Younger Daughter has been inordinately fond of sparkly, shiny things since infancy. Glitter on everything! Faces, textbook covers, folders, pens, you name it, if Younger Daughter had it, it would be made sparkly or have glitter added.
This is something that almost anyone would notice about Younger Daughter on very short acquaintance and Olaf's family was, of course, no exception.
When they took on the responsibility for decorating the Parish Center (they insisted on doing something you'll remember) it was therefore a lock-cinch certainty that sparkles would be part of the decor.
When it was determined that Olaf's family would take on the decorating responsibilities, they insisted on inspecting the locus in quo. As a teacher in the parish school, my wife has been entrusted with a prodigious collection of keys. There are some foreign cars that weigh less than my wife's key set. But none of these, however numerous, open the Parish Center. Access to the shiny new facility is strictly controlled (we actually had one of the first private parties in the place; after Older Daughter got married in Indianapolis, we had a second party here so that we could celebrate with our friends and neighbors -- that was the occasion on which my wife first field-tested the spinach lasagna).
The point, however, is that my wife can't always get in there. She is in there, nearly every day, during the school year, because there's a track around the perimeter of the room, on a mezzanine level -- 17 times around is a mile -- and Long Suffering Spouse walks it during her lunch hour. But she can be there then only because the gym teacher has the place opened up at that time. The gym teacher has keys; the gym teacher is, I think, the only teacher with a key.
So when Olaf's mother began pestering my wife for a site inspection, Long Suffering Spouse was unable to instantly comply. I'm speculating, of course, but I think the logic train may have run like this: She works in the building; she should have keys to things in her building; she's not letting me see the room -- sabotage!
Logic trains, like real trains, sometimes run completely off the tracks.
My wife did find a Wednesday when she could get in there after school in between classes and the start of the afternoon's athletic practices. She passed word to Olaf's mother -- who showed up with her husband and sister in tow.
Olaf's mother's sister, of course, would be Olaf's aunt. Olaf is an only child but his mother comes from a large family. This particular sibling was at the top of the birth order (Olaf's mother was the baby of the family); she'd never married. She'd worked in some technical field for many years. Her job was a casualty of this never-ending Recession we've been in for, oh, seemingly forever at this point. She did find another job -- in retail. So she's underemployed and bored. And she loves to decorate. I'll call her Aunt Floofy.
I wasn't at this summit meeting (I'm smarter than I look) but, as it was related to me, Olaf's father drew a floor plan, Olaf's mother supervised, and Aunt Floofy poked into every nook and cranny, looked in every closet, and asked every possible question she could think of. Long Suffering Spouse returned from the encounter slightly shell-shocked. I just caught snippets of dialog, mostly from listening to her mutter in her restless sleep over the next few nights....
Do we have to use these chairs?There was a later crisis involving the floor covering -- the parish has plastic runners to protect the gym floor. They completely cover the floor, but there are seams and the parish was worried about dancing -- people, especially ladies in heels, might trip over the seams and be injured.
These are nice chairs. What's wrong with them?
Folding chairs, really?
* * * * * * * * *
Are these the only tables?
Round tables and long ones, yes. We can use the long ones for serving.
But these are the only tables? Really?
But Long Suffering Spouse was in Costco when they were selling "footies" (perhaps you'd know these as "foot peds") in carload lots. She bought a gross or so. We'll have an old-fashioned sock hop! Crisis averted.
Now I feel compelled, at this point, to depart from the narrative thread here -- as a public service. If anyone should happen upon these essays and be foolishly inspired to put on a soiree of their own using our experiences as a template, I feel I must warn you, don't plan on solving a similar problem, should one arise, at your own neighborhood Costco.
This is not a knock against the chain. It's just... well, Costco has kind of a perverse twist on Harry Potter's "Room of Requirement." I don't refer to the obvious fact that Costco charges for all their neat stuff while Hogwarts students can find what they need need for free in the Room of Requirement. Rather, at Hogwarts, kids can find what they need by looking for it. If you go to Costco looking for something specific -- even something you've seen there before -- yesterday, even -- it will not be there. Costco has a very sophisticated computerized inventory system that gives you one chance, and one chance only, to get what you need when you see it, whether you know (then) you need it or not. That's why Costco customers routinely come home with all sorts of treasures they didn't intend to buy when they went in. And if you go in looking for your own giant box of foot peds, it simply won't be there.
And now back to our story....
