This Memorial Day weekend had my husband and I traveling — without the kids!! — to Boston to attend a friend’s wedding. It was quite an experience to board a plane in sunny, ultra-casual Southern California, where the golden hills and bright blue sky seem to foster a sort of perpetual blissed-out amnesia — and then land just a few hours later, 3,000 miles away, in a brick-and-cobblestone, history-steeped city where no one was wearing Cali shirts or Vibram Fivefingers, accents honked across the narrow streets like horns, and Pinkberry and “CorePower Yoga” have hardly made a dent. (Horns were also honking, in addition to accents. Bostonians are impatient drivers.)
Add to this the fact that the fabulous wedding we attended was an intricate, breathtaking affair in the high Boston tradition, and it was quite a welcome little culture shock.
And we were, as usual, running late. Memorial Day weekend also seemed to coincide with Harvard graduation and a cheerfully boisterous indie music festival.
My poor husband grappled with impossible traffic (we had driven in from New Hampshire, where we’d been staying with my uncle) and when we finally found a metered parking space, we didn’t have enough quarters.
Luckily, I learned that there is no more honorable pursuit in Bostonians’ eyes than trying to make it to a wedding. (Everywhere we went, if we just blurted, “We’re trying to get to a wedding,” people would shout, “Oh my GAWD! Here are some quarters/ get in front of me in line/ etc. You’ve gotta get to that wedding!”) And indeed, when I sheepishly approached a family and asked to exchange a dollar for four quarters, after their initial glance of suspicion at my request the husband and wife did shout almost in unison, “Oh, my GAWD! No, keep your dollah! Take the quartahs, you’ve gotta get to that wedding!”
So, yes, we made it to the wedding.
I am fairly certain we were the only military couple there, surrounded by Harvard profs (like the groom) and musicians and artists and architects (and lots of teachers too, which made me feel at home!). The bride and groom made elegant remarks, danced the foxtrot, and were whisked away in a white horse-drawn carriage (after which a member of the wedding party cried out, “Now THAT’s a Boston wedding!”) Little signs proclaimed that their signature cocktail was the Kir Royale (Dave joked, “I think our signature cocktail is milk.”) But everyone was so kind and friendly that we never felt out-of-place, and could just enjoy all the classiness that surrounded us. It was very sweet to see my friend so happy, moving on to another chapter of her life.
Before we could get back to our own ongoing and somewhat intense life-chapter (the three kids!), we had to spend the night in Boston. With the parking situation so bad, Dave actually had to park on the nearby Coast Guard base (thank you, Coasties, for the hospitality!).
My friend the bride, a master of thoughtful and meticulous planning, had taken the time to recommend custom lodging for many of her guests and for us, that was the Mariner’s House — a small, historic hotel “for active members of the seafaring services.”
“Founded in 1847 by the Boston Port and Seamen’s Aid Society, Mariners House was and remains a respite where seafarers and their families can find comfortable, affordable lodging and meals, professional guidance and religious counseling. In addition to the inn itself, Mariners House offers a breadth of services designed specifically to address the needs of professional mariners. ” (from the web site)
The lodge was historic, clean, simple and cozy — and affordable. Just our style. In the morning we elbowed our way to the register at Mike’s Pastry and enjoyed the best croissants we’d ever tasted.
We collected our car from the Coast Guard base, admiring their pretty white ships — so much nicer than the Navy’s functional, endless gray. (Haze gray and underway!)
* * *
It was the perfect weekend to read two of the most-opposite books on the planet: Courtney Maum’s I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You and Aaron Gwyn’s Wynne’s War. Honestly, those books could not have been more different — a smart, frothy, hilarious novel about an artist in Paris trying to reclaim his wife, his integrity, and a very special painting — and a vivid, edge-of-your-seat modern Western set in Afghanistan. (Review of Wynne’s War forthcoming — I loved it.) They were each just what I needed, such satisfying books that I was not remotely tempted to watch the in-flight movie on either arrival or departure.
I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You is not officially out until June 10th, and another military spouse has already clamored to review it, so I won’t do a full review here– consider this an excited little nudge in the direction of Here’s a great summer read.
A great summer read, but the perfect thematic read for a wedding weekend. It occurred to me during my friend’s wedding that part of the purpose of such ceremonies, nearly as much as the act of sealing the betrothed couple, is the refresher course on commitment it gives everyone in attendance. Watching two people take that big step, you remember when you took your own, and how you felt about your partner back at that new and daring time. It’s kind of like getting a fidelity-booster-shot.
Fun Here Without You has a similar effect — the literary equivalent of watching When Harry Met Sally (a classic if ever there was one!). The novel is about a man named Richard who has, through his own error, lost his wife, and the funny and fumbling road he takes to try to get back to her. He’s looking for a grand gesture, the one big act that will sweep her off her feet — but along his journey he learns that it’s actually the everyday gesture, the little act of patience and love, that builds a marriage. He starts out lamenting “the dead cell cast of seven years of marital fidelity”: “How did married people do it without cheating? Sweating and grunting and drooling on their pillow nightly side by side, expected at some point to reach over and caress the person who had become as familiar and uninteresting as an extension of their own arm, and fuck?”
But Richard begins filming his parents and their friends, sitting back-to-back and while they talk about love and devotion.
“And what do you love most about her?” My father looked up at the camera when I said this.
“She’s kind,” he said. “She’s silly. She doesn’t get uptight.”
“And what do you dislike?”
“…She’s not, you’re not — she’s not a good driver.”
…Mum twisted around in her chair again. “Well, that can’t be all, George. Personally, I have a lot of them! He’s a hummer, but he’s only got one tune. And he never puts the top back correctly on the malt bottle. ..But he’s a good dancer. …And he makes the bed in the morning, how many people can say that? And you know, he doesn’t disappoint me.”
As Richard studies the importance of kind gestures, he recalls a picnic his own wife, Anne-Laure, made years before, on the day he realized that he loved her.
On that particular Sunday, she’d suggested a bike ride out to Barrington beach and promised me a picnic…In common Anne fashion, she had everything prepared: a blanket, towels, a small umbrella just in case, and a cooler full of treats…[She got me] with the care she put into this picnic, the things she’d done to transform a Sunday afternoon into a moment that would make me look at my life and realize that I wanted her with me, in it. Always.
(Somehow, my own obsessive picnicking habit does not have such an intoxicating effect on my own husband. This is my picnic basket. You can click on the picture to enlarge. You know you want to. And yet, Dave merely tolerates this — my endless Tupperwares and balls of tin foil and my crowing about “how much money we’ve saved!” — as other families walk past unwrapping round hamburgers and scarfing steaming boats of French fries. How can he not see this picnic basket and look at his life and realize that he wants me in it? Always?!)
Watching the care with which my friend had planned her own wedding — the church service, the hymns, the signature cocktail, the 1940s and ’50s music on the dance floor — I realized that she was making a statement about her life with this other person, and doing it with great care. She and Anne-Laure would make great friends.
And me and Dave? We are great friends, too. If the little things matter, then he is a champion. Halfway through our six-hour flight I wanted to use the restroom, but the line at the back of the plane was six people deep. I pointed this out to Dave who said, sweetly and inexplicably, “Oh, do you want me to wait in line with you?” And I almost laughed, because it would never have occurred to me to ask someone to keep me company in a boring, crowded plane-restroom-line. But still, he thought of that. So I just smiled at him, because I knew that whether I was dancing at a wedding or waiting in a line on an airplane, nobody would make better company than him.
Courtney Maum, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You. Simon & Schuster, June 2014.
Aaron Gwyn, Wynne’s War. Houghton Mifflin, May 2014.