A Long and Winding Road…
The details of how they met are important, but even more important than the circumstance of their meeting is the full life they’ve lived together for 22 years and the celebrating that life with an eternal promise to one another.
They announced their engagement to the family at large last Christmas. Marti came over to me after our big Christmas Eve extravaganza dinner while I had my hands in dishwater cleaning up. I could sense that she really wanted to tell me something and I picked up a hand towel to dry my hands.
“Steve, Susan and I are getting married this summer,” she said while looking me in the eyes. “We’ve been together for almost 22 years.” And with that, joy washed over both of us. Joy in the telling. Joy in the knowing. Joy in the freedom from 22 years of not.
I immediately gave her a hug, towel, wet hands and all. I put my hands on both her shoulders and we continued to look at one another, the way you do when you really want to communicate.
“Marti, what awesome news,” I said. “I couldn’t be happier for you both. Just tell us when and where and we’ll be there.”
“We’re looking at sometime in June, probably in P-town. We know that it isn’t the most convenient place to get to, but it’s really amazing there.”
Okay, I’ll go on the record and admit that I thought she meant, “Bean town” for Boston. “B-town?”
“No, P-town,” she corrected me. So, I’m thinking “Providence.”
“Hey Julie, Clark, Blair, Aunt Marti has an announcement.”
And that’s how Marti presented us all with a great Christmas present: a long awaited announcement and an event to which we could all look forward. I did have to learn that I was mistaken twice. “P-town” of course was short for Provincetown, Massachusetts, long known by all but me as the place where gay women and men could go and be themselves, free from the shackles of the judgment of others. Family member after family member shared in the news and put their names in the hat to attend. The response overwhelmed my sister.
And so the months flew by and we all booked flights and rental cars and made plans to go to a part of the U.S. we’d never been, Cape Cod. What an adventure it became. And, as a bonus, we flew into Providence and got to experience the long time home of our nephew, Kelly. He has continued to make that his home base since his college days.
Clark and his best girl, Ashley, and Blair joined Julie and I on the trip. Marti recommended a place that they had looked into and it turned out to be remarkably beautiful. A four-bedroom log cabin at the end of a long private gravel road overlooking a huge bog on National Park land. Our niece, Claire, secured the place for a four-day weekend and we were all set.
Arriving on Thursday gave us Friday to enjoy P-town and we started it off with a boating adventure out to see the whales hanging out off the coast. And sight whales we did after we made it through the chop created by winds of 15 knots blowing inland, nothing a little Dramamine couldn’t handle. After we got eight miles from shore, the seas lay down and we saw what we came for. First, the explosive grey mist of water and air as the whale broke the surface and blew. Then, the roll of the back showing the dorsal fin. And, then the majestic tail, rising up out of the water as the humpback prepared to dive.
On our trip we saw all humpbacks, except for one Fin whale off in the distance, the second largest creature on Earth. We saw mothers with calves and singles. We were even lucky enough to catch one calf in a playful mood, breaching the surface head first three different times. According our guide, Chad, it’s a real treat to get to see that. It proved difficult to capture on camera however. The breach is a total surprise. The boat is wobbly. You’ll see how I clipped the upper most part of the head off. Still, amazing sight to see.
Back at the dock we swapped seats with Lin, Sylvia, Claire, Kelly and his girlfriend, Kia. They were off for their own unique adventure. Every trip is different according to Chad.
Friday late afternoon, our niece Peyton, finally made it in on the ferry from Boston having started her journey that morning before the crack of dawn. A quick refresh and she was good to go and off we went.
That night, Marti and Susan put on a dinner at a wonderful place on the water. Nothing formal. No agenda. Susan welcomed us all and invited us to enjoy the evening, the wine and the food. Then Lin uncorked the toasting, joking that we’re celebrating a really long engagement, and that it’s about time. Then, friend after friend spoke, mixing good-natured, over the top, roasting with heartfelt love, affection and happiness. The more the wine flowed, the more involved the storytelling, about how they first met Marti and Susan, how long they’ve known them and how meaningful they were in their lives. It was all beautiful. Marti tried to say something, but she, like me, have our mother’s characteristic trait of sobbing instead of speaking during emotional moments. So, she sat back down.
Having roasted Marti pretty well for her 50th and 60th birthdays, I took a different approach, following Lin’s lead about the length of time they’ve spent together.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it went something like this. And if wasn’t exactly like this, this is what I meant to say:
Listening to you talk, I’m so impressed with the long term friendships so many of you have shared with Marti and Susan. For me, well, I’ve never known life without my big sister Marti. My brothers and sister say the same. She was the first of five. For three years, the one and only child. Her birth started the family of Homer and Martha. They had nothing but each other, a scholarship to NC State on the GI Bill and Marti. Pennies, nickels and dimes were their currency. Marti was their pride and joy.