Younger Daughter would occasionally bring rumors back about decorating plans. She'd been interrogated thoroughly about the wedding colors at first. Later, she was shown fabric samples and asked to choose favorites. (She liked something with sparkles, she told us. We pretended to be surprised.)
But the one thing that was uppermost in our minds about the decorating was that, whatever we put up, or whatever they'd put up, we'd have to take down.
True, we had the hall for Saturday afternoon and evening -- but there was a men's basketball league that played there on Friday nights and a Zumba group that met there on Saturday mornings. (If you watch a lot of TV, you've probably heard of Zumba. It involves dancing as exercise -- not Sweating to the Oldies, but jumping around to a Latin beat. Long Suffering Spouse had to participate in a Zumba workout at the end of a teaching seminar once. She said it hurt her joints, all that jumping. When the joint's jumping, that's a good thing; when the jumping hurts your joints, that's not so good.) And there was still another group that had the room reserved for Sunday morning.
And none of these groups required the floor covering, tables or chairs that we'd need.
Setting that up was going to take some time all by itself -- without any ornamentation -- and Long Suffering Spouse was dreading the prospect of trying to round up half-crocked family and friends to take everything down at the end of the party.
Then, one day, Younger Daughter and Olaf came home and told us that Aunt Floofy wanted to wrap all the chairs.
You've probably been to wedding halls where they wrap the chairs. Me too. I know it's supposed to look really fancy. It reminds me, however, more of an estate sale.
So I would have hated that idea even if the prospect of wrapping 100 or 150 folding chairs in the limited time available wasn't absol-freaking-lutely out of the freaking question. What the freaking, freakity-freak freak was Aunt Floofy doing? She must be out of her ever-loving, cotton-picking mind.
I went on in this vein for several minutes, blood vessels popping in my eyeballs, and, I must confess, I probably didn't say "ever-loving" or "cotton-picking" either.
I might not even have said "freaking."
When I subsided, and the windows stopped rattling, Younger Daughter was crying for some reason. Something about not wanting to be in the middle of all this. All what? I was just expressing my opinion.
Long Suffering Spouse -- who was plainly less than pleased with my manner of expression -- nevertheless concurred in my judgment on the matter, and (judging by her countenance) was equally determined that there would be no chair wrapping.
Olaf seemed to catch on to our position on this issue. "I told them I didn't think this would be a good idea," he offered. "I'll tell them again."
I'm not certain what Olaf told his folks, but he was persuasive. Thus it came to pass that Aunt Floofy's chair-wrapping was confined to the wedding shower.
And we had even better news in the last couple of days before the wedding.
The school custodian decided he'd be willing to set up the floor and the tables himself. Since he and his assistant wouldn't be working on Saturday, they'd have to do it on Friday -- and the men's basketball league and Zumba would have to use the old gym for their respective meetings.
The best thing about this news was that it came late enough that Aunt Floofy's plans were sufficiently advanced to preclude revival of her chair-wrapping ambitions.
Olaf was over at the house a couple of days before the wedding. "It's crazy at my house," he told us. "They're decorating the napkins."
"Napkins?" asked Long Suffering Spouse. "They're using cloth napkins?"
"Oh, yes," said Olaf, "my aunt bought them special. But don't worry. Her basement already looks like a party supply store. I'm sure she'll find something else to use them on."
Long Suffering Spouse was surprised to hear about cloth napkins because she'd already had the conversation with Olaf's mother about renting plates and silverware. My wife had persuaded her, after some delicate and lengthy negotiations, to abandon that idea in favor of using plastic plates and utensils. We have to clean up the hall that night, she kept reminding Olaf's mother, and if we have to wash dishes we'll be there all night. I think the clincher may have been my wife's solemn assurance that there was no dishwasher on the premises.
There are some very nice plastic plates out there, my wife told Olaf's mother. Eventually, Olaf's mother accepted that as a challenge -- and a quest. But word that Aunt Floofy had come up with cloth napkins -- napkins that they were decorating -- only served to revive my wife's concerns. "What are they up to?" she fretted.
We were about to find out.
We had to tell the in-laws, eventually, the happy news that they could get in the hall on Friday -- before the rehearsal -- instead of waiting until 10:30 on Saturday morning (and the wedding was set for 3:00 p.m.). Since the rehearsal was set for 6:30 Friday evening, my wife suggested we all rendezvous at the Parish Center around 4:00 p.m. That way, we could get the room set up and go directly down the block to the church for the rehearsal.
