The Meanie

March 2, 2010

The last time I made Aegis cry was 2 or 3 years ago. We were at a party, and I remember quite a few people cloistered around the dining room table, some were seated, some were standing. I was fortunate to have a seat. Aegis was fortunate to be sitting across from me.

She was talking to some of the other guests about an upcoming trip to Texas. She’d met this boy who happened to live in San Antonio, and she was going to check things out, maybe see if there were the makings of a relationship between them.

She was acting a little flippant about the trip. “Yeah, I’m going to head down there, you know, hang out, see what’s what.” The women around her couldn’t have been more supportive. I’m sure they said things like “Have a great time” and “Be careful,” but I wasn’t listening to their words. I was listening to their tone. And, to me, their tone sounded a lot like “Oooh, a boy! Ooooh, a boy! How exciting!”

I was annoyed at all of them that day while I sat at that table. But like a good father, I kept my mouth shut. I figured she was old enough to do whatever she wanted or chase whomever she wanted, and I couldn’t stop her. That’s basically what I told her when she asked me, “What do you think about my trip to Texas?”

“It’s your life, you’re an adult, don’t let me stop you. But since you’re asking me what I think, I’m happy to answer. I can tell you right now that I hate this boy. I don’t like that he’s fine with the idea of you hopping on a plane and going to some strange city so you can test the waters. What happens if you don’t hit it off? Is he going to dump you on some street corner and leave you to walk around in your insensible shoes? If he wants to see you, he can get on a plane and come to our front door and take you out on a proper date. Then he can bring you home at a reasonable hour. That’s what I think.”

She thought I was being harsh, and started to cry. “It’s all set up. He’s paid for the plane ticket and everything.”

“I don’t care. You asked me what I thought. Whether you go or not, that’s your decision. I’m just telling you how I’m going to feel about him.”

There were tears and pleas. “But, dad! But, dad!” She wanted me to approve of her trip, but I wouldn’t. I figured I would be proud of her no matter what she did. If she went, I would be proud of her for her rebel ways. If she didn’t go, I would be proud of her for her practicality. She couldn’t lose where I was concerned. Besides, this wasn’t a matter of me approving of her. It was a matter of me approving of her boyfriend. Maybe she cared if I approved of him. Maybe she didn’t.

OK, she cared. Shortly after the party, she called M and told him that she was not going to Texas. He reminded her that he had already bought the plane ticket, and it was non-refundable. She didn’t budge. He was not happy. Aegis was not happy. But I was. I really liked M that day. Not only did he eat that ticket, he eventually started talking to my daughter again. And the next time they saw each other, it was in Utah.

I learned nearly 22 years ago that it takes almost nothing to make my daughter cry. We were in Salt Lake City visiting one of K’s acquaintances who happened to live in a huge apartment building.  K was holding Aegis (which gives you an idea of how small Aegis was at the time) while we waited for the elevator to reach our floor. Out of nowhere, Aegis slapped K in the face. My hands and arms were free, so I rushed to K’s defense and lightly tapped Aegis across the face.

“How do you like it?” I said to Aegis.

She cried. Just the sort of response I was looking for.

I was very proud of myself that day, and wondered who could benefit from my parenting technique.  So I told a friend what I did to discipline my little pugilist. Then I waited for the compliments.

This friend said to me, “We don’t like to teach our kids non-violence with violence.” I felt like a schmuck. And I vowed then and there to never lay a hand on my child again, a promise that I maintain to this day.  It’s a good thing I didn’t say I wouldn’t kick her because then I would have felt really guilty.

The one time I did kick her, right to the face, was a complete accident. One afternoon when Aegis was about 3, I was lying on my bed reading. I never heard Aegis sneak in the room, I only felt the bite on my foot. Having the reflexes of a panther, I kicked hard, completely unaware of my target. Only when I put down my book did I realize that I sent Aegis flying across the room. She cried that time, too.

Sigh. If I could take back the hurt I have caused, I would…except for that one time, on that glorious winter day, when we went outside to play in the snow.  I think Aegis was no more than 2. We had this old infant car seat in the garage that resembled a bathtub. I never trusted it as a safety device in the car but thought it would make an excellent snow sled. And I was right. I tied this rope to the front and put Aegis in this ridiculously over-insulated snow suit. She had more padding than the Michelin Man. We started out having so much fun that day. I pulled her everywhere in that sled. It felt like we were out there in that snow for hours. Whenever I stopped to take a little break, she would yell, “More, more.”

“More, more.”

“More, more.”

I didn’t know how to say no to my precious angel, so on and on I pulled.

“More, more.”

“More, more.”

I didn’t want to disappoint my little girl but I was exhausted. I pulled her into a parking lot and wanted to collapse.

“More, more.”

“More, more.”

I could barely move my legs. Fortunately, the parking lot was like an ice rink. With little effort, I could get that sled skidding across the ice, and since I wasn’t moving my legs much, the sled naturally fell into a nice, easy whip. I found that if I kept the rope taut, the sled would go faster and faster. Then I saw a way out. I pulled that rope tighter and tighter. The sled whipped around me at an alarming speed. Oh, I’ll give you more, I thought. With blessed relief, the sled eventually flipped, and Aegis rolled across that parking lot like a tumbleweed in a hurricane.  Or a man on fire.  She spun out of control, and even though she was well cushioned in her snow suit, she cried. But we got to go home, and that was all I cared about at that point.

She got her revenge eventually. When she was in sixth grade, she wrote a report on Beethoven. She described how Beethoven’s father would often drag young Beethoven out of bed and force him to play for his drunken friends. In Aegis’s report, she mentioned that Beethoven’s father beat the young boy often, whacking him across the head. Some speculate that these incessant beatings resulted in Beethoven losing his hearing. At the end of her report, Aegis wrote: “My dad is a lot like Beethoven’s dad.” For weeks after she turned in her paper, I jumped every time the doorbell rang.

The Competition

February 5, 2010

Planning my daughter’s wedding has become a family affair. We talk about it all the time. I’m just as involved in the discussion as my wife and two daughters. When we were discussing the wedding dress, I said, “Why do you have to have a wedding dress?” When the subject of a cake came up, I said, “Why do you have to have a cake?” When Aegis tossed around a few ideas about dresses for her bridesmaids, I said, “Why do you have to have bridesmaids?”

“Why do you have to buy M a ring?”

“Why do have to go on a honeymoon?”

“Why do you have to have a bridal shower?”

Oh, how I love to plan. Not that it does any good. They unanimously voted down my idea for a big pancake breakfast at the altar.

Everyone at Aegis’s work loves to talk about her upcoming wedding. A rep who frequently stops at the office got wind of my daughter’s engagement and immediately got into the spirit of planning.

