The Big 4-0

Forty years. That’s a long time. For some, a lifetime. I’m writing this column on the eve of my 40th Wedding Anniversary. When this article is printed, my anniversary will be over and my wife and I will be moving on toward the next one. But before that happens, I want to try to transport myself back in time to my wedding day. I’m just going to let my mind drift and let the memories flow. I’ve asked my Alexa device to play songs from the year I got married to help set the mood. The Pointer Sisters’ “He’s So Shy”, Diana Ross’ “Upside Down” and Devo’s “Whip-It” were climbing the charts. Just to let you know how long ago it was, Ronald Regan was just elected president.

Saturday, November 8, 1980: On the morning of my wedding day I woke up in the three-room basement in-law apartment I would soon share with my wife. My parents lived in the brick-front ranch-style home above. I was 22 years old (22!). My beautiful fiancé, Priscilla, just turned 20. It’s no wonder most of the comments spoken in hushed whispers were “They’re so young.” Were people trying to imply we were too young? In my heart, I believed a person could not put an age on love. But what did I know? I was young.

I remember heading upstairs for breakfast with my family for the last time as a single man. I was relaxed and nervous at the same time. My father sat at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee and smoking his usual non-filtered Lucky Strike. I pretended the smoke didn’t bother me. My mother hugged me and set another place at the breakfast table. My brother Michael and his wedding date Lynn had flown in from Texas for the wedding. They were preparing a special brunch for my family – a southern-style breakfast delicacy called Chicken Fried Steak. It was surprisingly delicious. Not as surprising as the fact that my brother’s date, Lynn, was a man. But it was 1980, and times were changing. Boy, were they ever.

After breakfast, the flowers for the wedding party arrived. My brother Michael was my best man, my other two brothers, John and William, were groomsmen, along with my wife’s brother Bill and my brother-in-law Peter. We decided to keep it all in the family. I’m glad we did, so when we look back at our wedding album we still know who everyone is in the photos. 

The morning evaporated quickly. Everyone was rushing around getting dressed at the same time. Our wedding mass at the Immaculate Conception Church in Everett was scheduled for 1 pm. Upon arrival at the church, I began double-checking to make sure everything was in place. I found my brother John outside sweeping the front steps of the church in his tuxedo. He found a broom in a side closet and he was sweeping gum wrappers and cigarette butts from the sidewalk into the gutter.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“My brother’s getting married. I’m making sure the place looks good,” John said.

I was surprised and touched. Our nine-year age difference prevented us from being “close” siblings, but today he earned a couple of points in my book. 

I left John to his maintenance duties and went to find my brother Michael, to make sure he had the wedding rings in his pocket. I found him outside the church in an alcove alley-way near the door on the side of the altar. The rings weren’t the only thing he had in his pocket.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Smoking a joint,” he said casually. ”Want a hit?” 

“No, I don’t smoke,” I said. “And for God’s sake, we’re outside a church!”

“Hey, watch your language. We’re outside a church,” he said.

“What happened to your pants?” he asked looking at the front of my black tuxedo that now had clouds of white drifting through the fabric.

“I must have used too much talcum powder after my shower when I got dressed. I didn’t want to  perspire during the ceremony,” I said. I tried using my hand to brush off the front of my pants to get rid of the white powder marks. 

“I thought you weren’t nervous. How much talcum did you use?”

“I don’t know. I just shook half the container down my shorts,” I said.

“That was probably too much but I don’t think anyone will notice,” he said.

The priest stuck his head out from the vestibule as my brother was wildly waving away clouds of pot smoke and I was patting the front of my black pants trying to wave away clouds of talcum powder. 

“It’s time,” said the bewildered priest. If he wondered what was going on in the church alley, he kept it to himself. 

The overcast November sky began to brighten. I stood at the altar in the front of the church. There was electricity in the air as hushed whispers of “The bride is here” could be heard quietly echoing. The organist began playing the introduction to the bridal march. The large wooden doors at the back of the church swung open. Outside, the clouds parted. Backlit by rays of sunshine, my breathtaking bride walked into the church on the arm of her proud father. Family legend says the bride’s father was overheard whispering to his daughter, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

The ceremony proceeded smoothly despite all the pre-wedding drama. We read our vows, we said our “I do’s”, we kissed and we were united under God. We walked out of the church as husband and wife, waving and smiling at our guests who were clapping and cheering as our procession passed by. For a few moments, we were royalty. 

Somewhere in the back of a bureau draw there is a Super 8 movie of our wedding reception that one of the guests recorded on celluloid tape. There is no sound (it was 1980 and video technology was just starting to become commonplace). The silent footage is full of smiling guests, many no longer with us, too many to count, but all of them loved more than they ever knew. The photo albums from that day are somewhere in the rafters of my attic, along with all of our other family photo albums, holding a lifetime of memories. 

Our wedding photos reflect a piece of our shared history, made even more special because our entire immediate family comprised our wedding party – from groomsmen to bridesmaids, best man and maid of honor. Our photographer captured the day perfectly, from the gorgeous shot of my beautiful bride in her white dress emerging from the black limousine, to the parting of the clouds as the bride entered the church in a golden halo of light. And in one of the photos, you can still see a smudge of white talcum powder rising through the fabric of my black tuxedo pants.

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