Marriage is like jumping off a cliff. This is what my mother is explaining to my nephews, and a few of my sister's friends, and anyone who happens by her little spot in the shade outside the church.
"This is the highlight of my life," she is saying of this miserably hot summer day. She's dressed in a mint-green suit and she's holding a bouquet of creamy white roses, just like the ones she carried on her wedding day 60 years ago. This day, which she is referring to as "the reenactment," is even better than her wedding day -- largely because of the cliff factor. "When you get married, you just have to close your eyes and . . . leap," she says. "You really have no idea where you'll land. Well, look where I landed!"
It's a good point -- and one that rings a bell. "Didn't we just do this?" I say to my sister Claire, who's standing out here with me working on the bridesmaids' flowers. We threw an anniversary party for my parents a few years ago, and I think my mother was using the cliff line then, too. "That was their 55th anniversary?" I say.
"That was for their 50th," my sister Kristin chimes in.
"That was 10 years ago?" Claire says.
"No, it was not!" I say.
"Yeah," Kristin says, insisting we get the show on the road. She is, by profession, a television producer, so she's in charge this time, just as she was last time. The littlest of my parents' grandchildren -- Claire's daughter and my two -- are bridesmaids. Some of the older ones will give readings, and my nephew Peter will serve as altar boy. Then a clump of my brother's kids and their spouses will bring up the water and the wine.
"Wow, none of them had spouses the last time we did this," I say to Claire.
"Honey, they were in high school," she points out, adding that I didn't have a spouse the last time we did this.
Oh, come on. I could certainly do the math in my head, but I am having a hard time accepting any of this. I march up to Alex. "You were here the last time we did this, weren't you?" He gives me a blank stare. I feel like Dorothy, waking up after the big dream. I was alone? My kids weren't here yet? Katie, Kristin's teenage daughter, was . . . just out of diapers? What's going on here? The last time we did this, nothing had even happened yet. My mother was still marching with her forceful gait -- the disease that paralyzed her for a year and left her disabled hadn't yet hit. She hadn't, for that matter, been diagnosed with and survived breast cancer yet. My parents hadn't yet moved to the retirement village. They were still living in the house by the lake -- the house that has since been torn down by someone with more money than God. There was so much innocence then. So many horrible things still to happen. September 11th was still just somebody's birthday, or any old day at school. O.J. hadn't even been acquitted yet, Princess Diana was still very much alive and married to Prince Charles, and ordinary Americans did not yet have the computing power to digitally remove the red eye from all the family photos they would never get around to printing out.
I could go buggy thinking of how much has changed since the last time we did this. And maybe I would if it weren't for them, the same old same olds. Parents are like big, ancient trees blooming and sleeping, blooming and sleeping year after year. The world keeps zooming, even attacking sometimes, and here they are, toddling along, squabbling in their same old ways, my father joking, my mother not getting the joke, my father so delighted by her innocence he might cry.
When they renew their vows, they sit up at the altar, facing us. They didn't want to sit there, on display like that. But my brother put the chairs there, and it's hot, and the fans are blowing on their heads. My mother is waving out at us, her peeps. She looks like a queen. My father is wearing his bow tie and a glow of peace. He started out wanting to be a priest, long before my mom got ahold of him. She wanted to be a spinster Chaucer scholar until my father got ahold of her. When they found each other, they fit exactly, then jumped off the cliff.
At the party at my brother's after the ceremony, we eat asparagus tips just as we did last time. My mother continues her bit about this day being better than her wedding day. And as for this, her remarkably safe landing, she makes it sound as though it were primarily a matter of profound luck.
But the next day she gives me a little envelope. "We want to pass on to you our sustaining prayer for a happy marriage," my dad has written inside. Grant that we may both be filled with faith and trust . . . Bring us both ever closer to You through our love for each other. Let our love grow to perfection. Amen.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.