Thursday, June 01, 2006

My brother's wedding

I mentioned my brother's wedding briefly in the last post about my summer in Ann Arbor. It's a funny (and surprisingly long) story. Since it landed on my mind, I figured I'd tell it.

I have two older brothers. The younger (B2) got married when he was 24 in Israel, almost 20 years ago (kid count: 5). The eldest brother (B1) got married about seven years ago when he was 38 (kid count:3). I did not attend B2's wedding but I was an integral part of B1's. Or, at least a part.

B1 planned a very nice, yet horrendously complicated wedding.

Complication #1: the hupa square.
My brother went to a wedding where the couple had a hupa (the traditional canopy under which a Jewish couple is married) made of squares of individually decorated fabric sewn into a quilt. The couple asked family and friends to decorate squares however they liked. My brother and his fiancée decided they would do the same thing. Then they'd have a lovely quilt they could hang on the wall as a memento.

Guess where the hupa-quilt is today? On their wall? I think not. It's in a drawer in the kids' basement playroom.

(Aside: the last minute present I got them of an art-glass vase has always been prominently displayed in their house.)

I'm not exactly what you would call "crafty." And I the hupa square project completely stumped me. The only crafty thing I've ever done is counted cross-stitch, which I'm not very good at. Not only does it take forever, but the fabric that I had to use for the hupa square (muslin) was not appropriate for cross-stitch, which I learned when I took the fabric to a tiny craft store in Durham (there was none in Chapel Hill!). I asked B2 if I could substitute different fabric and the answer was "no." I carried that piece of fabric to Ann Arbor with me like an albatross. Soon there came plaintive emails from B2 reminding us to finish the squares and mail them in. Eventually, he called me, "I really need to you get the hupa square to me." I grumbled, "I just don't know what to do with it." "It's not supposed to be a burden. If you don't want to do it, you should have said so." "I want to do it, " [Well, I wanted to want to do it. I didn't want to do it.] "I'm just no good at this. I'll figure something out." "We need it by the end of the week." See, I didn't want to be left out but I felt pressured. And I was pressured!

Finally, I asked my officemate, "Are you crafty?"

"A little," she said, "why do you ask?"

I explained the nature of my project and my frustration.

"Oh, you need to go to Michaels." I had never heard of this place. "You can do something with an appliqué or fabric paint. They have everything there."

I drove to Michaels the next day and I'll be damned if the whole store wasn't full of supplies for home crafts projects. I had no idea.

I wandered aimlessly through the aisles, waiting for inspiration. Then I found what I needed—a kit for decorating a sweatshirt with a big, pretty painting of a flower (a purple pansy, my favorite flower). There was an iron-on outline of the flower and a list of all the different colors of paint needed to fill it in. I bought every single tube paint on the list.

After I transferred the pattern to the fabric square, via iron, I realized that the painting was going to be a challenge. It was more difficult than true paint-by-numbers because there were no numbers. I sat at the student desk in my tiny room, under the heat of a halogen desk lamp (also purchased that summer), bent over my square of fabric, staring at the picture from the package, trying to replicate the color scheme. Did my neck hurt. And it was hot (no a/c + attic room + Michigan summer). While I was laboring away, one of my co-op mates came by and asked me to go to the pool with them. I said, "I can't, have to finish this!" She asked me what I was doing and I explained. She looked over my shoulder, "It looks good. Maybe you need a break." The group took a while to motivate so after three other people asked me to join them, I was ready for the break and ran out of the house. I finished the paint job later that night.

When I first saw the hupa, the night before the wedding, B2 asked me to point out which square was mine. I was embarrassed because everyone else had done original unique designs. There were photo transfers, ribbons, poems. And my big, pretty, flower. "It's this one. The flower."

"It's gorgeous! Look, everyone, look at what my sister painted! Why didn't you sign it? You should sign it."

"No, that's ok. I don't need to sign it." I was a fraud. I said, quietly, to Frances, the old family friend I was standing next to, "I didn't really paint it. It was from a kit."

She said, "Shut up and take the compliment."

I tried to confess to my brother, but he was too busy admiring the other hupa squares, so I shut up.

Complication #2: the speech.
Another aspect of my brother's impeccably planned wedding was that they made a list of who they wanted to give toasts and passed out the assignments beforehand. While I found this very annoying because it put a lot of pressure on me (and I was already suffering under the weight of the hupa square), I can't fault them for it. It gave everyone a chance to prepare a few words and no one would be taken by surprise.

