Brother’s Wedding

So, my brother Mike got married this past Saturday, to Melissa Veneracion (congratulations, the two of you). They had a week-long destination wedding down at Emerald Isle NC, where our parents happen to live, a week of fishing and boating, jet skiing and surfing, picnics and a few parties too: good times!

For me, there were two major points of focus toward which I was orienting throughout the week, the first of these being the rehearsal dinner. Mom and Dad were hosting at their place, just down the beach from where the wedding was to be. My gift to Mike and Melissa was to bring a band for the occasion. So, Monday through Friday, while Mike and company were likely sleeping off the previous nights revelries, I was up early, dusting off the old keyboard and warming up the vocal folds.

There’s a certain care in finding the right tunes for a gig, particularly a gig as personal as this one. Granted, about half of the repertoire of jazz standards are love songs of some kind or other, but the other half, more or less, seem to reflect an inverse image: “Falling in love with love is falling for make believe”, or “Sit there and count your little fingers, unlucky little girl blue” – not really wedding material. I did happen to consider Poison’s “Every Rose has its Thorn”, this being one of Mike’s all time favorite rock ballads, for about three seconds, before remembering that it’s a world class break up song. Though personally, as a musician, I think we’d all be better off if we celebrated our separations as much as our comings together, hiring bands say for break up parties as well as for weddings, or is that too much like the Hallmark company instigating Grandmother’s day? Either way, this was an all out love occasion: Cole Porter’s “You’d be so Nice to Come Home To”, and “In the Still of the Night”, Mercer and Shertzinger’s “I Remember You”, and Burke and Van Heusen’s “Like Someone in Love”, along with Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” (Mike’s pet name for Melissa), and Jobim’s “Wave” (an allusion to my brother’s painting subject of choice): fun stuff.

At about ten minutes ’til, we weren’t sure just how things were going to go. There was no sign or sound of the trombone player, or the caterer for that matter, and folks were starting to gather outside in anticipation of a pig pickin’; but Weldon rolled in shortly there after (as did the pig and the roaster there of), horn in hand and ready to play, so we had ourselves a party: swingin’, bluesin’, groovin’, singing “I’m gonna love you like nobody’s loved you come rain or come shine…” using the sum whole of spirit to wax a fine surface on the poetry of the thing, and proving to myself that even though the weeks since New Hampshire have been on the ebb tide for me, musical flow is still coming through, strongly and clearly. (The steady morning routine and getting back to the basics certainly helped in this respect.) And of course, there was lots of food: Carolina pulled pork, fried chicken and shrimp, biscuits, boiled potatoes, Cole slaw; several pans of spanikopita and a few dozen portabella mushrooms, fresh off the grill with provolone and brie; cream cheese brownies with caramel sauce and gallons of ice cream (rocky road and mint chocolate chip, chocolate, chocolate chip, and chocolate swirl), and chocolate fondue with strawberries, pineapple, marshmallows, and pretzels. (Did somebody actually tell me after, in the wake of all that chocolate, that it was the music that really made the evening?) I’ll tell you, Weldon, Bakru, and Kip sure did the occasion proud: spot on and with plenty of fire; and though the night was getting along when we burned through our prepared set list, an impromptu third set was soon conjured and the band played on(senza piano player to start, so I could grab a moment with some friends and family I hadn’t seen in far too long.) Oh, how you’ve got to love a good party!

Wedding day dawned early and clear, and though we’d been up half the night, Mom and I were awake, per usual, before the sun: me to start planning my toast and her to do whatever it is that mother’s do on the morning an oldest son is getting married – cleaning the house and walking the dogs? Mom had put together a photo album to give to Mike, for which I had written the invocation some months ago. Deciding to use this as a toast, along with an ancient sanscrit poem that has long been a favorite, I spent much of the morning doing some last minute memorization. I thought about recording a sound file and snaking a head phone cable up the inside of my suit jacket, but that would feel like cheating, and you can’t go half way when your only brother is getting married.