“Do you have a photographer yet?” she said. My daughter does not, so the rep told her about a  photographer with reasonable rates who did incredible work. Now keep in mind that Aegis is wearing her mother’s wedding dress, which K will tailor. The reception hall is free. The church my wife and daughters attend will loan tables and white tablecloths. K is making the cake. This wedding is shaping up to be so modestly priced that we have yet to meet a corner that needs cutting.  “I’m going to give you this photographer’s number, and I want you to promise me that you will call him,” the rep said. “A word of advice: get married at sunrise. That’s what me and my husband did. We were married on the beach at Cabo. The sun was rising in the east and a full moon was setting in the west, and this photographer was able to capture both in one shot. It was magnificent. At the reception I made all of the guests wear nothing but white, and I wore a bright red dress. I was like a rose in snow. It was the most beautiful wedding you’ve ever seen, and we were featured in a bridal magazine.” My daughter told me this story while we were on a three mile run. I listened closely and tried to imagine the amount of planning that must have gone into that wedding, not to mention the cost. Then I imagined my daughter planning something equally as ambitious. “Do you have to have a photographer?” I asked.

I suppose a wedding in Cabo would be fun. I would definitely like to be invited to such an occasional, as long as I could stay in my room or at the pool, and as long as I didn’t have to wear all white. I would be happiest at that wedding if I could observe from a distance. I would want to be far enough away where I could see the people but not make out any of the faces, where I could hear music but no make out any of the lyrics. I would recline in a comfortable chaise longue, good book in hand, with an occasion interruption from a fellow guest who wandered in my direction to see how I was doing. K would be that guest. And she would bring me food and catch me up on the latest. That would be a fun wedding. Then, when my brother-in-law and his wife, who would also be attending the wedding, had their fill of mingling with the wedding party, they would come my way and we would play canasta. That would be a good invite.

K and I have been to Cabo only one time. We stayed one week. A full week at a resort without our kids, which was something we hadn’t done in twenty years.  We had no plans to go scuba diving or parasailing. All we wanted was 7 consecutive days by the pool and 7 consecutive days of sex. Something else we hadn’t done in twenty years.

Our hotel was 45 minutes from the airport. We shared a ride to the hotel with 3 other couples, maybe 4. During the ride, I remember being distracted by the abundance of desert flora, which went on for miles. I was also distracted by the woman behind me who wouldn’t stop talking. She, too, went on for miles. She was, what you call, savvy. She bought property when it was low, and sold it when it was high. She knew her way around Mexico, where to eat, where to shop, where to stay, when to stay, and she schooled us all. “Never do your shopping when you see a cruise ship docking. The local merchants triple their prices.” I had a window seat in that van with a pretty good view of a Carnival ship floating out there in the bay of Cabo. I also had a good view of the city of Cabo and what looked to me like unmistakable poverty. I imagined all of the locals frantically running from their ramshackle one- and two-room homes and changing all the prices on the merchandise. Then I imagined the cruise ship tourists, stomachs bloated from hours of feeding at all-you-can-eat buffets and dessert bars, pouring into the streets of Cabo and paying $18 for a souvenir sombrero that should have retailed for $6.  I soaked in the reality that we were 8 or so Americans speeding down a Mexican highway in an air-conditioned van, a specially permitted van that was authorized to enter the resort where we were all staying. We’d just flown into a foreign country, something the locals in Cabo would likely never experience, and after doing our best to shield ourselves from the poverty of Mexico by hiding within the walls of the resort, we would return to the richest country in the world. I scolded this woman in my mind for her selfishness. Lady, I thought, you should gladly pay these poor people 10 times the price. That’s what I gladly did…again, in my mind, as I am a person who does not like to shop.

My mind was very active on that drive to the resort. I remember thinking as we passed retaining walls and various building, Hmmm….looks like they sell spray paint in Mexico. I also thought it was interesting that none of the men in the van were speaking. Only the women. There we were, 4 or 5 men in the van with nothing to say to each other. I’m not sure what these men saw when they looked at me, but from my viewpoint, they looked like still-life paintings. And while my mind was abuzz with musings and fantasies and judgments, these other men appeared to be, from the neck up, completely at rest. I wondered, Is it just me, or are they thinking too? I didn’t dare ask, for fear that maybe, unbeknownst to me, real men don’t think. I don’t think real men say “unbeknownst” either.

We immediately settled into a routine at the resort: morning walks along the beach, mid-morning, afternoon and early evening lounging at the pool, dinner at night, then sex. That was our itinerary for seven straight days.  And we stayed the course. By day 5 we would spring from the bed ready for our sandy stroll. Then we would stake out a couple of chaise longues at the pool. We’d have books, crossword puzzles, peanut M&Ms, cashews, and cokes in tow and not move for hours. After the sun went down, we’d head for our room for a little hanky panky. And while, in the early days of our trip, we had the vigor of a 20 year-olds in the bedroom, by day 5, our stamina began to wane.  Nevertheless, we had a goal. We’d return to our room at night, sigh, and say, “OK, if we’re going to do this, let’s just get it over with.” At the beginning of our trip, we derived pleasure from the act itself; towards the end, we triumphed in its completion. “OK! Good job! Two more days to go!” We have this rule during bedroom fun: nobody leaves until we’ve both climaxed.  This rule presented a bit of a challenge by day five. Our expressions of physical love didn’t feel much different than starting a stubborn car. RRRRRRrrreeehhhRRRRRRrrrreeeeehhhRRRRRrrrreeehhh….”C’mon baby, c’mon!”….. RRRRRRrrreeehhhRRRRRRrrrreeeeehhhRRRRRrrrreeehhh….”C’mon baby, c’mon!” Then we’d stop and let things settle. We’d take a deep breath, then RRRRRRrrreeehhhRRRRRRrrrreeeeehhhRRRRRrrrreeehhh….”C’mon baby, c’mon!” Then, the relief when our engines fired. “Two more days to go!”

By day seven, our expressions of physical love felt more like CPR. We tried anything to get the heart beating. “Stay with me, stay with me. 1,2,3 CLEAR! 1,2,3 CLEAR!” Then, when we reached that “blip”—what euphoria in knowing that we weren’t completely dead, plus the euphoria in knowing that we could turn on the TV again.

The Name

January 15, 2010

My daughter has some decisions to make about her soon-to-be married name.  Her fiancé’s got one of those combo deals, separated by a hyphen. As family lore goes, great grandpa and great grandma had a baby out of wedlock (I could be off a generation or two). To keep the villagers from rioting, great grandpa and great grandma decided the baby would take on a his-and-her surname.  Eventually, the love child with two last names grew and had sons of his own, and those sons had sons, until one day my future son-in-law was born.  By the time the name reached M’s generation, the hyphen had weakened. M uses only the name that falls to the left of the hyphen. He has brothers who go exclusively by the name that falls to the right. His mother uses only the first initial of each last name, abandoning the hyphen altogether.

K was faced with a similar decision when we got married. She had to decide what her last name would be. As we were filling out the marriage license, I watched in bewilderment as K wrote down my last name as her new name.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Don’t even go there. I’m taking your last name,” she said.

“Why? I don’t even like my last name. You have an incredible opportunity to choose any name in the world. Why are you picking mine?”

“I’m taking your name! Discussion over!”

To this day I’ve never understood her decision. Whenever I hear my wife’s name coupled with my last name, I wonder, who?

I should have seen the signs that day that we were completely incompatible.  Sometime after we were married, and before K was pregnant with our first child, I decided I liked the name “Aegis”. K hated it.

“If our first child is a girl,” I proclaimed, “We will call her Aegis.”

