Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How Younger Daughter's wedding went off (almost) without a hitch

The real world has crowded out the Blogosphere in recent days -- of course, the wedding has been at the top of my personal headline package at all times, but I've even had work to do at work.

Please don't be angry with me. Think of it this way: On those rare occasions when I'm forced out from behind my keyboard, I'm more or less doing research for the next series of essays here, right?

At the risk of writing a post of more or less readable length, I'll just focus, for now, on the rehearsal at the church on Friday night.

The families had been together for much of the afternoon, by this point, and tempers were beginning to fray.

To keep costs manageable, Long Suffering Spouse had obtained the use of the parish center for the reception. The parish frowns on using the hall for wedding receptions -- officially, I think it's prohibited -- and the multipurpose room had been booked for events on Saturday morning and Sunday morning both. But Long Suffering Spouse can be most persuasive -- and the parish staff has long looked forward to my wife's generous provision of Christmas cookies.

And, also to contain costs, my wife had decided to cook the dinner for the 110 or so confirmed wedding guests. We invited fewer than 30 of these, not counting the bride, and we had about 28 show up on our side, not all of them invited. The rest were about evenly distributed between Olaf's side of the family (Olaf's mother has a flock of siblings, and she invited a bunch of her neighbors, too) and friends of the bride and groom.

Olaf's family -- his mother, mostly, and an aunt (a never-married older sister to Olaf's mother) -- insisted that they must also do something for the wedding.

There are two ways to spin this: Olaf is an only child and this would be his mother's one and only opportunity to be involved in a wedding -- we'd been through this with Older Daughter's wedding, too, because Hank is an only child as well. So, on the one hand, we could understand that they'd want, even need, to participate to the fullest possible extent. On the other hand, Long Suffering Spouse is an unstoppable force of nature when it comes to events of this kind and the slightest interference would chafe considerably with her.

Younger Daughter got increasingly stressed about it, as time went on, because the groom's family wanted an assignment and Long Suffering Spouse wanted to just get things done without a lot of fuss, bother or even conversation. Finally, though, we agreed that Olaf's mother and aunt could decorate the hall for the reception. That seemed harmless enough.

Then we went to a wedding shower in an uncle's suburban backyard and saw how many of the chairs had been wrapped in bedsheets and how all the tables were elaborately decked out -- centerpieces you couldn't see around and everything -- there was a chocolate fountain inside the house, too -- and Long Suffering Spouse really began to get nervous. Did I mention that all this was in a backyard?

And there was a question of how much physical setup we'd have to do in the parish hall -- which doubles as the school gym -- and when we'd be able to do it. And when we got reports that Olaf's mother and aunt were looking at about a five hour window to set things up, we began to panic. Remember? There was another event coming in on Sunday morning. We would need to take down whatever they put up -- and we'd be doing it, presumably, in a state of inebriation and exhaustion.

But -- somehow -- we got the hall more or less done on Friday afternoon. (And, no, this is not a continuity error; I hope to have time to explain in a later essay.)

We had an hour or two to decompress and rehydrate before the rehearsal.

Now a wedding rehearsal is not really that much different from a rehearsal of any other production. All the participants need to learn their marks and cues and practice their lines. The priest needs to go over the readings, show the readers how to use the microphones, and otherwise guide the participants through what may be an unfamiliar ceremony. One can not assume that everyone who comes to a wedding Mass is a practicing Catholic.

Certainly the particulars of the Catholic Mass were unfamiliar to Olaf's family. They are not unchurched -- just the opposite, in fact -- most of them are hard-core, church-going Lutherans. One of Olaf's grandfathers had been a Lutheran pastor. Olaf's parents aren't Lutheran anymore; they have become devotees of a non-denominational congregation that has very modern services and very archaic beliefs. (Put it this way: We don't talk about evolution with them, OK?) The only unchurched one on the groom's side is the groom himself; a good student of Newtonian physics, Olaf has had an equal and opposite (and predictable) reaction to his parents' embrace of biblical inerrancy. (For further background, if you're curious, see What I wished I could have said: Science and religion can be complimentary.)

