsy and Janine in the lead. The ladies were fresh from an evening full of pool-playing, country-western dancing, and pitchers full of Long Island Iced Teas. They made short work of our beer supply, staked out a second table, and sat down to play a few hands. Everyone was talking at once. After fifteen minutes of this they were ready for new challenges and swept out of the room - carrying several men with them! Bill the jolly banker elected to spend the remainder of the night camping out with the women.
The game resumed and continued into the wee hours of the morning. I had the honor of declaring the final game and I chose Two-Leg: standard five card draw, nothing wild, except that the game continues until someone wins twice. There were six of us at the table, and each of the six won a hand. By this time there was a sizable pile of money on the table and all the drama that comes with the final hand of the evening, indeed the final hand I would play as a single man.
The cards were dealt. Paul, alarmed at the steady decline in his winnings over the previous hour, grumbled at my quarter limit bet. But it was far too late for anyone to be bluffed out. Too much money was now at stake. As dealer, I offered replacements to the other players but took no cards for myself. Much hooting and the inevitable "HE'S BLUFFING!" A final round of bets, raised and raised again. And then we laid down our cards and I revealed the gift I had received from a benevolent universe, as clear an omen as any man could find on his wedding eve: a natural flush, five hearts, the winning hand.
The WeddingMy first sight upon entering the shul was of Betsy's mother diving into a closet with a huge pair of shears to engage in mortal combat with several large pieces of cardboard. I never did discover the reason for this. I could hear Betsy, around a corner and up a short flight of stairs: she wanted to come down but was being efficiently held at bay by Janine and the other M's of Honor. I shuffled about nervously, as any groom would, but with, I am told, a big grin on my face.
The procession began with the four chuppah holders, Ken Chavez, Cousin Dave, Tanya Mitchnick, and Stuart's wife Kathy. The chuppah, or wedding canopy, was actually a beautiful star quilt made for us by a friend of mine in Montana. When the canopy was in place, the guests of honor were escorted to their seats (Roger escorted my grandmother) and the wedding party began its march. Paul took the lead. I followed, escorted by both of my parents. Then came bridesmaids Anne and Liz escorted by groomsmen Stuart and Bill, M's of Honor Bee and Janine, and then, in a dazzling gown with her Disneyland veil and the same freckled grin I fell in love with the first night I met her: my darling Betsy escorted by both of her parents. We all made it up to the bima unscathed.
I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow recounting of the ceremony. The best part (aside from the "I do"s) was when our friend Liz stood up and sang The Riddle Song, accompanied only by her own guitar. Liz has a beautiful voice, and the song has great meaning for Betsy and me; I think it fair to say there wasn't a dry eye in the house. There was laughter too. After draining the wine I raised my foot above the glass and prepared to break it. Betsy, noticing the photographer was in the back somewhere changing film, called out "You might want to get this!" We all waited and then I managed to shatter the glass with a single stomp.
The After-The-Reception ReceptionThe wedding reception itself was a grand affair with a big head table and a five-piece band. A case of champagne was offered to whoever could dance the longest. The wedding cake was probably magnificent, though Betsy and I only got a single bite and that primarily for the benefit of a legion of photographers. There was quite a bit of dancing and at one point Betsy and I were both lifted up in chairs and I was almost launched into the band section. But most of the afternoon was a blur. We danced and mingled, mingled and danced. By the end of it I was so tired I could barely stand.
It was at this point that Paul came to my rescue. Seeing that I was becoming incoherent, he guided me out of the reception hall. By now it had occurred to Betsy that neither she nor I had ever picked up the key to our wedding suite on the 16th floor. We were on the 8th floor and the reception desk was on the 1st. So Paul and I set out to find the key.
This turned into an adventure. The hotel was undergoing a renovation which seemed to focus on blocking and redirecting all major exits and passageways. To make matters worse, the building had been terrorized all weekend long by a teenage soccer team who used the elevators as goals and never failed to push every button before jumping off. As a result one elevator was stalled (with a hoard of people trapped between floors) and the other was lurching back and forth perpetually between 12 and 13.
So Paul and I, in full regalia, found ourselves stumbling through an endless labyrinth of concrete corridors, up and down stairs, through holes in the wall marked "Danger DO NOT ENTER", to a dead-end in some sub-basement, and then back up more stairs, and then finally, without warning, out into an alley which lead to a gravel parking lot and freedom.
By the time we reached the front desk a half hour had expired. There was a mob in the lobby and one of the hotel staff from the reception yelled "I've got your key - I'll bring --" and before she could finish the one working elevator door closed and she started a ponderous journey upward.
Frankly, I don't remember what happened after that. I was beginning to hallucinate. Somehow, Paul managed to get me and Betsy and the key all together on the same floor and then discreetly vanished. Sometime later we found ourselves at the threshold of our wedding suite with Janine and Anne in tow. Betsy and I were beyond exhaustion at this point. Much to the amusement (and astonishment) of the ladies in waiting, I carried Betsy over the threshold and finally we were able to unwind.
One by one, various old friends began to drift up into our suite. This was just fine by us - it gave us both a chance to spend some relatively quiet time with some of the people we hadn't seen in a long time. Everyone seemed to have an extra bottle of champagne, so we pooled our resources and became pleasantly intoxicated.
Before long, there were more than a dozen people sprawled about the room. Liz came and brought along her guitar. We finally ordered way too much pizza from room service and, when it arrived an hour and a half later, Paul gallantly picked up the entire tab himself.
It was as pleasant a party as it could be: all of us warm and weary, laughing and talking about anything and everything. The big wedding was finally over and all of us were survivors, washed up on a beach somewhere with a case of champagne and time to kill. We hung onto each other for as long as we could and then, when some of our guests were becoming a little TOO attached to the floor, Betsy lifted a glass to the assembled friends and said "Time to consummate this marriage - everybody out!" The party moved on and Betsy and I sailed away into the night, our first night together as husband and wife.
And now, in closing, the words from The Riddle Song:
I gave my love a cherry without a stone,
How can there be a cherry without a stone?
A cherry when it's bloomin', it has no stone.