Our youngest daughter and her true love were married last Saturday on a beach in West Marin. She is an artist; he is an aspiring musician. They are dreamers, and they are very young. Although I married her father at 21 and still love him, I worried they were in over their heads.
But we adore Emily, and she declared fiercely that Marshall was her “person.” He treats her with loving kindness, so I abandoned attempts to micro-manage her future and planned a wedding.
I told friends, grocery clerks and anyone standing still for longer than a minute that all I wanted was to come out the other side still speaking to each other. (With a full time job and a weekly column, adding “wedding planner” to my resume was turning me into a shrew. With guests from four states landing at two airports — 25 for the weekend, 44 for the rehearsal dinner and 53 for the ceremony and reception — my husband avoided me and frankly, I didn’t blame him.)
Disaster struck almost immediately. On Thursday morning, I lost my life basket.
My round African basket holds my calendar, office papers going home, home papers returning to work, rough drafts for columns, medications — you get it. That morning, it held all that plus seven separate half-completed “to do” lists, flight itineraries, detailed instructions on opening and closing my great, great grandparents’ home plus two rentals, grocery lists for three different stores and a bankroll of $20 bills.
I ransacked our house. I assumed someone stole it from my car, or maybe I left it on a sidewalk during one of countless errands. My stomach flipped; my heart raced. I took deep breaths to lower my blood pressure and thought, “OK. You’re OK. Just go down to the warehouse and reprint what you can from the computer.”
So in the early morning darkness I drove to work and found my basket tucked safely beneath my desk. I doubled over, muttering, “Thankgodthankgodthankgodthankgod!”
We spent the first day organizing, then held the rehearsal dinner at my brother and sister-in-law’s Stinson Beach home. Close friends spent weeks perfecting their smoked pulled pork recipe while their daughter, who grew up playing on that beach with Emily, baked dozens of cookies.
The next morning, Emily’s cousin decorated a homemade cake, carefully placing air plants as dune grass, scattering chocolate sand dollars on the table. Emily dressed in the newly built bungalow atop the old garage. Her gown once belonged to a college roommate — a discarded prom dress from the costume closet at their Salem, Oregon rental. For months, she hand-stitched tiny pale pink pearls to strips of delicate lace to add straps and a belt, then more pearls onto the dress and down the back for buttons. (An hour before the ceremony, as Marshall’s sister did her hair and makeup, Emily sewed the last few pearls onto her flip flops.)
We gathered on the point — even Sarah’s yellow Lab puppy — but I saw no sign of my husband, the bride or her older sister. I started to panic.
I was considering a search and rescue party when our green Forester pulled into sight. (Si took the girls for ice cream to stall. He wanted to give Emily one last chance to change her mind.) He said, “Lucy (his nickname for both girls), this is your last chance to say ‘No, thank you.’” He said she smiled broadly and replied, “Yes please, Dad!”
The wedding began. My cousin’s granddaughters — the flower girls — held Nantucket lightship baskets filled with shells collected over years of walking that same beach. I asked them to scatter them like rose petals, keeping any leftover shells to take home. The older cousin threw two or three, keeping the rest in her basket. Her little sister refused to throw any, clutching her basket possessively whenever anyone asked if she needed help carrying it.
Mike Gibbons, the cake maker’s husband, sang Emily’s favorite, “Sharks Will Behave.” With the authority granted by the State of California via the Internet, her godmother Joanie — my freshman college roommate — pronounced them husband and wife. Marshall went in for the kiss before Joanie said, “You may kiss the bride,” and Emily hopped up and down in place a few times, unable to contain her joy.
A young guest said, “It was a ‘flash mob’ wedding!” We assembled on the warm sand and within minutes we were gone, leaving no trace.
Em said the ceremony was perfect — brief and poignant.
Her cousin drove them away in our parents’ 1965 Buick Skylark convertible, decorated by his sister. Their other cousin rode shotgun, singing love songs in a deep baritone. Tin cans dropped from the bumper and bounced along behind on strings.
We ate lunch on the old porch overlooking the ocean, and later wood-fire oven-baked pizza from a next-door neighbor. When I went to pay for it, my sister offered to cover the expense. I turned her down. Her developmentally disabled son Ben, who works collecting shopping carts and busing fast food tables, pulled out his wallet and handed me $20. He said, “Aunt Alice, I would like you to accept this contribution to the cost of the pizza.” I hugged him, thanking him for his generosity. His sister’s boyfriend quickly handed me more cash, knowing that Ben had set the bar.
We sat by the fire singing familiar songs from the summer camp where they met, the same one many of us attended in the ’70s. Marshall played guitar and sang a duet with his younger sister. As the older generation faded, Sarah organized a send-off with candles and sparklers, singing “Roseville Faire.” I tucked in, and the younger generation headed down to the beach.
The next day guests left, one carload at a time. The few remaining ate barbequed oysters with warm garlic butter, then carried belongings down the long river-rock stairs to the garage. (Thank you, Chris.) Si drove his brother over Mount Tamalpais to the Oakland airport and I prepared to say goodbye to Sarah and be alone until Si could return to help me load the cars in the morning.
I said, “Are you heading back to your sweetheart, Sarah?” She said, “No, Mom. I asked if he needed me, and he said that he thought for tonight, you needed me more.”
We sat beside each other on an overstuffed sofa beside the fire, leafing through albums of ancient black and white photographs, followed by colorful digital ones from the weekend on a laptop. In our family shots, there is a foggy image surrounding the bride and groom. I told Sarah it looked like a roaming spirit from a paranormal History Channel show. She laughed and said it was a fingerprint smudge on her lens.
But the same image appears in the same place in my niece Jenny’s photos. I think our ancestors were there for the party. With everyone’s help, it was a perfect wedding. And Emily and I are both grateful.