The afternoon was spent in the ocean. Mike had his surf board out and was taking short videos of people getting up on the board, which I found to be a bit like standing poses in yoga, only better, as your feet are moving with the water beneath you. Chris, my best friend from elementary school, had expressed interest in learning to body surf with his eyes closed (perhaps a bit of a challenge on my part), so we gave it a go. The trick is to feel for a drop in the level of the water combined with a clear pull of the current away from the beach. This won’t clue you in to every last wave that is catchable, but it absolutely can lead you to find the magic moment when all you have to do is leap forward and the wave will carry you. Of course, the trick is also to be sure that no one is directly in your path when the wave comes. I did manage to run over the bride earlier in the week. (fifty points, yeah?) I had offered a caution about this and had several volunteers to keep an eye on me while I was body surfing solo, but she was looking the other way and, well, got plowed. Fortunately, although a disproportionate number of doctors and therapists, of a variety of stripes, were on hand as wedding guests, no harm was done and we both came up laughing. I’m not sure that Chris really took to the finer points of the art though. He did catch a number of waves; given that he also confessed to mostly keeping his eyes open, I feel pretty comfortable disclaiming any responsibility for the band aid he was later sporting on his forehead. (In point of fact, the wave that tumbled him gave me a good run around too; my aim just happened to be a bit better when it came to not hitting the ground.)

After poetry, body surfing, and a qualitative nap, it was getting well on toward wedding time. I’d been designated as the official holder of the rings, so the drive over to the wedding, the process of lining up, and the waiting for everyone to get situated were all accompanied for me by periodic checks of my pockets: still have the big ring over here, still have the smaller ring over here; we’re good! The wedding itself was beautiful. They’d been calling for rain all week, particularly on Saturday, but we didn’t see a sign of it. With ne’er a cloud in the sky, with late afternoon sunlight in May, with classical guitar music drifting amidst sounds of surf and an ocean breeze, and with a group of locals gathering on the peer to watch and admire, it was a scene to remember. In addition to vows and rings, the ceremony included some traditions unique to Filipino weddings: exchanging of coins, sharing of a veil, wrapping of a cord, and lighting of candles. Given my own tendency for irreverence, I confess a moment, a brief, incongruous moment, when I was minded of the grand wedding scene from The Princess Bride, the one where the minister has an overblown proclivity for lazy L’s and R’s: “Mawwiage! Wove and Mawwiage!” I did in fact manage to hijack that particular thought train before it got out of hand, feeling that it was more fitting as the best man to look benevolently intent. I did though have to hide a smile at a few moments of mixed up words: did he really just say “and selfishly” in place of “unselfishly”?

My second point of focus throughout the week was the expectation of dancing my heart out at the reception, but before dancing could really cut loose for me, I had to get through the toast. Though I had earlier been telling The Reverend, who had confessed some nervousness prior to officiating her first ever wedding, to “let the emotion be as water and consciousness be as a cup; the cup can be thin and light as porcelain and still hold the water, giving it shape and containment”; anticipating the toast and being someone who cares about details, particularly with respect to the crafting of words, and being dazzlingly cognizant of how much it meant to me to get it right, for Mike and Melissa and the significance of it all, I was nervous and feeling it, and, speaking of the holding of water, was pondering whether having a second glass with dinner would simply make me have to pee when it was time to take the microphone. At which point, an occupational therapist with whom I was sitting volunteered that when people tell her they may need to go to the bathroom, she tends to press on their bladders to check if they really have to go. (What can I say? A wedding party full of medical professionals, how odd!) I elected not to take her up on this, being not at all sure that she was bluffing.

The toast came off fine, “… And so, and so, I offer this to you with great love, as you choose to join your journey with that of another. May this union create peace and abundance for you both; may it hold you and nurture you and challenge you to grow, to seek the fullness of life with fierce, yet gentle impeccability…” I got through it without sobbing, the odds of which being about 50/50, judging by the various dry (and not so dry) runs throughout the day.

Now, I love to dance, and a wedding is just about the most fun context I can imagine to be dancing: lots of close friends and family gathering to celebrate together, and as one sweet young thing put it, “everybody’s feeling all lovy.” The challenge for me is that it also tends to be pretty loud, with lots of folks moving around; so it’s rather hard to orient. I can’t just look around the room and see who is who and who is where and who is dancing and who is available to be asked to dance – that sort of thing. In consequence, I was strategizing, checking in with a few trusted friends throughout the week and asking them to help me scope things out and connect through the chaos, which seemed to work just fine, given that I was seldom sitting out, save to catch my breath and get yet more water.

I am not a schooled dancer. Apart from contact improvisation (an experimental dance form evolving in the early 1970’s), I haven’t studied dance formally at all. I just love to move, love to move with other people, and love to move with music. This seemed to be enough though; when a girl who grew up in South America tells you that she hasn’t danced like this since she came to the states because she hasn’t found anyone who really knows how to move to Latin music, you must be doing ok, right?

And that was my week. It was fun. I did spend rather more time in the limelight than I am wont, leaving me to wonder if the people I only met last week have any idea that I often think of myself as a quiet, self reflective, introverted kind of person. I rather doubt it, but It’s an interesting possibility to ponder. And with that thought, I shall close.

Congratulations Mike and Melissa!