“No we won’t,” K counter-proclaimed.

K was so disapproving of my name choice, and she complained about it to everyone.

“Steve thinks we’re going to name our daughter Aegis. He’s crazy if he thinks I’m agreeing to that. I hate  it. It’s not even a real name.” Everyone she told agreed that K should put her foot down—right on top of the name Aegis.

When K got pregnant, her friends and the people she worked with would joke about the name Aegis. They’d say to K, “How’s little Aegis, how’s little Aegis,” and they would all laugh. They joked about it so much that K could not get the name out of her head. Whenever I asked her to suggest a name for the baby, all she could come up with was Aegis. She was extremely frustrated and nervous that I would win out, and that our baby, if she were a girl, would be called Aegis. I felt a little sorry for K and started giving her name suggestions. After all, I had already chosen a name, and I figured it was only fair that K chose one too. We went through a long list of names. No, no, no, no, no. I was exhausted. A day or two before our daughter’s birth, I mentioned the name “Sadie”. K liked it well enough, and I had no strong feelings against it, so we agreed, if we had a girl, we would name her Sadie Aegis.

Of course, we did have a girl, and she has that name to this day…sort of. While K was recovering in the maternity ward, I went to the administration office of the hospital to fill out paper work. In the name section of the birth record, I wrote “Sadie Aegis 1.” For no good reason whatsoever, I thought I would add the birth order number in each of our children’s names. Anyway, the clerk helping me took the form and wrote in my last name, which really bugged, but I figured my daughter could drop it later.

A few days later, K and I were at home in bed. The lights were out and all was quiet. I took a chance that K was still awake and said, “I have a confession to make,” and I contritely told her what I had written on the birth record. “And I know that it will stay that way forever because you’re too lazy to go down there and change it” I said. I was surprised that she didn’t argue, and I fell asleep in peace.

The next night was much like the night before. We were lying in bed. The room was dark. We both assumed the quiet would last till morning. Then K said, “I have a confession to make.” She told me the hospital called and wondered if there was a mistake in the birth record. “There’s a number ONE in her name, and we can’t tell what the middle name should be because it’s horribly misspelled. Should we take that number one out?” Yes, K said. She told me this little story then laughed and went right to sleep.

Soon after, K and I went down to the county building to settle our daughter’s name once and for all. K was adamant that we leave the number out. I was adamant that Aegis be the first name. I did not want it relegated to middle name status. We both agreed that “Aegis” before “Sadie” didn’t flow as well, so we put both names under the first name heading and separated the two names with a slash. So, on her birth certificate, her first name is Sadie/Aegis. Most people call her Sadie. A few in the inner circle call her Aegis. And one of my friends calls her Sah-dee-juss.

It’s clear that we put a lot of thought into her name. We needn’t have bothered. From about age 2 to 5, Aegis either introduced herself as Dorothy or corrected us when we told others her name was Sadie. When she was 8 or 9, she made this startling admission: “I wish you had named me something exotic, like ‘Ivy’.”

The Child

January 11, 2010

K mentions almost daily how sad she will be to see our elder daughter move to San Antonio. She won’t have any friends or family there to lean on. I haven’t given it a second thought, until K mentioned that our younger daughter, who is 21, will be alone at home during those times when K and I go out of town. Then I started to feel sad. My poor H.

I have never tried to be a fair parent. S gets certain privileges because she is the older than her sister, and H gets certain privileges because she’s the sweet, adorable, cutie-pie baby of the family.

As S and I were discussing her wedding and the reception, I gave her dozens of tips on how we could pull off a respectably nice wedding on next to no money.

“It doesn’t have to be a big princess wedding,” I told her. “We can save that for H.”

Being a parent never appealed to me. In fact, I hoped more than anything that I was sterile. No such luck. After we were married, K and I practiced birth control for one year then decided to fire live rounds. She was 32. She wanted 4 children. Time and her age were against us. We figured it might take a year for her to get pregnant. We were wrong. The first time without birth control was a charm.

We learned that K was pregnant while we were visiting my mother in California. We were at an amusement park just outside of San Jose. K was a little worried. She was a day or two late for her period. Her boobs were swelling. Her form-fitting shirt, which fit perfectly days before, would barely close. The buttons were sweating under the strain of keeping too little fabric over too much body.

“I think K is pregnant,” I told my mother.

“Well, you knew what you could have done about it,” my mother said.

Our visit ended and we left San Jose for Utah. By the time we reached Reno, K had the passenger seat fully reclined in an attempt to suppress the nausea. Every one hundred miles or so I would ask her if she felt any better. She finally said yes nine months later at 5 in the morning in the delivery room.

We didn’t have the luxury of a sonogram or the psychic abilities of a wise old gypsy, so the gender of the baby was a complete surprise. Besides me and K and the baby, there was a team of doctors and nurses in the room on stand-by because of some evidence the baby might encounter some complications. We had all of those experts in the room, but I, of course, was the first to speak when the baby finally came into full view. “It’s a boy!” I shouted.

Thus began my stint of being wrong about my daughter on so many more occasions.

Once the experts determined that she was completely fine, they sped her off to the nursery for a battery of tests—normal stuff for a newborn. I followed. A nurse was filling out a card scoring her on reflex, coloring, etc. She wrote down a “9” next to one of the categories.

“How many possible?” I asked.

“10,” she said.

Well, we’ll have to improve on that, I thought.

Dance lessons, swim team, piano lessons, academics—throughout the years I thought the same thing: we’ll have to improve on that.

From the minute my daughter was born, I had only one wish for her: that she put herself through medical school working as a runway model.

We enrolled her in her first dance class when she was 4. She hung on the ballet bars the whole time, her feet rarely touching the ground. Forty feet away the other girls and the instructor leapt and twirled in unison.  My daughter never once joined them. After 8 years in piano lessons, I watched proudly as she played her recital piece in front of a large audience.  My guess is she was 13 or 14 years old. At that same recital I later watched in horror as a 7 year old boy sat at the piano and played that same piece. He had been taking lessons for a year. My daughter continued piano lessons for 2 or 3 more years. She continued to play that piece each subsequent recital.

The swim team was no different. Year after year I went to her meets. It was always the same. While the other swimmers took their mark on the block, my daughter took the opportunity to dance and shake her hips, turning two or three times on the block while waving her arms. Eventually, she would crouch down like the other swimmers. Instead of looking at the water, she would look at the other swimmers. She, and the rest of us, would then watch the other swimmers dive into the pool. Eventually, she would follow. Her proudest moment and greatest triumph was a first place ribbon in a free-style race. The little down-syndrome girl who was competing against my daughter came in second.

I remember once picking her up from elementary school. I came at the tail end of a volleyball match among the 5th graders and got to see her play. She looked really nervous and jittery. She kept clapping her hands and saying, “C’mon, we can do this! We can do this!” When the ball was served, she took every opportunity to run where the ball wasn’t. If the opposing team hit it to the right, she ran to the left and vice versa. 

I never gave up hope. After much pleading, I finally gave into my daughters and bought them a trampoline. Month after month, year after year, I indulged her: “Watch me, dad, watch me!” She performed the same trick every time. She would get a tiny bit of elevation in a standing position, drop to a sitting position, then land in a standing position, and finish off the trick by pulling a wedgie.

