Friday, December 12, 2003

Family cubed--Greatest Hits

What are the big reasons why family gets together? A death, a wedding, a major holiday.

Holidays are generally spaced apart on the calendar and weddings and deaths happen hopefully infrequently enough that you usually spread out these intense family exposures over time so as not to drive yourself or your relatives too nuts. In my family, that's a good thing.

Though my sister Melissa's wedding was planned for the Saturday after thxgiving, this family overload stuff wasn't an issue for me. I wasn't flying home until Thanksgiving day (at night), so just really one "occasion" for me. But then I got an unusual request.

My mom called on Monday Nov. 10 and told me to call my 79-year-old grandmother ASAP. My grandmother had been sick for the past 10+ years, at times very, very sick and others not so bad. But over the past few months things had been getting worse -- near constant pain, constantly on meds, getting a little more senile. Now obviously I'd want to communicate with my grandmother as much as possible, but the senility and more importantly her hearing loss made phone calls pretty much impossible. nevertheless, my mom told me to call, so I did. we talked for just a few minutes but i was able to tell her i loved her, and i think she heard me.

The next night around 10:30 p.m. PST, my mom called. My grandmother had died. Obviously, I was very sad. But in many ways I was relieved, too. After years of illness and months of painful illness, during which her diet was controlled (and shitty) and well, pretty much hell, at least her suffering was finally over.

Over the next few days my mom informs me of the memorial service plans, and I got lucky. they planned it for the Saturday before thanksgiving, which was exactly one week before my sister's wedding. that works for me.... i figure i can just take a new flight prior to the service and i'll just stay through until the wedding. fortunately, work is able to deal with this and i only have to take one vacation day. [right now my upstairs neighbors are playing this really crappy music very loudly with a rolling bass line -- they've got 20 minutes].

So on Friday Nov. 21 I set off from LAX back to Buffalo. Everything was cool on my flights except... as we are waiting to deplane from a smooth, comfortbale flight at Dulles (Washington DC) the guy in the row ahead of me (i am pretty sure) decides to pass really noxious gas. and it's great timing because we're at the gate already so the air circulating system is OFF and we're all just standing pressed against each other waiting to deplane. I managed not to suffocate, but as an atheist this is one that brought me close to praying. Quick aside, coincidentally (not ironically), one of my fave sports writers had just written about a gas passing fellow passenger he encountered when flying. last bad travel note.... on the commuter flight from DC to Buffalo my row has two seats next to each other, aisle and then three more seats. I have the aisle seat in the two-seat section, and next to me a guy who has the window seat and half of my seat. he was an unsmall man. thankfully (?) he slept the whole way to buffalo.


The memorial service was the next day. It went very well. Dozens of family and friends showed up. There were lots of tears and some wonderful memories shared. I came face-to-face with the third real regret in my life -- my failure to get to know my grandmother as someone other than my grandmother. I mean, I love her as my grandmother -- the nicest woman in the world who takes an interest in whatever weird new thing tickles her grandson's fancy. But i wish i had gotten to know the rest of her better -- the woman who exhibited more strength and courage than anyone i've ever met in facing more than 10 years of illness without once complaining or feeling cheated. She even lent me enough courage to kinda share those thoughts at the service, until i lost it and had to go sit down again.

Oh yeah, there was one f------ up thing at the service.... for some reason a maintenance crew was fixing a window outside of the church and that was just a lot loud. so a few of us went out and asked him to stop and he did. so that wasn't too bad.


The balance of my week until Thanksgiving rolled around was about indulging all my food weaknesses from buffalo and giving up a lot of my california diet rules. basically, i ate red meat again and pork. and pizza and chicken wings and hot dogs and fried fat and deep-fried fat and triple-fried fried. but it was great. fortunately, i stayed on a california body clock so i only ate twice a day, which kept the overall cal intake low so i was able to eat like shit, just not very much and only threw on like a pound or two during the week.


So Thanksgiving Day... we ate at my grandmother's house (the one who had passed away). Pretty much everyone was there, four of my grandmother's five kids and many of my cousins. The meal was fine and everything but after that things got weird. We walked through the house and started putting dibs on things that we wanted to keep. It was bizarre. I didn't want to claim anything at first, it just felt too weird to put a stake on my grandmother's property like i was some sort of looter, i felt almost criminal. Eventually I realized there was something I wanted.... these two masks that hung on the living room wall (Tragedy and comedy). When i asked for them, i found out that they were in fact gone. My mother had already moved them to our house. The other thing I asked for the "Blizzard of '77" board game, based on the worst blizzard in buffalo history. My cousin scott and i used to play it when we had to "go to grandma's." my uncles said it was cool. lastly, i decided that i wanted these two eppes (fencing foils) and fencing helmets that were in the basement. They decorated the other room where my cousin scott and i spent all our time during visits to grandma's. the basement, playing pool. no one else wanted them, so it was cool. felt weird, but i'm glad i have them. my hope is to someday have a place where they can lend the same air of invite to others in my house. IS THAT THE LAMEST, CORNIEST THING EVER, OR IS THAT JUST ME? i dunno, i mean that, but the words don't seem to be working for me. am i paid to edit and teach writing or what?


