Sunday, April 21, 2013

Big Parade

Shannon & Richard on the steps of Chelsea Town Hall

  What No One Tells the Bride:  Your vision, whatever it is – detailed, general, simple, complex, town hall or Westminster Abby – will be derailed at some point, no matter the extent you have submerged yourself, and all those around you, into believing and actuating your fairy tale ceremony and celebration. 
  I know.  Total.  Buzz Kill - at least for all those brides-to-be with hopes of their perfect wedding day illuminating before their eyes.  As for those of us who have already been through the momentous occasion, I think I hear a giggle and imagine a few head nods.
  I flew to London on Thursday morning to celebrate one of my best friends’ wedding day.  Shannon and I went to college together, which results in a not-too-shabby-15-year-friendship.  She’s lived in the U.K. for seven years and gave me memorable advice prior to moving overseas:  “You will go to the grocery store and stare. . . not know what the heck this stuff is or what you’re supposed to do with it.  And I had a leg up. . .at least my packaging was in English.”  She shrugged, patted my shoulder and attempted to console my freshman soul with the wisdom of a senior quarterback.
  My pre-flight stresses about making sure there was enough food in the fridge, the wedding gift was intact, laundry was done, hotel confirmations printed, and hundreds of other preparation worries disappeared into the horizon upon take-off from Amsterdam Schiphol, only to be replaced by solo-traveling jitters.  I used to travel to unknown cities alone all the time when I worked for American Airlines – I stumbled upon Leiden while tagging along with one of V’s business trips a bazillion years ago, thus prompting the I’m-going-to-live-here-someday-flashforward.  I had decided to attend Shannon’s wedding alone with a peaceful vision of me frolicking carefree through the streets of London without a stroller or husband for an entire day.  But all that sunshine slowly shifted to cloudy with chances of showers once I started to calculate the logistics of navigating the system – train tickets, tubes, maps, new currency, directions, etc.  Once confident with tromping around Japanese country sides, having a family changed my perspective in ways I never dreamed possible.  There is safety in numbers, but also unbelievable amounts of stress that come with moving an entourage – visions of our family lugging a double stroller up and around the stair bridges of Venice haunt my memory – which led me to waver in my confidence to successfully run around London alone.  I knew it was going to be okay, but I didn’t really know
  Upon landing, a wonderful, beautiful rush came over my entire body like your favorite Old Navy hoodie.  English.  Nearly everyone I encounter in The Netherlands has a superb grasp of English, and I’ve caught on to the key phrases in Dutch – but to be submersed in a culture where English is the primary language and spoken without pride or grudge, was fantastic.  I purchased my train ticket with the swiftness of a brushstroke.  Without having to check my map and memory every ten seconds, I relaxed in my train seat, knowing I wouldn’t miss Victoria Station.  (Dordrecht and Vlissingen stations in The Netherlands just get stuck like taffy on my tongue and prompt confusion in my head).  Wandering around London, I felt like I was in New York City – with it’s sky scrapers and busy streets – but I also loved how I had to ask for my bill at Wagamama because, despite how I had told the waiter that I was “all done” and that the “food was great” and how I was “ready to go” those key words: Please Bring Me The Bill – were the only ones that would prompt and actual exit from the building.  West meets East.  In the end – there is nowhere like London
Me, Shannon, & Tess
  Our friend, Tess from Texas had flown in for the ceremony as well.  We met her with coffee in-hand at the international terminal of Heathrow Airport.  Reunited, we drove back to Shannon’s new hometown of St. Albans and spent the entire day on Friday searching for a basket and tights for her soon-to-be-step-children.  Being accustomed to crap-European retailers and the beat-down that accompanies ANY quest to find ANYTHING you’re looking for, I quite enjoyed the day.  I could empathize with American-friend Tess, though.   She was an awesome sport, ducking in and out of every store, keeping pace with our European abilities to walk forever.  I could tell though, in her jet-lagged state, she would have traded one of those charming English Pubs for a Super Target and after twenty fruitless stores, I joined in on the mental mind force, with disappointment. 
   Friday evening was met with a debate about cottage vs. shepherds pie (Google that one, fans) but either way – it was a fantastically yummy dinner despite the nomenclature of the dish.  Tess and I retired early (relatively? We were on vacation, you know) to our local hotel in St. Albans and instructed the grinning youthful hotel clerk of our intensions for our 7-a.m. wake up calls. 
