Tuesday, May 07, 2002

PULFER: Family ties

Weddings: a selective memory

By Laura Pulfer, lpulfer@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There's nothing like a family wedding to make you feel old. At least, that has been my experience.

        You don't even have to be very old to feel old. Really, all you have to do is remember changing the bride's diapers. Or babysitting the groom. And wondering if he'd wind up in jail.

        As a younger cousin stood at the altar and the minister said something about cleaving to her husband, I recalled the day I broke the news to her about where babies really come from.

        She called me a liar. Said her parents would never have done such a disgusting thing. And she threw a rock at me with deadly accuracy. I still have a dime-sized scar on one shin. A few years later — OK, two decades later — she came to a family wedding with her four children. I told you so, I said.


Memorable pinching

        My childhood memories of family weddings are a blur of seed pearls and lace and baby's breath and calla lilies. I remember shoes that pinched my feet and aunts that pinched my cheeks.

        The mother of the bride wore pastel and carried a handkerchief. The cuisine was red punch and dry, white wedding cake. Sometimes there was a band, sometimes a disc jockey. But always, there was music. We did the Hokey Pokey and the Bunny Hop.

        My dad let me stand on his good black shoes while we danced.

        Newlyweds used to open the wedding gifts at the reception. This was before the couple specified the gifts they would accept. So sometimes they received several toasters and more towels than they would use in a lifetime.

        They left early. And the bride sometimes blushed.


Family traditions

        Last weekend, my family gathered again to hear the familiar promises. The wedding was in a little college town nowhere near an airport. It was inconvenient and expensive. And we traveled from all over the country to be there.

        This part of the tradition remains the same. We are invited. We are expected to come. My family is huge, but we do not have to wear name tags.

        We know each other.

        Dad has been gone for years, and my mother sits now with her sisters. They arrive at the church early, not wanting to miss any of the music. And they want to get a seat near the front of the church so they can get a good look at the flowers and check out the family on the other side of the aisle. They will listen raptly to the vows, which they have heard scores of times in, more or less, the same company.

        Many things have changed, of course. The priest speaks to us in English. The gifts have been sent to the couple's new home. They will be honeymooning at a lavish resort, nowhere near Niagara Falls. The bride does not promise to obey her husband. But, still, they make the big promise, the vow to be a family. And to join a family.

        When we stand to face the back of the church where the bride waits with her father, I feel that familiar ache in the back of my throat. Not for this child, whom I barely know. I am related to the groom.

        I am remembering my own wedding. That day, I awkwardly stepped on my dad's good black shoes, this time by accident. Just before he walked me down the aisle.

        Last weekend, I watched Sadie, 5, standing on her daddy's good black shoes. Dancing. It was sweet. It was familiar.

        It is an old feeling.

       E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.


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