So now it's the day after thanksgiving, wedding rehearsal day. The rehearsal is scheduled for 7 p.m. and everyone is there on time, except well the bride. for some reason though not many of us are all that surprised that my sister is late for her own wedding rehearsal, besides late for rehearsal means on time for wedding, right? i think i just made that one up. Melissa hasn't shown up as of like 7:20 so we decide to start without her... woo-hooo a wedding rehearsal happening without the bride who's only like the most important person right?

Eventually Melissa shows up, but even when she got there the rehearsal was kinda incomplete feeling. I just didn't feel like it was a good sign when the pastor said "you've a few options here" or "there are different theories for what you can do here" about four times. The matron of honor, another bridesmaid and I actually did as much rehearsal directing as the pastor, at least it felt that way. The three of us decided how get the ushers/groomsmen from the back altarish area to the back of the church. My mother and I had to tell the pastor that the mother of the groom's son (groom's brother) should escort his mom down the aisle. The bridesmaid/matron of honor tandem reminded the pastor that we needed to come up with a time to unroll the runner. Eventually though we got it all figured out and had a dry run. Everything seemed pretty smooth -- although we never had a chance to practice unrolling the runner.


Actually the with the exceptions of a litany of things everything went great.

The first problems didn't arise, at least not that i saw, until just before the ceremony. I had to drive my cousin (who was passing out programs) and my two-year-old nephew, Alex, to the wedding. Alex slept the whole way to the church, then we got there and he started crying and fussing. not the best omen going.

next problem, also alex related. he was supposed to walk down behind the flower girls in his tux looking stylin and all that jazz. however, he was still crying, so my father ended up carrying him down the aisle as he escorted my sister. unfortunately alex ain't talking yet so he wasn't able to tell us his feet hurt. once he got down the aisle he took a seat, they took off his shoes and he was good to go.

next problem, the runner didn't want to unroll.

but despite those three small snags, the wedding was actually very beautiful and pretty quick, too, which was cool. chris, my brother-in-law (which is the most whacked out thing i have ever typed) was weeping after the ceremony. cute, gross, sweet, right? i admonished him for not being a man, but deep down i was really happy to see that... shows me that this was something that really meant something to him. my sister deserves at least that, right?

although i suspect that's why chris might have forgotten a cd with wedding music and the license at the church... he was blinded from the salty discharge in his eyes. oh well, luckily we had what all weddings must have the "Unofficial" wedding party member -- typically a guy who knows people in the wedding party, including the couple, very well, who is available to run errands and keep the show moving smoothly. This guy, who was very nice and cool and whose name escapes me, was available on cell phone to get all that stuff and bring it to the reception hall. thankfully he was able to take care of that stuff, because when we showed up at the photo site there was a problem.

the main hall was being renovated, so the director of the botanical gardens told us we could have run of the rest of the place. however, our photog felt like there wasn't a large enough space anywhere else in the building to get a photo of the entire 14 person bridal party. so now what? well, he proposed the steps behind the downtown art museum (where my car got busted into)... outside (where it's like 30 degrees not taking the wind into account). whooooo-hooooo! he promises to be fast. so we get there and there's another wedding party already there freezing their assess off. now the big problem with the cold, it means like two or three pictures max per set-up, and a bare minimum of set-ups. so we froze and then finished in just a few minutes.... so instead of pix taking like 90 minutes they took just like 40. but pix actually seemed to go very well and he came recommended as sharp with the camera. so here it is 4:05 p.m. and we're done and on our way to the reception hall we find out that we're not allowed in until 5 p.m. because that's when it's paid for.

oy vey. we end up at a grocery store getting food and killing time. but of course, don't we have to have another snag. we can't find chris's younger brother so chris goes roaming around the strip mall area looking for him, including in the wet grassy area on which he gets his tux pants and shoes muddy. woooo-hooooo!

but the reception i gotta say went pretty fabulous. my father and sister did really cool father-daughter dance with like twirling and stuff, who knew, huh? way to go dad. we all got into it, though for some reason i was the only one whooping loudly (as if there's any other way to whoop).

only snag of the night.... the big lesson i had to learn about how friend weddings differ from family weddings. friend weddings are a great big party, where the only person you want to make sure has a good time is yourself. now it's like baby-sitting a bunch of adults. i noticed myself always checking to make sure my relatives were having a good time, family friends were having a good time, there weren't any problems with the facility, making sure chris's brother wasn't vandalizing the bathroom or sneaking liquor, since he's just in high school. so with all that stress added onto a day of stress, i was beat. and get this it was only 8:30 p.m., and we had the hall til 11 p.m. whatever, we made it to the end it was fabulous and happily ever after has already started. let's hope it lasts til then.

for those who wanted more reception stuff... i honestly don't remember much more... except i had to go buy the scotch.