In the classroom, S was, let’s say, casual about learning.  Her best subject was Friends, her favorite grade was “B”. I tried everything I could to make her smart. I read to her every day until she was 12. I played educational games with her. I even hired a math tutor. I was involved in PTA, attended every parent-teacher conference and chaperoned on field trips. She just wasn’t interested. In fact, when she was about 16 she said, “Do you know why I hate to read? Because you read to us ALLL the time.” Still, I never gave up.

When S was a senior in high school, she called me at work with some exciting news. “Dad, I made the honor roll! Can you believe it?” No, I couldn’t. Finally. Somehow I had gotten through, so I thought. She then explained: “You know, I decided that I didn’t care anymore. I was sick of trying. I figured, school, who needs it. And now I’m on the honor roll. I can’t believe it!” My daughter, the genius.

Instead of an Einstein or an Olympian, I got a daughter who is funny. She’s witty and quick with the comebacks.

When she was 3, I fondly remember the time she came at me with an ax that she had found in her grandfather’s garage. I was videotaping my kids for the first time and had the camera pointed at my younger daughter. Behind my back, S was planning a sneak attack. I turned just in time to move out of the way. I caught the whole thing on tape—maniacal laughter and all. Another time, when S was 7, I was driving the family to who knows where when S reached from behind and covered my eyes. I was doing 50 mph. She was laughing pretty hard, which got me laughing. I was having so much fun it didn’t occur to me to ask S to remove her hands. K didn’t feel the same. Instead of laughing, K felt more like freaking out and lecturing.  Right around that same time, S left me a voicemail at work. She said, “Hi, Dad, how are you …(long pause)…Nothing much…(short pause)…school was good, are you having fun at work……Mom?…..yeah, she’s here… you want to talk to her?” The next voice I hear is my wife: “Hello?” Then, in the background, I hear peals of laughter coming from S.

I remember her doing or saying something funny almost daily. She is clever and quick, her stories humorous and graceful. Her quips were priceless; I didn’t think I could ever forget them. Boy, was I wrong.

All I’m left with are general impressions. One thing I do remember was her incredible ability to impersonate voices. From a very early age she could imitate voices with uncanny accuracy. I thought she was brilliant, and I wanted our friends and extended family members to think so too. Every chance I got I put her on display. Eventually she refused to perform saying, “I’m not your circus monkey.”

When she was really little, her favorite toy was string. From about age 2 to 5, she tied knots around the handle above the window in the back seat of the car. She often made these elaborate webs in her bedroom that stretched from the doorknob to the dresser to the bed frame to the closet to the doorknob to the rocking chair to the bed frame ad infinitum. She outgrew string and embraced bags as her new favorite toy. Not collector bags. Any bags, as long as they came from a grocery or department store. Bags of bags. They were all precious to her, even the ones from Albertsons.

Among her grandparents, she is best known for using big words from an early age. I wasn’t all that impressed with her vocabulary because whatever big words she was saying, she wasn’t saying them in French, which I had hoped would be her native language. Nevertheless, I do remember one occasion where S wanted to come into our room and sleep with us. She was 2 years old. Our door was closed, which meant we needed some privacy. We told her that it wasn’t a good time, but she persisted. Her begging turned to bargaining, and she said, “Can I come in after your performance?” Oh, that cute remark made the rounds at work.

The Date Part 2 continued

January 5, 2010

We were all surprised to see a silver serving tray.

Pretty classy, I thought.

My newly rich uncle had gone from borrowing money, which is what he usually did when he made contact with the family, to tasteful giving. I must admit, I was flattered that he regarded us as the type of people who would put a silver tray to good use.

As I pulled the tray from the box, I noticed that a small, white card fell to the floor. The weird thing was I recognized it. In bold, black letters across the top were the initials “ZCMI”. It’s not every day you see a ZCMI card in California. If you wanted one, you had to go to Utah, where ZCMI department stores were located.

I had my suspicions that the silver tray was purchased by Miss California’s relatives in Utah—a wedding gift for my uncle and his new wife…and I had her relatives’ signature on the card to prove it.

What a disappointment. I thought they were giving us a silver tray because they thought we were elegant enough to need one. And they were well-off, so I heard, and that silver tray made me feel like they had accepted us into their circle. When I realized they were not so much giving us the tray as passing it along, I felt common again.

Still, I wrote my uncle and pageant-beauty aunt a nice thank you note. I told them we loved the tray and were honored that they remembered us on our wedding day. I signed our names to the card then added: “P.S. You forgot something.” And I put that ZCMI card in the envelope, licked it shut and mailed it.

My uncle’s visit that day set us back about a half-an-hour. K needed to get ready. My mother had food to make. The rain stopped and the clouds cleared, which meant I had to mow the front yard. We were desperate for help when my brother’s wife showed up. She immediately went to work on removing the big red fingernail polish square on the door.  Things were looking up.

A little while later, K came outside to see me. “Your brother’s wife decided to bathe the little ones in the guest bathroom. They’ve turned that bathroom into an Olympic-sized swimming pool. There’s water everywhere. She’s used all of the guest towels—I’ve never seen a bigger mess.”

“Don’t worry,” I told her, “everything will work out.”

She went back into the house to finish getting ready. Moments later my sister returned home. I watched from the yard as she ran into the house. I could tell she was rushing. She had a lot to do before the reception—shower, dress her kids and pick up the cake that was still at her friend’s house.

 From where I stood, I didn’t see or hear the explosion. I saw only my brother and his wife and their children fly out the front door. “We’re leaving. Maybe you can stop by later to get your gift,” he said.

Now what? I wondered. I went inside for some answers. My sister was screaming hysterical. “I left this house spotless!” she kept repeating. K was hugging my crying mother.

“This would never happen in your family!” my mother said in between sobs.

“Yes it would,” K said. “Yes it would.”

It was pretty obvious to me why my sister was upset. All you had to do was look at the condition of the house—the clutter and detritus had quadrupled in the short hour it took me to mow the lawn. But what was making my mother cry? Something really bad, I thought. And something that goes on in K’s family too…what had I married into?

I went back outside to finish the yard. K soon followed. She looked liked she had just survived a plane crash, mystified that she was able to walk away from the wreckage.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m fine, but I don’t think your brother is coming back.”


“He sort of disagreed with your sister when she called his wife a whore.”

“So it got ugly?”

“Awful. I’m still shaking.”

“Wait, you said this goes on in your family.”


“But you told my mom…”

“To comfort her. My family would never do this. I had no idea families had these kind of fights.” I suppose K did the right thing telling my mom that little fib, even though it spooked me a bit at first. I didn’t want to be married to a family that misbehaved.  K continued: “I hate to say it, but I’m relieved your brother won’t be here. On the other hand, I’m worried that this reception is going to be a complete disaster.”

“It won’t. Everything will work out. You’ll see.”

We went inside the house so K could finish getting ready, and I could clean. My sister left to finish the cake, my mom continued preparing food, and I vacuumed, showered and dressed. We worked fast. Guests would be showing up anytime.  Soon order was restored and the house was again spotless and calm.

