Is it me, or do family weddings bring out the best and worst in everyone involved?
Best: you buy a new outfit, get a haircut, and show up with your finest face forward.
Worst: you prepare to socialize with your entire extended family, knowing this will mean both engaging with cousins you treasure and fielding personal questions from a great uncle you can’t remember.
Last week Mike and I were in Washington, DC and took the weekend to drive to a small town in Maryland for my cousin’s wedding. As we drove, I gave Mike the rundown of my mom’s side of the family — explaining marriages, divorces, awkward relationships, all of it. Lucky for him, there was sufficient dysfunction in my family to prevent his eyes from glazing over.
My extended family lives on the East Coast, and my immediate family moved to Seattle twelve years ago, so we don’t see each other often. Over time I conceded the loss of connection and the lack of anything in common besides our bloodline, so I told myself not to hope for familial closeness at an event such as a wedding.
This was not so, but it took me the entire wedding to see it fully.
Five minutes before the ceremony started, Mike and I, along with my sister Erin and her friend Karen, rolled up in our rental car. This was tacky, but honestly we were driving through the back country of Maryland…forgive us if we don’t know the way from Fruitland to Nassawango (I wish I was inventing these names).
As soon as the ceremony concluded, it was like a dam broke. Hugs, kisses, you-are-so-talls; we were gushing at each other. I was proud to introduce Mike to the people who had helped shape who I was, and it was gratifying for them to meet the person with whom I’d chosen to spend my life.
And despite the passage of time, talking with them reminded me that these are not casual family members. No, these are the people who will tell me when I have dirt on my face, or in this case, goose droppings on my shoes (an outdoor wedding, go figure).
It came as no surprise then when none of us were bashful about admitting that the open bar was crucial to our re-acquainting, and we all groaned good-naturedly about the slew of mandatory group photos that had to be taken.
As for the conversation, it was classic: no one can get away with any pretense at a family wedding, because you’re with people who saw you eat Play-Doh (and like it). There’s no point in bragging about a job because they already know who you are – they don’t need to know what you do.
Minute by minute, I realized how much I miss them. I saw what I’m missing by not living near them.
When you live apart from your family, you move on and establish your own life and don’t feel the hole. But when you return home; when you realize your living lineage is here and not there; when you talk to people who watched you grow up; it’s not a small thing. And I am missing it.
This became abundantly clear as the DJ cued the music.
You know you really love your family when you are willing to enter the dance floor for such songs as the Electric Slide or the YMCA. When you can toss all of your dignity aside for a few rounds of the Macarena, you know you’re with your nearest and dearest.
And, to quote that other atrocious wedding dance song, isn’t that “what it’s all about”? Put your best hope in, take your bad attitude out, raise a glass to what’s ahead and forgive each other for what’s past? Isn’t it about pulling together as individuals and then letting loose as one?
The proof-positive that the wedding was a success was that it didn’t end at the wedding. Mike ran to the store for a case of Corona and all my cousins, every last one, packed into one hotel room to talk until 3AM.
There is one wedding song that normally makes me roll my eyes, but at this wedding made me jubilant:
“All of the people around us, they say
can they be that close?
Just let me state for the record,
we’re giving love in a family dose.
We. Are. Family.”