Olaf's mother suggested they get in there at 11:00 a.m. instead.
You'll remember that the Friday before the wedding was also my wife's last day of school. There was only a half-day scheduled -- but even that wouldn't be over at 11:00.
And you'll remember that I've told you (as if you couldn't figure it out for yourselves) that, by this point, my dear wife was dangerously, exquisitely, entirely fatigued. She somehow found the strength to point out that she was still working at that time and had a mandatory luncheon following and to persuade them to come at 2:00 p.m. instead. She ended the call -- and screamed. Five hours! What do they think they're going to do in there for five hours? No one was going to question her math at this point.
The Curmudgeon clan descended on the hall as soon as Long Suffering Spouse got back from her brunch -- and she'd been the first to leave, about 1:00 p.m. She'd signed out the key for the room that morning; she'd asked the custodian to meet me at 2:00 to go over the lighting and sound system instructions.
The floor was down. The tables were all set up. My wife had us move some hither and thither. We extended the head table to accommodate the attendants and their escorts. Long Suffering Spouse even accepted one of my suggestions (one of mine!) -- that we could seat people on both sides of the head table as long as we kept the space across from the bride and groom clear. That way, everyone in the room would have an unimpeded view of the happy couple -- if they ever sat down -- and the head table would not take up one entire wall of the room.
I met with the custodian as planned -- and got the wireless microphone -- and got instructed on how to plug in the iPod to the sound system. Penny and Carl were here by that time and their 16-year old daughter plugged hers in, just to make sure it worked. She had a lot of country music on the iPod. We kept the volume down, despite Youngest Son's protests. The girl kept running back to it, trying to keep one jump ahead of any curse words in the songs. She succeeded, mostly.
By 3:00 we'd accomplished just about all we could without the decorations themselves -- and there was still no sign of Olaf's family.
They finally showed up shortly after 3:00 -- traffic was terrible, they said -- and on a Friday afternoon in Chicago, too. Who'd have ever guessed?
We trooped out to the parking lot and began unloading boxes and tablecloths. The tablecloths were on hangers.
There were to be two to a table. A dark blue circular cloth was the first layer, then a lighter blue rectangle, covered in silver sparkles, was to be put on over.
The Curmudgeon family, supplemented with Penny and Carl, bent to the task. A couple of times someone put the undercloth on seam side up -- but one disapproving glare from Aunt Floofy was enough to make the guilty party correct the error.
Then the utensils box was opened. I've seen plastic silverware in my day, some better than others. I never, until the day before Younger Daughter's wedding, ever saw silver plastic silverware. It looked nicer than the metal stuff we use at home.
And then the napkin boxes were opened up. Each "napkin" was about the size of a kitchen towel, carefully folded, and tied up with a blue ribbon. There were three large plastic diamonds tied to the ribbon on each. We set about putting one at each place. Aunt Floofy followed us around, floofing the napkins to some internal specification we couldn't possibly appreciate or understand. It was at that moment that I named her. It was either that or deck her -- and I didn't think that would go over well with my new in-laws.
Of course, you never know....
They brought big bowls for each table. And two big, decorative bottles of water -- from the Norwegian hometown of Olaf's father's family, we were told, and that (I admit) was kind of interesting -- and marbles for the bowls and five candles for each table. We helped put 'em all out.
The box of clear plastic plates was opened. Long Suffering Spouse wanted these at each place, too, but Aunt Floofy vetoed that idea. (We'd probably have had to put the plates underneath the napkins and then she'd have to re-floof the napkins all over again.) My wife argued that, if they were in the buffet line, people would take more than one or take a second plate when they came back for reinforcements and, either way, that would increase the danger of our running out.
And these were such nice plates. None of your flimsy stuff here. These were substantial plates that were (probably) dishwasher safe. And they were clear, but grayish-tinted. But Aunt Floofy had the last word and they were stacked up at the beginning of the serving line.
It was just past 4:00 now. We'd done everything -- and had two and half more hours to kill before the rehearsal. And I wanted to smack Aunt Floofy. There was no time for the in-laws-to-be to go home and back. They decided to change clothes at the hall, then go shopping for an hour or so before we'd all meet again at the church. We waited while they changed... then went home. Olaf came with us. The kids all poured drinks. Since one of them handed me a beaker of scotch, I did not complain.
And that brings you, now, to where I started with these reminiscences. (Hey, it worked for Homer, didn't it?) Anyway, now I can tell you about the wedding and the reception itself.
But not today.