My mother laid out an incredible spread of food on a buffet table. My sister made it home in time to set up the cake. Just a little adjustment and it was centered perfectly on the table. K was fastening her earring, the final touch to her outfit, when the doorbell rang. It was our first guest.

As promised, everything worked out.

I didn’t give my daughter too many details about our reception in California—I got the impression that she was interested in something a little more top hat and a little less big top. I simply told her that with a minimum of planning, she could pull off a reception as memorable as the one we had. “So relax and don’t worry so much.” I assured her, like I assured my wife twenty-six years ago, that no matter what, everything would work out fine. She seemed convinced and thanked me for my wise words.

The next day, K told me that she overheard my daughter having one of those heart to hearts with M on the phone. It was late at night. My daughter’s bedroom door was closed, but K could hear her crying as she painted a pretty gloomy picture of their wedding day. I was a little deflated to think that my daughter was not so crazy about my advice.

“Did you speak to her?” I asked my wife.

“No, I don’t want to interfere,” K said.

I confronted my daughter.

“Mom said you were on the phone last night with M and that you were having a nervous breakdown about this wedding.”

“Yes. And did she also tell you that this morning, while I was in the bathroom, she crashed the door open and stood right in the doorway with her hands on her hips and said, ‘Well?’”

“Oh, you’re kidding! What did you say?”

“I screamed, ‘Mom! I’m pooing!” 


The Date, Part 2

December 18, 2009

“So, do you know when you’re getting married?” I asked my daughter.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” She said.

“Why not?” I said.

“Because I want to get married the first week of June and M wants to get married in February, and I can’t plan a wedding by February, and the whole thing is freakin’ me out!”

I was so lost.

Plan a wedding? Was that completely necessary?

I had a perfectly wonderful wedding, and I don’t remember doing any planning. Hundreds of people joined us to celebrate our blessed union. We greeted them, fed them and opened their gifts—what was there to plan?

I was in school and working, and I didn’t think much about the big day, though K did her best to involve me as much as possible. I think she asked my opinion on the wedding announcement—the paper, the lettering, that type of thing. I chose one. She chose another, which you can see today in our wedding album. 

“How many for your side?” K asked me.

“15,” I said.

“Never mind, I’ll ask your mother,” she said. My mother ended up requesting 125.

At some point, while we were driving down Interstate 15, K told me she didn’t know what to do about a photographer.

“A photographer? I don’t want anyone taking my picture. No photographer!” I said.

“We’re having a photographer,” she said.

Well, someone was taking pictures that day because I have the album full of pictures to prove it, but I don’t remember meeting with a photographer or posing much. I believe the pictures we do have came from the collective efforts of family members who happened to bring their instamatics that day.

Two days before the wedding I bought a black suit and put a rush order on the tailoring. I had some brown dress shoes, which didn’t go with my new suit at all. So I took the shoes down to a shoe repair place and had them dyed black. Rush order on that too.

I was given five months to get ready for my wedding, and I was confident that I had used those five months wisely. Everything was in place. Still, I had this nagging feeling that I was forgetting something….

I called a good friend.

“Hey, I’m getting married!” I excitedly told this friend.

“That’s great,” my friend said, “When?”

“Tomorrow. Can you come?”

After a few more of those phone calls, I had everything in place.

That was all there was to it.

“Your wedding doesn’t have to be complicated,” I said to my daughter. Then I proceeded to tell her all the possibilities, one of which included a big pancake breakfast. She didn’t like any of my suggestions.

“Then do a simple ceremony in February and have a blow-out reception in June,” I said.

“I don’t want to plan a reception for Utah while I’m living in Texas.”

“Why not? Mom and I will take care of everything. We were living in Utah and had an incredible reception in California, and grandma did the whole thing. We just showed up.”

We had been married close to three months when it came time for the California reception. We’d already had two: one in Utah and one in Idaho. But I was confident that the California reception would be the best. That was my side of the family.

The California reception was for family and friends who could not attend the wedding.  The drive to California should have taken us eleven or twelve hours. We had one stop to make in Las Vegas to pick up my sister. We started the trip at four o’clock in the afternoon, and the way we figured it, we would get to my mom’s house about two in the morning.

Traffic out of our valley was uncharacteristically at a standstill. No one was moving. I figured we’d have better luck on the surface streets and got off the freeway at the first opportunity. We were really moving then, until the railroad crossing gates came down. The train was travelling at five mph, if not slower. Car after car we counted. Twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight. We waited for the train to speed up, but it never did. Forty-two, forty-three, forty-four.  We were boxed in with no way of turning around. Besides, I could see the freeway from where we were, and traffic still was not moving. Eighty-nine, ninety, ninety-one. It was the longest train we had ever seen, and we got a pretty close look. One hundred thirty-three, one hundred thirty-four. After an hour, we finally saw the caboose. We started our engines, very anxious to be on our way. Just as the caboose was about to pass, the train stopped. The wait continued.

After many minutes, the train gave a mighty oomph and started rolling…in reverse. One hundred sixty-two, one hundred sixty-one, one hundred sixty, one hundred fifty-nine. It was the slowest déjà-vu we had ever experienced.

Eventually we were on the road at highway speeds. By the time we reached Las Vegas, it was after midnight. We didn’t have cell phones in those days, so we hadn’t alerted my sister to the delay. Didn’t matter, when we got to her place, she wasn’t there. So we waited. At least an hour.

This was the second time K would see my sister. About five months earlier, I was taking K to California to meet my family. It was President’s Day weekend. We, naturally, got a late start, and my sister kindly let us stay the night with her in Las Vegas before continuing on to California.

“Whatever you do,” I said to K, “Act like you want my sister to come with us to California. I don’t really want her there this weekend, so if we insist, she will say no.”

We arrived at my sister’s place and sat down on her sofa to visit. She was smoking two cigarettes, one in each hand. She sounded nervous.

“You’re really getting married? You’re really getting married?” She must have asked twenty times.

“I’ll prove it to you,” I said. “We have our announcements in the car.” I got up from the couch and was out the door.

I wasn’t thinking. I left the two of them alone.

“Hey,” my sister said to K, “Are you seriously going to marry him?” She took a puff on each of her cigarettes. “You better be careful. Steve’s horrible with money. It burns a hole in his pocket. He can’t hold onto a dime.” Puff, puff, puff, puff, puff.

The next morning we packed up the car. Many times we begged her to go with us to California. She refused.  We were nearly home free, but I had to seal the deal. “Why don’t you come with us?” Please say no, please say no, please say no, please say no, please say no.

I didn’t like the look she gave me.

The ride down to California was one of the worst in memory. She had the back seat all to herself, but she chose to lean in towards the front, framing herself between the bucket seats. Her mouth was inches from my ear, and her face filled my rear-view mirror. For the next four hours she gave me a free driving lesson. I really lucked out.  It turns out that I wasn’t doing one thing right. My sister pointed that out, not wasting one minute of the drive. And it’s a good thing the lesson was free—the way I am with money…

Now we were sitting in front of her apartment a second time, and for reasons I can’t explain, I wanted her to come with us to our California reception. I thought we should all be together for this occasion.