Yet, I was very nervous about the speech. I talked to a friend about it and she said, "Go to the library. They have books there about making toasts and giving speeches." Part of the problem was that I was supposed to keep it to two or three minutes and say something about the couple. Now, if you've met me, or read this blog, you know that it would be mighty hard for me to keep to two or three minutes. It was also going to be hard to say something nice about my brother. All the funny stories I came up with were a bit too mean for a wedding.

I went to the library and I found a couple of books. There were recommendations for structuring the speech, typical jokes and tips on memorization. The process helped me come up with a good, funny story that involved both B1 and his fiancée. I also decided to memorize the speech. I waited until the night before the wedding, but this is how I did it. As one of the books recommended, I wrote the whole thing down. Then I read it out loud, from the paper. As I read, I crossed out the unnecessary words and made other changes for flow. Then I read it again and timed myself. It was under three minutes. Then I said it without the paper. A couple of times. And I was golden.

The toast went like this:
One time, I was visiting B2 in New York and I turned to SIL and said, "Did you know that B2 wants to have 10 children?" SIL looked at me. Then she looked at B2. She said, "B2, is that true?" B2 gave me a look [I mimicked his expression for the crowd] then he said, "Yes, it's true." [Imagine a chagrined, hangdog delivery—big laugh.] SIL said, "We'll talk about this later." [Pause for effect.] I wish you exactly the number of children you want—Mazel Tov!
The toast started a bidding war between B2 and SIL about the number of kids they would have. It was hilarious.

Others, like my dad, read something that was sincere, but went on too long and involved many clichés. My brother's best friend gave a toast that lasted almost 15 minutes and was almost entirely about his own unhappy marriage. Yikes.

Frances, our old family friend, told me later, "Yours was the best toast of the bunch."

"Really? Better than the song her brother-in-law performed or that skit her friends did?"

"Well, those weren't really toasts—and they are professionals—yours was the best of the straight toasts."

An honest compliment if I ever heard one. I took it.

Complication #3: the location.
My SIL's family has a house on Shelter Island, which is found at the very end of Long Island. Their house is a small one in the center of the island, not one of the fancy, super-deluxe houses on the shoreline. Because B2 and SIL loved it there, they decided to have the wedding on Shelter Island. The problem is that Shelter Island is just about the least convenient place imaginable to have a wedding if you live anywhere other than Manhattan or Connecticut.

My problem was that it's fucking complicated to get to Shelter Island, NY from Ann Arbor, MI. My joke is that I used every type (air, land, water) of transport to get there. Someone drove me to the Detroit Airport. I flew to Newark. I took a bus to Grand Central Station. I walked to Penn Station where I caught the Long Island Rail Road to the very end of the line (Greenport—change at Ronkonkoma!). From there, I walked a few hundred yards to catch a ferry to Shelter Island. A ferry.

(Aside: before I got on the train to Greenport, I met Tom (important grad school ex-boyfriend) for lunch. He started talking about his new girlfriend (to whom he is now married) and I felt ill and couldn't eat any more. He walked me back to Grand Central Station, where I'd checked my bag, and we hoofed it together over to Penn Station. He carried my bag since I still wasn't feeling well. Confronted with the throng buying tickets for the LIRR, I shut down. Tom bought my ticket, took me to the platform and put me in the right car. Fun.)

Added to the hilarity of the travel, which went rather smoothly considering all the steps involved, was an afternoon spent clearing a rocky beach of rocks. They wanted a spot for the ceremony that would be relatively private. The place they chose was unpopular because it was extremely rocky, thus not conducive to sunbathing or swimming. The abundant rocks varied from fist-sized to pea-sized. About ten minutes into the clearing project, I resigned. When you move rocks around on a rocky beach, you just uncover more rocks. I thought it was the dumbest thing I'd ever seen. And it was HOT.

Despite all my complaining, I did enjoy the wedding and my weekend in Shelter Island. The ceremony was lovely, we all cried a lot, especially the bride and groom. But if you can't cry at weddings, when can you? Sure, there were no single guys there (not one) and no one asked me to dance, but I looked pretty in my dress, I gave an excellent toast, and, most importantly of all, I felt totally included by my brother in one of the most important symbolic moments of his life.

Aww, I might just cry again.

Grateful for: my brother.
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