September 12, 2011
There’s a full Harvest Moon tonight. Just a century ago, much of life this time of year centered around the harvest. This was the season when my Pennsylvania grandmother put up glistening jars of grape jelly, apple butter, and strawberry rhubarb jam direct from her garden. And my South Dakota grandfather and the hired hands worked the fields well before sunrise and long into the night cutting and baling hay to feed the cattle through winter. For both families, it was a time of hard work and abundance. With no television and only limited use of the radio, entertainment was like everything else—homemade. In Pennsylvania, they played cards. In South Dakota, they played the fiddle. Both families told stories. In grammar school, I was always prepared to talk about how I spent my summer vacation. Storytelling came naturally. I’m sure it’s what led me to write romance novels. Just as I’m sure writing romance novels led me to performing weddings. Destiny is a wide road.
Since 2001, I’ve designed and orchestrated many rituals of many kinds; but the wedding at which I officiated in August was my first. I’m happy to say that the comment I heard most often was how meaningful, how personal, the service was. That’s because in the months preceding the wedding, while Elaine and Becky talked about how they met and fell in love, I took notes. Writers are notorious for eavesdropping. This was sanctioned.
When it came time for the ceremony, I knew about the blind date, about how Becky got lost and Elaine decoded the description of her surroundings in order to find her. I learned about how each thought cheeseburgers and a walk on the beach would be appropriate for a first meeting. I learned Becky loves to cook and Elaine loves to eat. I smiled when Elaine talked about that day on the beach and how Becky reacted with gentle wonder when a tiny crab scurried across her bare foot. “That’s when I knew I could fall in love with Becky,” Elaine said and I knew she meant it. I learned how much Becky admired Elaine’s intellect and emotional stability and how stressful it was for Elaine to take the bar exam earlier that same week. I heard the catch of regret in Elaine’s voice when she talked about not being available to help Becky with the preparations. When Becky said, “That’s okay,” I knew she meant it. On separate occasions, I learned that Elaine wondered if their children would echo Becky’s love of nature, of trees in particular and that Becky wondered if their children would have Elaine’s freckles.
I listened as Elaine talked about how happy—and concerned—she was that her grandparents, both in failing health, planned to travel from the Midwest to be at the wedding. I listened as Becky expressed disappointment that her godmother didn’t approve of the marriage and had declined to attend. Becky and I talked on the phone for over an hour one night. She shared the sorrow of not having her mother at the wedding, how her favorite flowers were yellow roses, and could I incorporate something yellow into the ceremony in memory of the blind woman who died when Beck was a child? I heard the pride in Becky’s voice when she talked about the 140 hand-turned wooden bowls her father was making for the guests.
To a writer, everything is grist for the mill. The ceremony I created for Becky and Elaine incorporated all I had learned about them. Writing this now I can relive that August afternoon. That’s the power of stories. That’s why we tell them. I gave Becky and Elaine a basket filled with jars of pesto, pumpkin butter, jelly, and jam. What can I say? It’s in the genes.