June, 1963—A red brick Unitarian church in Los Angeles. The flavor: Kahlil Gibran. Stand together yet not so near together/For the pillars of the temple stand apart/And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow. The fact that the minister had been a friend of Bertrand Russell is important to the groom. The facts that her high heels are sinking into the garden lawn and that her father seems already a little drunk are important to the bride. She is 23 and three months pregnant. The groom is six four and a half, and wears a patch on one eye, having just had an operation (congenital cataracts) which would not have been covered by insurance if he were married. Uncle Al will play the cello and Aunt Gladys has made a fruit basket of a watermelon. The maid of honor is also in love with the groom.
May, 2009—A Unitarian Universalist church with a hand-carved gate from Transylvania and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The flavors: garam masala, saffron, and gumbo filé. A photo of the hugging guru, Amma, nestles beside a cross-legged Ganesh, the beloved Hindu elephant god, garlanded with baby roses. The minister wears a green dashiki, quotes Rabindranath Tagore. Let my love, like sunlight, surround you and yet give you illumined freedom. He calls on the four directions, North, South, East, and West. He calls on the wind and the water, the redwoods and the rivers,
the mountains and the valleys, the birds and the fish. The response: “to bless this marriage.” The bride and the groom dance for the guests to Ibrahim Ferrer’s “Dos Almas” (Two Souls). The food is Thai; the wine French and Spanish; the bride, a lovely Tamil; the groom a handsome European mutt whose grandmother escaped just in time. The schoolyard bully she once slugged had become a Nazi border guard, a leather-wrapped Gestapo. She berated him for holding up the line of people waiting for the train. He let them all through.
September, 2008—A beach on Long Island. The flavor: sunset over the Sound after a rain. The judge, in her long red dress, waits at the center of the west-facing beach. Little girls strewing rose petals lead the bride from one side, the women following, and the boys bring the groom from the other, the men behind. Some of the children are distracted by hermit crabs near the shore, so the procession becomes an undulating wave. The bride wears pearls in her hair, resembles Botticelli’s Venus in a flowing white dress. After, at the wedding dinner, she will sing Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” to the groom. The tables, al fresco, have been decorated with flowers and seashells; candles will float in the swimming pool. The adults will eat oysters, sip champagne, and remember their own wedding days. The groom will focus, smiling, on his singing bride; the children, on a young dead rat at the bottom of the luminous pool.
May, 2008—Laguna Beach, a cove below the sandstone cliffs. The flavor: it’s-never-too-late-for-love. The minister, a lapsed Catholic with a Universal Life Church certificate, wears a black suit. The groom gives the bride a small silver swan, as swans mate for life. The two have been living together for 17 years. The IRS had something to do with the marriage, but so did love.
August, 2007—The beach at Haleiwa, a full-moon night. The flavor: tuberose and plumeria. The couple, from Colorado Springs, will go straight to chiropractic school in Portland after the honeymoon. The bride wears a glove-like slip-dress, the groom the usual black tux. The guests sit on folding chairs arranged in rows on the sand, cooling themselves with souvenir heart-shaped straw fans bearing the names of the bride and groom. The groom’s sister is a tall beauty, an Air Force major. Her job is flying air tankers, big mid-air refueling planes, like those in the scene in Dr. Strangelove, seeming to hover in an aerial coupling to the romantic strains of “Try a Little Tenderness.”
July, 2008—The Berkeley Rose Garden, early afternoon. The flavor: love after loss. The bride is 67. Her first husband died at 49, after 27 years of marriage. He didn’t get to see his daughter become a lawyer or a bride. The minister had known him long, and knew loss too. His own wife, the bride’s best friend, died in an accident in 1979, when she was only 36, the minister and the younger of their two sons sitting beside her in the truck she drove. She swerved, and saved them. The guest list for this wedding is small: the bride’s daughter, who will catch the bouquet, and her husband; the groom’s son, who will be pinned with the groom’s boutonniere to help the young man find love. That makes three. Then the second wife of the minister-friend who raised the two sons who lost their mother. She loves them as her own. And that makes four, except for the spirits, who hover near, and join in the blessings.
Judy Bebelaar is a Berkeley poet whose work has been published in many magazines. A retired teacher, she is working on a book about her experiences teaching high school-aged members of Peoples Temple in 1976. She hosts a monthly program at Berkeley’s Nomad Cafe: Writing Teachers Write.
A Wedding Sampler | by Judy Bebelaar
A Different Light | by Cynthia Overbeck Bix
Taste Summer | by Joyce Thompson
The Water’s Fine | by Rachel Trachten
Finer Than Frog Hair | by Wichita Sims
Coloring in the Details | by Joanne Catz Hartman
Flavor of the Moment | by Nancy McKay