  Shannon and Richard planned a 10:00 a.m. wedding ceremony in Chelsea. “I really wanted 11:00 a.m., but it was already taken,” she explained.  It was a fabulously intimate wedding and the entire wedding guest list was instructed to meet them at their house to travel with the bride and groom in a Hummer Limo to the wedding ceremony.  Not wanting to disappoint, Tess and I arrived at her house, at 8:15 a.m., empty stomached but fueled on our rations of hotel instant coffee.  We were greeted heartily by Shannon’s family and local friends.  “So, are you nervous?” Tess asked Shannon’s Dad.  “Awww.  Naaah,” he responded, in the finest Texan accent the tuxedo would allow. “This ain’t my first rodeo, you know. . .” and with a wink and a tip of his imaginary hat, he moseyed on in search of his wife’s arm that he’s held close to his heart, for nearly 44 years.           
   “Tess!  Celeste!  Your presence is being requested upstairs!” Shannon’s mom sang from the staircase.  Tess had just hunted down the coffee maker and dredged the last of the coffee – literally a shot of grounds – and we smiled at the invitation.  “We’re here!  We were just on our way up!” we echoed back our excitement to the mother-of-the-bride.
   The bedroom was a mess but Shannon looked beautiful.  She took a sip from her coffee cup as we walked in.  “Something Old” the cup said, and the photo of her groom smiled back at her.  A lovely silver wired ribbon adorned the handle.  “Isn’t it cute?  Richard wanted to give it to me as a surprise.” She set the Shannon’s hairdresser shifted around the tiny space surrounding the bed.  She had woken up before dawn to meet Shannon at her house at 5:30 a.m. and all efforts had paid off.  It was time to put on the dress.
"Something Old"
cup down and studied her reflection in the mirror.  Her hair was piled half atop her head while curled tendrils fell among her pale shoulders.  “I’m so white!” she said.  For a beat, Shannon and I teamed up against our tanned-Texas friend with our mutual glares. 
  During lunch the day before Tess and I had predicted Shannon would cry at the wedding.  “No I won’t!” she protested.  “Oh yes you will!  Do you have waterproof mascara just in case?” she waved our accusations away with her hand.  She stepped carefully into her dress and I zipped her up.  She looked at her reflection in the mirror and for that brief moment, her eyes brimmed with glassy tears of happiness.   Business woman that she is, before falling too far over the emotional edge, she looked out the window and she shifted in her dress.  “Where’s the limo?  It’s supposed to be here by now.” she said.  Tess and I put on our coolest calm-collected faces.  “Oh no worries.  It will be here soon.  Everyone is completely ready to go downstairs.” Tess says.  “You know, they can’t start without you.” I chirped happily.  She shakes her head slightly and then, like a key plot point, she delivers the line, “Well. . . see the problem is, they have a wedding scheduled at 11 o’clock and if we are even 20 minutes late, they will cancel our spot.”  I nod once and I’m sure my smile did not mask my nervousness. 
Richard sees his bride for the first time in her dress
  Tess and I go downstairs to witness the big moment when Richard sees Shannon for the first time.  She parades down and runs her hands over the long skirt to mask her anxiousness of the event.  They kiss gently and the admiration in Richard’s eyes is transparent.   The intimate moment is suspended as Richard’s cell phone rings and Shannon’s mother steps to her side.  The limo is lost or running tragically behind schedule – it’s not clear to all of us witnessing the exchange – but what is obvious, is how calmly, intently, and splendidly professional Richard is speaking to the person on the other end of the phone.  He’s going to fix this disastrous blunder the limo company has catapulted into this couple’s wedding day, and potentially – their lives.  In America it wouldn’t quite happen like this.  People would shrug and get in their cars, which are parked outside, and drive.  Insert a majority of car-less people, trains being a far-too-time-consuming-option, a tiny suburb town, and you’ve got a logistical crisis of a monstrous size.  
  Our taxi driver was an eager and willing participant in the challenge that faced him. “I will get you there in time to see your friend’s wedding,” he promised with the seriousness of a wedding vow.  He leaned forward in his seat, barreling our car down the British highway system at Autobahn speeds, admirably never forgetting to use his turn signal, following the path that the bride and groom had taken twenty minutes before in a friend’s borrowed car.  As we zoomed past double-decker busses, our friend Russ received a call.  “Tess?  Do you have Shannon’s lipstick?” we all laughed with relief.  “Oh good, Shannon is on to smaller cosmetic problems.  This is a good sign,” everyone in the car nodded in agreement.  With squealing breaks, our car jolted to a halt outside the Chelsea Town Hall, Hugh Grant-Notting-Hill-style, with two minutes to spare.
  The room was unlike anything you’d imagine in a Texas town hall – floor-to-ceiling-silk draperies, plush velvet chairs, and sparkling chandeliers.  The guests were giddy with excitement – a combination of adrenaline and caffeine, and we quickly found our seats and awaited the ceremony. 