I wasn't too worried that anybody would start yelling about the Whore of Babylon at either the rehearsal or the wedding Mass itself; Olaf's family likes Younger Daughter -- and all of their awkward and discomforting questions were likely to be posed in private. They'd already asked a bunch of them. On the other hand, I'm not entirely certain that all the scars have yet healed from the Thirty Years War and I sure as heck did not want it flaring up 364 years later in Chicago.

Our pastor, Fr. Ed (no, not his real name) did a fine job navigating the cultural minefield. He had a great patter, explaining the symbolism of each action in the ceremony. He even had a prescribed procedure for me to hand Younger Daughter off to Olaf at the altar (something to do about clutching elbows -- it really did sound good at the time, I just couldn't remember a word of it when the time came to perform).

Eventually, we were all done. Fr. Ed marched the wedding party to the back of the church, and the rest of us began milling about, waiting to leave for the rehearsal dinner. We expected to be released at any moment -- but there was obviously some sort of delay.

Then there was some clearly anxious buzzing audible in the back of the church and some frantic, random milling about.

I think it was Older Daughter who came back down the aisle first. "I don't want to alarm you," she said, which only had the effect of moving us from yellow to red alert instantaneously, "but there seems to be some small paperwork problem. Fr. Ed had come down the aisle close behind Older Daughter and had overheard her introduction of the topic. "I suppose it's a legal problem, really, but I'm sure there must be some way to handle it."

Well, the family members on both sides pressed around Older Daughter and Fr. Ed, pressing physically as well as for an explanation.

"I asked them to give me the license -- " began Fr. Ed.

"And she said my dad must have it -- " injected Older Daughter, referring to her sister.

The light bulb went on.

"You mean... they don't have a license?" I asked. You know how the expression "his jaw hit the floor" seems like a bit of an exaggeration? Well, it wasn't much of an exaggeration Friday night.

Younger Daughter had fought her way into the center of the group by this point. "We didn't know -- " she started.

"Someone could have told us -- " said Olaf, coming into the group as well.

I resisted the temptation to ask if he also needed to be told to inhale and exhale.

"I thought the church had the form -- " said Younger Daughter.

"Well, you did say that it's the Roman Catholic Church and there's a form for everything." Olaf was trying to spin a new defense.

This was not the time to explain to Olaf that Jesus clearly said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. The county marriage license clearly belongs to Caesar.

Olaf's mother jumped in at this point. Now I realize I've given (and will continue to give) her some grief in recounting the tale of this wedding. But she genuinely tried, I believe, to spread some healing balm upon the waters on this occasion. "I'm sure this must happen all the time," she said hopefully.

"Nope," said Fr. Ed, "I can't think of this ever happening before in my 22 years here."

Sometimes a priest's cluelessness can be charming -- but, at that moment I was thinking of strangling him.

"But," said Fr. Ed, perhaps feeling the death glare I was starting to send his way, "we can go through with the ceremony tomorrow as planned. There will be a church document. I'm sure there's a way that the county paperwork can be cleaned up after."

Thus somewhat mollified, the wedding party began to disperse. As everyone else was leaving, Ed needed me to sign a document related to the rental of the parish center. I stepped with him into the Sacristy. "This will be a story they'll talk about at their 25th Anniversary -- at their 50th, too," said Fr. Ed -- and I could tell he was clearly anxious to get on the horn to someone to start telling it, too. "The farther we get from this, the funnier it will be," I agreed. "I'll see you tomorrow."

And, by now, I trust, you've figured out why I chose the title I did for today's essay.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

oh my goodness! i'm waiting to hear the rest...

smiles, bee

Anonymous said...

Only in your family (well maybe mine too) could something like this happen. I am so sorry all of this took place but OMG it is funny to read about it...I hope the wedding the next day was beautiful and all is now well. Can't wait for your next update..:)