I told K: “Pretend you don’t want her to go. Act annoyed that she coming.” When she finally showed up at her place, I could tell she had been drinking. She deliberately tried to miss us. She thought it was safe to come home, banking that we would have given up and gone on without her, but we had been delayed by the train.

I should have been glad. My sister had misbehaved horribly that President’s Day weekend. She yelled at everyone. She criticized me incessantly. She introduced me to old family friends as if we were total strangers. When they reminded her that they knew me quite well, she’d say, “Oh, I figured you’d never met the way he was ignoring you.” After all that, I still wanted her to go. Turns out we didn’t need her.

Our reception was at the family home, which at the time was being rented by my sister and her family. My sister planned to spend the morning of our reception at a friend’s house making us a wedding cake, so she did all of her housecleaning the day before. The place was spotless, and she wanted it to stay that way. As she was leaving to go bake the cake, she left specific instructions.

  1. “Do not leave any valuables lying out. R’s wife will be coming today.” (R is my brother)
  2. “Do not open this door.” (The door she referred to led to a well-stocked toy room. At the top of the door, out of reach from children, was a hook lock.”

Then she left.

Shortly after, my brother and his 3-year old son came by to say hello. He wasn’t quite used to the idea that my sister was renting my mother’s home. He plopped himself on the couch and, reposing, demanded Sunday brunch from my mother. My mother tried to explain there would be no brunch that day as we were preparing for a wedding reception. But he insisted, “we always have brunch on Sunday” he said, so my mother sent me to the store with a grocery list. When I returned home, my brother was still resting comfortably on the sofa. I heard a loud crack coming from the backyard. When I looked out the sliding door, I saw a large piece of wood flying from the roof, landing with a whack. My sister’s husband decided he’d finally get around to reroofing the covered patio, where the reception would be. My sister had asked her husband to fix the roof months before, and he didn’t want to get on her bad side. Another loud crack. Another whack. K was panicked. Guests would be arriving in five hours.  Crack. Whack. I told her not to panic. Everything would turn out.

“You’ll see,” I said.

I know most people don’t pray for rain on the day of their outdoor wedding reception, but I did. The next CRACK we heard was thunder, and rain it did. The reroofing would have to wait. Fortunately, my brother-in-law had not done too much damage to the roof, and I couldn’t see anywhere where the roof was leaking onto the patio. Neither could my brother-in-law. In fact, it was so dry under that roof that my brother-in-law decided to paint the railings and support beams.

Inside, my mother was frantically preparing sandwiches, which she hoped would pass off for brunch. My brother, at some point, got off the couch just long enough to lift the catch of the lock on the toy room door and give his son unfettered access. My nephew, the natural disaster in training pants.  Somehow he did a cannonball in the middle of that room, and the toys landed everywhere. Almost instantaneously the entire house was messy. Toys, newspapers, dirty dishes, and stuff. Everywhere. It all happened so fast. We never even noticed that my nephew got into K’s bright red nail polish and painted a big, solid square on a bedroom door.

We had table and chairs to set up, food to cook, and K wanted plenty of time to get ready. Now we had to add cleaning to the list. Before we could get started, the door bell rang. It was my uncle, my mother’s only brother. He was hours early. The last time I saw him was at his wedding a few years before. I think it was his third marriage. He was forty something.  So was his new father-in-law. He was still married when he came to see us that day. To a different wife. This one came with credentials. She was a former Miss California and rumored to be wealthy. We visited for about twenty minutes and learned that my new aunt had relatives in Provo, Utah where K and I lived.

It was so good to see my uncle. More importantly, they brought a gift. We waited for them to leave before we opened it.

“I heard she’s a millionaire,” my mother said as K unwrapped the present.

(to be continued)

The Move

December 11, 2009

So far, my daughter plans to live in Texas after she gets married. Her attitude: no big deal. Until she talked to her future sister-in-law, the one from Brazil who is currently living in Florida.
“How do you deal with being so far away from home?” my daughter asked.
“See this?” She showed my daughter a great big butcher knife. “When my husband’s at work during the night, this is what I keep under my pillow.”
My daughter immediately invoked the 10-second rule and removed her engagement ring.
I remember her first attempt to move out. She was barely eighteen, and it was the week after her high school graduation. I decided that I would quit raising my kids once they turned eighteen. They could come and go as they pleased, do whatever they wanted to; I wasn’t going to make decisions for them or pressure them. They would have to work for their triumphs and work out their mistakes, on their own. That was my rule.
I wasn’t the type of parent to interfere. Not much anyway. I proved that when my daughter was a mere seven years old. We were sitting on a little retaining wall by the driveway. My daughter was picking a scab on her knee.
“Don’t do that,” I said.
She looked at me, a little stunned.
Then I said, “No. I’m not going to tell you what to do. It’s your body. If you want to ruin it and make the cut worse and make it bleed and risk infection and leave a scar, go ahead. I wouldn’t do it, but if you want to, go ahead. It’s your choice.”
She never changed her expression or took her eyes off me. She reached down and ripped off the scab.
Eleven years later, she would disrupt my peace and express her independence a second time, which brings me back to her threat to move out. Her best friend at the time was told she would have to get a place of her own upon graduation. The friend was fine with the idea, and so was my daughter. They decided they would move out together. I never took them seriously. My daughter had no car and no savings. She worked part time at the Subway and no interest in the future. She was as aimless as a falling leaf, and I liked watching her hover, because I knew that a gentle, kind breeze would catch her and carry her someplace where she could thrive. I didn’t want to interfere with what I considered the “natural flow,” so I let her float. But instead of a nice, promising breeze, my daughter was swept up by a big, blustery, foul wind. To put it less poetically, she was being pressured by her best friend’s mother.
Weeks before graduation my daughter mentioned her plans to move out, and I continued to dismiss her. The more serious she became about leaving, the more logical I became about why the idea was bad. The more logical I became, the more adventurous and free spirited she became, and the more she quoted me.
“You said I should make my own decisions. You said I should take chances. You said I should run off to Paris.”
Yes, I did.
I’ve been to Paris, and let me tell you, my daughter was not going to find Paris in the direction she was headed. Her best friend’s mother found a place in a questionable part of town that was not safe for two eighteen year old girls to live—I called the area rundown, dark and scary. The mother called it affordable. They would have no furniture. To get to Subway, my daughter would have to take the bus—the mother’s idea, since my daughter didn’t have a car. I envisioned my daughter waiting at midnight for a bus, because that’s when she usually ended her shift. Then I envisioned her getting off the bus and walking several blocks in the dark to her apartment. I immediately noticed in my vision the letch in the back of the bus, studying my daughter’s daily pattern. Well, you can imagine the rest. Next, I did the math. Rent, food, bus pass –that’s a lot to ask of a part time income at Subway, and my wife and I were not in a position to help at the time.
“I can make it work,” she said.
Honestly, I could not understand why she kept insisting on ruining her life. Then, just hours before she had planned to move, it hit me. Her friend had a brand new car, a gift from grandpa. She had a decent paying job, at grandpa’s insurance firm. She had a financial safety net and the promise of tuition, if she decided to pursue education. What she didn’t have was a companion, and mothers don’t force their daughters from the home without a companion. She didn’t mind sacrificing my daughter’s welfare to see to the welfare of her daughter.
I realized that my rule to not pressure my children into doing things against their will or against good judgment was not universal. Just because I didn’t want to push them didn’t mean others wouldn’t, and when I realized that this mother was going to have her way with my daughter, I decided to push back, and I used the only weapon I had at my disposal. Tears.
Yes, I cried.
I yelled, “Why are you doing this? This is not a good idea. All you will learn from this is how to be poor. You will get good at going without, and struggling. And when your friend, who has money, wants to go out and eat or wants to go shopping, you won’t be able to, and you will lose her too.”
That mother was powerless against my moistened cheeks, and my daughter’s resolve washed away in a flood of her own tears. She stayed home that night, bravely breaking the news to her friend. Not long after that episode, she left Subway for a better job. Two weeks into the new job, she was fired. I assured her she would find her way. She decided to begin her job search at an employment agency. While the counselor was collecting profile information, another woman walked into the room and approached my daughter.
“Did I hear you say that you want to be a nurse?”
“Yes,” my daughter said.
The woman interviewed my daughter and hired her on the spot. The company was Beehive Homes, a group of assisted living residences. My daughter loved the work, and she grew to love the “olds” as she called them. And they grew to love her. One in particular was so fond of her that she introduced my daughter to her grandson, M.

