“Weddings and funerals,” my mother often says. “Weddings and funerals.”
These are the days of the fractured family. As a child, on my Italian mother’s side, the family once seemed endless: cousins, second cousins, uncles, and third aunts. Godfathers and godmothers everywhere.
Now, each year, it grows smaller.
Everyone would meet at the weddings of the young and the funerals of the old — or the unlucky. Being Italian there’d be great feasting for either event.
Whether it was a wedding or a funeral, the important fact was the gathering of the clan, in solidarity, or in sympathy and always with hope.
It was an enormous support system. The weddings were the symbol of the joy of family life. The funerals helped us close ranks against loss.
We also used to throw enormous family parties at our farm, roast a pig on a spit, provide enough greens for the vegetarians. Make music and celebrate family and friends. But eventually the “pig parties” faded away.
Then, this winter, after 26 years of equivocation, Sharon and I decided it was serious, and that was a good excuse to throw a wedding.
We came back with a vengeance. It was party time again.
But suddenly, our long-lived peacock, Ajax, decided to have a stroke and die two weeks before the wedding. We hoped this was not a sign.
Shortly after, when it was time to mow the field where we’d assemble for the wedding the tractor ate its fuel pump.
“This is starting to look like a real wedding,” I suggested to Sharon.
The usual politics surfaced. Divorced couples were outraged that we’d invited both plaintiffs. We told them it was their duty to decide who wasn’t coming, not ours.
I started hearing rumours of gifts. With horror we realized we’d screwed up and hadn’t put “no gifts” on the invitation. It was too late to do anything because presents were obviously already being purchased and crafted.
Wedding presents are a strange affair when you’re looking at 60. We just assumed we were too old for gifts, and besides we’re in the divesting stage of life. We don’t need stuff.
Naturally, our friends were lavish and intelligent and embarrassed the hell out of us with their largesse. After the smoke cleared: “Hey,” I said to Sharon, “we should do this marriage thing more often.”
The wedding began with clouds and turned to rain. We’d invited 200 people and more than 200 signed the registry. Many more didn’t.
I looked at our two lambs on the spit (60 pounds each), 200 pounds of sockeye, and mountains of vegetables — and mumbled — “We need more food.”
I cut myself shaving a half-hour before the ceremony, and the bleeding wouldn’t stop. My face was splotched with bloody toilet paper. It began to rain. The lavishly costumed stilt walkers in the driveway greeted our guests. The gentle rain continued.
I couldn’t find the shoe polish, but our divine cello player polished my shoes in full performance dress, while I kept receiving these urgent notes from the bride stuffed into our crowded little storage room with her retinue.
“You have to start!! We’re wilting back here.”
I looked at the rain and issued instructions for tents to be erected.
“Tell the bride she’s waited for 26 years, she can wait a little longer.”
Naturally, that didn’t go over big in the storage room.
The sound system began playing Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s inspired version of Over the Rainbow and I got that terrible trapped feeling, along with more dire threats from the storage room. This marriage business can get traumatic.
One of the granddaughters arrived with the ultimatum: “Grandma said she’s going to get married without you.”
Then the rain stopped, and I hauled my sorry ass onto the field. Our herd dog decided to lead the bride’s wedding train to our little altar. And so we were married.
The drunk every wedding needs started to get loud, but one of our friends, a school principal, pressed her spiked shoe onto his foot and silently stared him in the eye. He shut up.
It was a wedding. What more can I tell.
Thousands of stories, sure, but the important part is the friends, the family, the quarrels, the laughter. Then there’s the tall tales, the food and the late night. The glow of community.
A few days later we fled to our honeymoon. A little cottage on the West Coast above Long Beach.
It was the kind of shack I used to build out of driftwood in the ‘60s, now swished up and booked a year in advance for more money that I would earn in a month during those wild years
The next morning, I was having fun leaping across the tidal pools, looking for crabs, like in my glory days. There was a tidal rip between the two islands, a small leap across a channel — actually, more like just a large step.
When my foot touched the rock, I heard the crack. It sounded like a piece of cedar kindling being broken in half. My good knee blew out, the muscles and ligaments, suddenly the sole support for 230 pounds, ripped off my thigh.
With nothing to hold me up, I crashed like a great tree backwards, my head miraculously falling between two sharp rocks.
I was in the rip of the incoming tide, my leg paralyzed and in spasm. I couldn’t stand up. Somehow, I hauled myself onto the rocks, where, being a writer, I flipped my backup flash drive out of my jeans onto dry land.
My life’s writing in a lighter-sized case. The tide might get me, but it wasn’t going to get my art. How crazy we human beings are. The way we react.
I saw Sharon on a lawn chair by the cabin, and managed to catch her attention. She waved sweetly back.
It took her several minutes to realize I was in desperate trouble, and another hour to drag me out of the tidal rocks. I spent the rest of our honeymoon on ice, which Sharon hauled daily from civilization back to our rustic cabin.
Weddings and funerals. The ties that bind. The family. All our friends. Without them what is our life — the going and the getting, the shopping, the working?
That moment of lying in those rocks with the tide roaring towards me clarified the world a lot. I loved the wedding. I’ll pass on the funeral for a while yet.
Brian Brett, poet, journalist, novelist, lives on Salt Spring Island and returns to the Yukon whenever he can. He is at work on a new book about life on Trauma Farm.