Just a day over three weeks ago, Ben and Alise were married in Helena, Montana, in a small Episcopalian church by her father, who is an ordained Episcopalian priest.
They were married before friends and family, whose love and encouraging wishes were surpassed only by the radiant look on the couple's faces.
The day before the wedding found me, Warren, and several members of Alise's family elbow deep in potatoes, onions, celery, and pickles as we peeled, chopped, diced, and otherwise prepped food for the wedding reception. Jenna, Alise's younger sister, worked on a large tray of Rice Krispie treats for the little ones at the wedding. The rest of us made gallons of potato salad and pasta salad.
It was a good start to the weekend's activities. We confirmed the writings of Khalil Gibran - "work is love made visible" - as we chopped and stirred and talked.
When the big day actually came, after the pre-ceremony photos, after the last minute concerns, I thought I would cry copiously throughout the wedding. There happened to be a box of tissues in the front pew where we were seated and I figured I would empty it out before the wedding was done. As it turned out, the tears spilled over only once: when Mona escorted Alise down the aisle. I think it was the combined glow of mother and daughter, sprinkled with Mona's own tears, that brought mine to the surface.
After that, I was dry-eyed. Happy, but dry-eyed. I think I was so caught up in the wedding - watching the couple, listening to the service - that I didn't have time to cry. I watched them pledge their love and commitment to one another. Joe talked about the wedding bringing family and tribe (Alise is Chippewa on her mother's side) together and I watched Sam and Jenna (their only attendants) wrap them in a blanket to symbolize the union. I answered "we do" along with everyone else when asked who would witness their vows and support them in their new life together.
The smile on Ben's face was the biggest one I had seen in many years. It was heartfelt, it was genuine, it was radiant. I saw it as soon as Ben's brand spanking new father-in-law gently turned Ben and Alise to face the congregation as a newly married couple.
As mother of the groom, I saw Ben's smile as a wonderful affirmation of something I already knew: they belong together.
Sam said it best. As best man, he was called upon to give a toast to the couple at the reception. Sam had stewed over this expectation a bit on the way west and we wondered what he was gong to say. When the time came, he rose to his feet, champagne in hand, and said (more or less): "I'm Ben's brother, Sam. I guess as best man I am supposed to give a toast. Well, I don't have any heartwarming stories or any pithy sayings to tell you. I just want to say that Ben and Alise are great people who are going to do great things and have a great life."
I looked at Warren; he looked at me. "Wow! Where did that come from?" We all cheered.
At the reception were tables loaded with food - the food we had made, the food other family members brought. One of Alise's cousins made the wedding cake.
There was love stirred into every dish. You tasted it in every bite.
You saw it on the faces of people in the room. Old, young, dark, light. All of us there for Ben and Alise. All of us there for the coming together of these two young people.
Like any event, not everything went as planned. There was supposed to be a mother/son, father/daughter dance to "Stand By Me." Instead, at some point Joe and Alise started dancing to something - a Queen number, perhaps - and Ben and I followed suit. At dance's end, my son put his arm around me and hugged me tight.
"I'm so glad you married Alise," I said. "She's a good woman."
"She is a good woman, mom."
I have written before about saying goodbye to Ben and Sam, knowing I am likely not to see them again for some time. I have yet to write about saying hello to my new daughter-in-law.
I first heard the name "Alise" in December, 2004, when Ben came home for Christmas during his freshman year at Reed. He hemmed and hawed a bit, then asked if he could fly back early via Helena, Montana. Why Helena, I remember asking. Turns out there was a young woman there who he'd met at Reed and he was invited to come visit her and her family. And her name? Alise, mom, Alise. Sam met her before I did on one of his occasional trips out to visit his dad. When he came back, he said "you'll like Alise, mom. She's a lot like you."
I still remain deeply flattered by the comparison.
I have called Alise my "almost" daughter-in-law for so long that I am still getting accustomed to the change in status. To my surprise, she took Ben's last name. At some point I know I will write out their combined names and stop and stare a bit at the envelope.
In looking back, I can sense the flow of the two days. Friday evening was the rehearsal, followed by a cookout, followed by our decorating the reception hall. Saturday was photographs, followed by the wedding, followed by the reception. Family stayed late to clean up afterwards. On Sunday, we came together again to watch them open presents, then spent the day at the lake. At the time, the weekend seemed packed.
Maybe it was. Maybe not. In the end, my memories are of the little things. The peacock feathers that were laced through everything - the bouquet, the floral arrangements, the boutonnières. The Playmobil cake topper that Ben bought for Alise. The Indian fry bread makers frying up a batch before the wedding, including a heart shaped one for Ben and Alise. Grandma Dorothy standing beside me in the receiving line and explaining who everyone from Alise's side of the family was, right down to the roly-poly baby - a great-great-grandchild of Grandma Dorothy's, by the way - who happily danced the night away in his mother's arms. Holding Warren's hand while Ben and Alise pledged their love.
And the smiles and the love everywhere - in every hug, in every bite, in every song, and on everyone's tongue - the whole night long.