The Cry

December 5, 2009

After M proposed to my daughter, there on a Florida beach, she cried.

She was so happy.

Then confused.

Then incredulous.

“You really want to marry me? Are you sure? Do you really, really want to? You want to be engaged to me?” Each time he said, “Yes, of course!”

After an appropriate length of time that tender moments like that require, M said, “We  have to hurry back because everyone is waiting to hear,” which made my daughter cry even more.

When they got back to the apartment where her future brother-in-law and his wife were waiting, my daughter burst into the room screaming, “Hey! I’m engaged!”

They came forward to honor them, then stopped. “Ooh,” the future brother-in-law said to my daughter, “You may want to wash your face before we congratulate you.”

My daughter, according to her, fit right into the beach scenery, as a castaway. The Florida humidity had not been kind to her hair, which poofed to eight times her normal volume and curl. Four great streaks of black mascara bobbed and weaved down her cheeks, beginning at the eyes and reaching the corners of her mouth. Her pants were folded up to her knees. And yes, M still wanted to marry her.

Over the last few years, my daughter has cried on several occasions in front of M, mostly when she leaves him to return to Utah, or when he leaves her to return to Texas. My wife saved most of her crying until after we got married, which I believe was daily for the first year. Before the wedding, I remember her crying only once.

We’d known each other for eight months before we starting dating in earnest, and that earnest dating lasted about a week before I was ready to dump her.  I really liked her, but she was thirty, and I was twenty four. The age difference was starting to bother me. I figured it was best to cool things before something more serious happened, like marriage. I wanted to end things while things were still at the casual stage. As I recall, we went out to a dance at the college, and afterward K took me to a secluded area of town and jumped me. I was extremely inexperienced, especially for a twenty four year old. I’d never had a real girlfriend, because I was at times too shy, too insecure or not interested, and most girls, I felt, did not seem to take an interest in me anyway, not like K did that night. So, there we were, parked. She didn’t say much. She just moved over close to me and starting kissing me. I was shocked. Up to then, I considered myself pretty repulsive. But since K was doing all the driving, I figured I’d go along for the ride. And what a rough ride it was! K was trying out this new French kissing technique, and I thought she was going to pull my tongue out by the roots. Still, I didn’t complain.

After that night, we were for the most part inseparable. We did everything together, and we talked. We had to. I had to tell her to knock off that new tongue technique. During that week, we agreed that we were perfect for each other. We laughed, we made out, we cuddled, we made out, we watched a movie, we made out. I was the happiest I had ever been. When the weekend ended, I went back to school and K went back to work. During first period, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I never wanted to see K again.

She called my apartment a few times to talk, but by then I had no feelings whatsoever towards her, and I think her cousin, who happened to be my roommate and best friend, told her how I was feeling…or not feeling. K persisted until she reached me by phone (which wasn’t hard to do in those days because there was no Caller ID and no cell phones.) She asked me if I wanted to go on a picnic.

“No,” I said.

“What’s wrong?” she said.

“Nothing.” I said.

“Then let’s go on a picnic.”


“Do you want to talk?”


“Are you OK?”

“Yes.” And so on and so on. I spoke as monotone and as monosyllabic as I possibly could.

Eventually she persuaded me to go on a picnic. K planned everything. She picked me up at 8pm on a very cold October night. I had no idea where we were going, and I didn’t ask. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember saying much at all on that half-hour drive. We ended up at Salem Pond, a place K learned about only a week or so before because someone had brought her there to make out. I remember the place was well lit. The grass was frozen, and the trees were anointed with frost. The trees, the lights and the little hillside where we sat reflected in the water, which only doubled the beauty of the place.

K set a blanket on the frozen grass. She had sparkling cider (neither one of us drank alcohol), grapes, some crackers and a couple of plastic champagne glasses. She was wearing her mink coat and pumps (that’s what she always called them), and she was doing her best to lighten the mood. I wasn’t biting. I sat there as stoic as can be. She decided to talk about us. I let her know, there was no us.

“How can that be? We had an incredible week. You’re trying to tell me that you feel nothing.”

“Yes,” I said.

That’s when K started crying.

“DAMN KENT! DAMN STAN! DAMN DEVIN!” With each name she screamed, she would wave her champagne glass full of sparkling cider to and fro. Sparkling cider was flying everywhere. I was a bit nervous for her mink coat. At age thirty, K was sick of the guys in her life, guys like me who didn’t feel like committing, and she wanted answers. So I gave her one.

“You have the biggest brick wall built around you, and no one can get through.” Looking back I think that was probably the dumbest thing I ever said. Frankly, I have no idea what I even meant, but I felt better for saying it. We segued into a deep, meaningful discussion. I can’t remember any of it. All I remember is before long, K was sitting in my lap, and we stayed on that blanket for close to two hours.

The Date

December 5, 2009

After we demanded to see the ring, we demanded to know when they planned to get married.

“I don’t know yet,” my daughter said. “I told M I’d let him know in a week.”

I figure they’ll get married sometime in the Fall. My wife thinks I’m crazy.

“I know they’re going to get married in May,” she said.

According to her, it has to be May. It’s perfect! After all, that’s when we’re planning a trip to Mexico, and something has to ruin our plans. And don’t forget about April 15, and don’t forget that we always owe taxes on April 15.

Oh, I thought. I forgot that we’re supposed to be worried about money.