  Shannon and Richard walked down the aisle together - symbolic of their past, present, and future.  The entire ceremony lasted twenty minutes, but it was heartfelt and to the point.  We all applauded the kiss and signing of the nuptials.  The 11 o’clock wedding party need not be worried of us overstepping our time slot. 
Fancy French Dinner
   After the ceremony we celebrated.  Sipping champagne in a hummer limo while passing by Westminster Abby, Big Ben, and other iconic London landmarks will forever be ingrained in my mind.    A 6-course French meal greeted the guests and the food was heavenly.  I had to endure my table-mates smirking at my choice of Spring Pea Soup over Duck Liver (despite living in Europe, I just haven’t quite advanced my pallet that far.), but nothing could deter me from savoring every bite. The champagne and wine flowed, the food appeared and disappeared course after course to the happy pleasure of everyone.  Toasts were sung “To Love!” - Richard’s daughter announced prompting approving applause from everyone in the room.  But beyond the spotlight celebration, what I loved most about the day was observing the couple on their wedding day unscripted.  I watched with interest the loving and intimate way they nodded, smiled, and chatted unrehearsed in between courses – engaging in conversation that no one else was able to hear.   I loved seeing Richard’s children take turns sitting on his knee and seeing the affection he so unabashedly feels towards them.  I appreciated that the couple’s main goal was to make sure that everyone have a good time and how it was achieved by the elegant production:  props of crystal glasses, characters of superb wait staff, and a setting of dining under canopy of branches heavy with delicate pink cherry blossoms. 
Walking into the ceremony together
  The next day, I was treated to more spontaneous observations during the relaxing day-after events: dropping her parents off at the airport, lunch at an English Pub (yes, I ordered the fish and chips because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?), and a languid walk under the shining sun in the woods.  I loved seeing them interact.  If there’s anything that gives you joy and hope for the world, it’s seeing a couple on their first day of marriage.  “Thank you so much!  I totally feel like I crashed your first day of your married life together.  I mean, I am – but thank you!”  She shrugged and explained that they were taking the next day off as well – the honeymoon to be decided later.  As I exited the car, Shannon leaned over in the front passenger seat and reached her right arm out to stroke the back of Richard’s head.  “I’ve told him, but I’ll tell you, too.  Life’s not going to be easy.  But I’d rather go through all the crap with him. . . than to live a different life without him.”  I smiled, thinking of the phone call to the limo company and how, in the midst of the chaotic moments they can’t control, they stayed calm, smiling admirably and confidently at each other.  Life may not turn out how they envisioned, no one’s ever does - but with each other’s daily doses of support, dedication, and love – I know their world will be a joyful and peaceful place together.     

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