We were lounging in my daughter’s shared house in Halifax watching that reality show about women choosing their wedding dresses when one of the young college girls turned to me and asked me directly, “Did you cry when you chose your wedding dress”?
I looked to my daughter, is it OK to tell your house mates my story, I asked? Oh yeah, she answered, knowing the tale all too well. Joe and I were married at the old City Hall in Toronto when I was hugely pregnant with Rose, and we had already been together about 8 years. We invited his parents to be witnesses because Joe’s mom had cried when we told her I was pregnant. There was also a financial reward, a tax break of some kind that made the whole deal more attractive to my husband.
The wedding ceremony was quite funny because the man on duty at the time thought he should make an appropriate speech based on the information he saw before him. Joe’s passport states his birth city as Jerusalem so the Justice of the Peace or whatever he was, intoned on the beauty of Canada (not knowing that Joe had been a Canadian since he was 4 years old).
I was obviously pregnant, so he reminded us that marriages take time and we would know each other better in a few years (not knowing that we had already been together for so many years) and finally, when Joe put the ring on my finger (I bought it at a cheap store on Yonge St. just in case we needed one, it was three thin silver coils wrapped together), he said, “Will you Joseph take Mary”?
I guess the mention of Jerusalem and the sight of the pregnant bride made him confused and he suddenly had changed my name from Margaret to Mary, but at this point I guffawed out loud with Joe and it was all over.
We did not have a party, we broke no dishes, we did not cross hands and drink out of glasses or allow people to make stupid speeches. We did not introduce our cultures to each other, god forbid, and we did not make them share a hall and dinner and the outrageous costs of the event. You’d think they would have been relieved. Maybe they were, we don’t really talk about it.
I did not care about not having a wedding; I honestly did not care at all. Very few people believe me but I did not have wedding fantasies when I was a child, and by the time I was 13 all I heard from my mother and sisters was how marriage and weddings were hypocritical and a waste of time. I never dreamed about wearing the white dress and walking down the aisle, and I think for Joe, who hated his bar mitzvah, the idea of a wedding party was a nightmare.
But most of all, Joe and I were in agreement that we did not want our two families forced together for a ritualistic event. We knew at the time, and now 27 years later I can tell you that we have not been proved wrong, that the prejudice in both of our families would have been evident. I think we could both hear the snooty comments made behind each other’s backs, from our respective families, and could not see why we would want to host that particular event.
Joe’s family saw my family as the epitome of what was wrong with WASPs, and to be honest we pretty much lived up to the worst of it. In my family and for many generations back you can find insanity, alcohol and/or drug addiction, affairs/divorce, and bad housekeeping and mediocre cooking. And we think very highly of ourselves, for no apparent reason. We are brought up to be snobs about working people, but don’t necessarily educate ourselves, and we believe in noblesse oblige even though we are generally cheap and broke and should not be looking down our noses at anyone at all.
Both families would have put on their best hats and behaved well if we had had a wedding party, but there was just no need for the charade. Looking back now, I wonder whether my Dad, who was more conventional than my Mom, was disappointed that he never walked one daughter down an aisle.
I enjoy other people’s weddings, though. It is generally a fun celebration with food and drink and dancing, and I partake with enthusiasm. I enjoyed my eldest brother Rhys’ wedding last weekend in which he married the lovely Carmen.
The sermon at the Catholic Church was quite nice, all about love. He even said, Love is forever, sometimes marriages don’t last, but love lasts forever. Some guffawed later at this, but it is true, and in fact he was marrying two older people who had been married before so he was not out of line.
And this philosophy of love as the guiding force of our lives makes sense to me. I am a very spiritual and unmaterialistic person, it is just that I don’t happen to follow any Church or love any one figure that stands in for love.
At the wedding the two families kept fairly separate and I am not sure if anyone made the effort to reach out to the other family. My brother had argued that the tables should be mixed up so people could get to know each other, but his wife had made the good argument that people who had traveled a long distance to see each other would want to sit at each other’s tables. So we sat with our own people.
By the end of the night the two groups had merged on the dance floor. But when the dance music began to sound somehow more Asian, and the dancers had begun group dances, a lot of the WASPS dropped out. Not me though, I love to dance, I am a dancing fool. I’m not sure but I think I may come across as Elaine in this area as well, but it does not stop me.
There were dances in which you had to know steps, and I found the older guy who seemed to know and followed him. And there was a dance where someone grandstands in the middle and everyone dances in a circle until the next person drops into the middle.
When I jumped into the middle, and then dragged my two nieces in with me, there was a big cheer. Ah ha! I had broken down the two cultures stand off! I felt proud knowing that I had helped merge the two cultures for a few minutes. And I danced and danced, celebrating love.