I’ve never been good at estimating expenses. I remember years ago when I bought my first car. Not the green one that I bought for $300 when I was in college, the one I drove for three weeks, the one I abandoned in a downtown parking spot on the street because it wouldn’t start, the one I didn’t  repair because it never occurred to me to repair it. I don’t count that one.  I’m talking about the Honda Civic. K and I had been married for a couple of years and decided we needed a bigger car. Yes, compared to the car we were driving, the Civic was a much roomier upgrade. Anyway, we hadn’t planned on a Civic at first. We had budgeted $200 a month for a car, and K thought the Honda dealership would be a good place to start looking, which was fine by me. We had plenty of time to make it to the Cadillac dealership, where I was certain that with a $200 monthly payment, we would have our pick of any brand new Cadillac on the lot. To me, $200 was a ridiculous amount of money to spend monthly on a car, and anyone who could afford that kind of money must be buying Cadillacs. Imagine my shock when I learned that the Honda dealership wanted $210 for a stripped down Civic–$230 if we wanted air!

So a few months ago, when I was out running with a neighbor, we got to talking about my daughter and her boyfriend, M. My neighbor wanted to know if I had any money saved should there be a wedding.

“Enough,” I said.

She didn’t believe me, so she asked me how much I thought a wedding cost.

“$500,” I said.

She laughed.

“Do you think K’s family is going to be satisfied with a $500 wedding?”

Then I laughed.  “K’s family would be happy with a bag of Cheetos and some Pepsi,” I told her. I love my wife’s family, especially around birthdays and Christmas. They make absolutely no financial demands on us. They are not cheap, just easy to please.

I thought back to my own wedding reception, which was in my in-law’s living room in Driggs, Idaho. I vaguely arriving at the house only to see a small crowd gathered in a back room eating sandwiches, potato salad and maybe chips—these were the leftovers from our luncheon the day before in Utah. At least that’s how I remember it. When I asked K about it, she remembers a buffet of deli meats and salads spread across the washer and dryer, but she isn’t sure if it was fresh. At any rate, K and I, her sister and our parents (minus my father) later that evening lined up in the living room to receive guests. Guests came through what we referred to as the back door, made their way through the kitchen, wished us luck in the living room, then circled back for some strawberry shortcake. Along the way, they would stop to admire our wedding cake. Three magnificent tiers, the top layer strangely tall and ill-proportioned and Styrofoam. I have no memory of cutting the cake, though I’m sure it went to good use, eventually.

Yes, I think $500 is plenty.

I have many vivid memories of that night in the small hamlet of Driggs, Idaho. Two doors down from my in-laws was another wedding reception, so everyone in the valley was out and bustling about, and they came to see us, some more curious about the line than what was at the end of it. I only know that the stream of people lasted three or four hours, and we were in part responsible for one of the biggest social nights in the town’s history.

K remembers everyone who came; I remember only a select few. The year before we married, I worked one winter in Driggs, that’s how I came to meet K. She was living in Utah at the time, and I was working in Driggs to earn enough money to return to school in Utah. K happened to be visiting her parents on Thanksgiving, and I happened to be living across the street with her cousin. When he heard she was in town, he wanted to visit her, and I tagged along. We met in her parent’s kitchen. K was wearing a black, backless dress that was very form-fitting and very elegant for the surroundings. I was wearing glasses, and they were completely fogged (due to the extreme cold outside vs the warmth of the kitchen).  K turned abruptly to see us. She had a huge turkey leg in her mouth. We didn’t fall for each other til later. Anyway, there was another girl in Driggs who was away at school but occasionally would come to town to visit her parents. I saw her once or twice in the grocery store where I worked. I don’t remember speaking to her, but I talked to her parents often. I’m not sure if I ever knew this girl’s name, and I’m positive that she did not come to our reception that night. Her mother, however, did.

She first spoke to K.

“Oh, hello, K. Congratulations. You look so beautiful. You know, we have always liked Steve. He visited us often, and we just really grew to appreciate him. Say, you remember my daughter Laurie? Well, you know, Steve and Laurie, well, there were sparks, but she was engaged.”

Laurie’s mother made her way to me, congratulated me and hugged me. She told me how happy she was for me, then turned to K. “You know, there were sparks, but she was engaged.”

I introduced her to my mother. They made pleasantries. When they were through, Laurie’s mother turned to K again and said, “There were sparks, but she was engaged.”

All that was left to do was sign the guest book, which Laurie’s mom graciously did. She put down the pen, turned to face K, then, with a booming voice, said, “Just remember! There were sparks! But she— “ pausing to emphatically and repeatedly point at her ring finger “—was engaged!” Then she left.

Yes, there were others. I remember meeting two of K’s friends, one of which was quite beautiful. K introduced me to Marla, and Marla in turn introduced me to the lovely Juanita.

“She’s single,” Marla told me.

“He’s not,” K told Marla.

Another old friend of the family came through the line. “I’ll tell you,” he said to K, “I’ve gained all my respect back for you.”

“What do you mean?” K said.

“Well, I figured you’d never get married. Now that you have, I can respect you again.”

That comment bugged K the most.

 There was only one other stupid thing said that night. By me. After the reception, the whole family gathered in the living room to watch us open gifts. K comes from a large family, eight children in all, and it was the first time in years that the whole family was together, and they were together for only one reason: to celebrate our big day. I had met about half the family before we got married; the other half I was meeting for the first time, specifically one brother, the eldest, who came all the way from Seattle. We had so many gifts to open. I remember only one: a little ceramic bird that doubled as a night light. I thought it was the dumbest thing I had ever seen, and I said so. I think my exact words were, “I hope this breaks real soon so we can throw this away.” I think you can guess who was giving it to us…

The Ring

December 2, 2009

We picked up the ring from the airport. When I saw it on my daughter’s finger, I think I said, “Well, don’t lose it.” My wife and other daughter made happy, delighted noises, and they all talked at once about its magnificence. I was driving at the time and couldn’t see the ring very well, so I asked, “How much did it cost?” which was my way of asking her to describe the ring to me in detail.

I was shocked. That ring cost a lot of money. I never spent that much on a ring before, to which my wife said, “I know.”

I told my daughter that I didn’t get Mom an engagement ring, to which my wife said, “I know.”

The truth is, I didn’t even consider buying a ring for my wife, to which she said, “I know.”

The conversation moved from the ring to the actual proposal. My daughter was completely surprised when M popped the question. They had planned for months to spend Thanksgiving with M’s brother in Florida, and my daughter didn’t even once consider that he might give her a ring there. “Too obvious,” she told us.  My daughter had been in Florida for only a few hours when M invited her to take a walk on the beach.  “I want to give you something,” he said. She knew he had an iPod for her but couldn’t understand why he would give it to her on the beach and risk her dropping it, however, she didn’t argue. They walked in the sand and talked. “I have to pee,” my daughter said. They walked some more. “Oops, I farted,” she said.  When M had recaptured the mood, he dropped to one knee and said, “Will you marry me?”  My daughter was dumbstruck.

 “Are you serious?” she said.

“Yes I’m serious,” he said. “And you’re supposed to say, yes.”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”

My wife’s smile couldn’t have been any bigger. “How does it feel?” she said, “because I’ve never experienced it.” And it’s true. No engagement ring. And no formal proposal. My wife and I had been dating for what seemed like a long time, maybe three or four months, and somewhere on the drive to her parents’ house for Thanksgiving, between Bountiful, Utah and Malad, Idaho, during a somewhat dry conversation, we agreed that if we didn’t break up, our relationship would likely result in marriage. And we did get married, more than 26 years ago.

Who needs the beach!