Being the oldest, she played a major role in raising us. She led the way in so many ways. I have nothing but love, admiration and respect for her.
Lin said it has been a very long engagement. While this wedding, like most, celebrates the commitment of one to the other for the future, most weddings announce a start for a couple, and are based on hope. Hope that they can manage their love and life through the wonderful and trying times ahead. In Marti and Susan’s case, they have 22 years of solid proof of their commitment to each another. This wedding isn’t about hope, it’s a celebration of their lives already together. And to that I raise a glass to the two of you and say we love you. We’re proud of you. We’re so happy to be here with you, your families and friends and share this moment in time with you.
God bless the state of Massachusetts for recognizing the rights of all to enjoy privilege of marriage! May the great and shameful state of North Carolina crawl out of the age of darkness and do the same. Although I’m really glad to be in Provincetown.
Saturday morning, 9:00 a.m.
Beautiful blue-sky morning. Cool enough for slacks. Warm enough for shorts. We all dressed up and found our way to the shoreline where the nuptials were to take place. We ran into the minister waiting in the car with her husband, Hugh, for Marti and Susan. We crossed the dunes, barefooted, onto the wide expanse of beach, and saw a crowd gathered around a few coolers a hundred yards into the sun up the beach. As we approached, Marti and Susan came out of the crowd to meet up with Hugh. We blended in with the folks there as more trickled in. We bid our time taking shots of each other, grouping friends and families together.
Twenty minutes or so later, with cameras clicking and iPads rolling, we gathered around Marti and Susan and the minister in a semi-circle with waves and sky as backdrop.
The reverend had the copy on pages in a black three-ring notebook. The wind whipped up as she started and the pages went flying. She regrouped, started again, and again, the wind gusted. She tried to control the pages but the wind was winning out. Susan, never turning from Marti as they faced each other, reached over to the notebook and clamped down on the pages. It was one of the moments every wedding seems to provide that makes each unique in what doesn’t go exactly according to plan, often harmless, but enough to help all remember that day in later years.
I was in front, shooting photos and almost as soon as they began saying their vows, one of their Charlotte friends (and you know who you are Linda) appeared with her iPad directly behind them so that I could hardly get a clean shot without her in them until I went down on my knees and shot up. You’ll see Linda in the photos though, along with Kelly, who was tasked with capturing the moment on video – he is a documentary filmmaker for goodness sake.
When Susan said her vows, she spoke up clearly for all to hear, as is her nature. It’s the Ohio in her. Straightforward, to the point and clear.
Marti, on the other hand, whispered through a clutch of emotion and was no match for the wind and surf. I will have to read the transcript in order to find out what she said. I know that it came from the heart, filled with compassion and sincerity. But quiet. I am sure that Susan could hear it.
They exchanged rings, kisses and that was that. They turned to us and we all clapped. Champagne flew out of the coolers. Glasses raised in celebration. They thanked us for coming so far to be with them and we went right into shooting big group shots. Them with Susan’s sister, brother and nephews. Then with the Riley clan. Then, the Charlotteans, their brothers and sisters of different mothers.
After all of that, I found a moment where they were looking at each other like, “What’s next?” I went over, put my arms around them and walked them away from the crowd towards the surf. I congratulated them both and suggested taking a few shots of just them and the sand and ocean.
With that, the beach wedding was over. We drove into town to Victor’s for the reception. Food walked around on trays. Beer and wine poured out of taps and bottles. Their Charlotte friends all disappeared and reappeared singing Broadway songs with feather headgear and boas, marching past us all and forming a chorus line in the most open area of the bar. It was camp, funny and fun.
After that cooled down, I asked Marti if it was a good time to call Mom and Dad knowing that they were at home and wondering how things were going. I called, gave Marti the phone and left so she and Susan could talk outside the noise.
All was complete. It was midday. Champagne and beer was bringing on drowsiness. We all parted with plans to gather the families for burgers and hot dogs at our place.
Our little party came off well. That night’s sunset, which by the way, comes really really late, was magnificent. We all turned in early with a full day of travel on Sunday.
The event was over. Their new journey begins. We all have the memory of being together as one taking meaning in our own ways back to our lives in different cities.
We welcome Susan officially into our family although she’s been a sister for two decades. We love her and their union. They know that now and for evermore.
Bless them. Bless our wonderful family and friends. Bless us all. And once again, bless the state of Massachusetts and the other 19 citizenry of states of these not always united United States setting the path forward, holding to the core belief of our great country that we are a nation of individual rights and freedoms, of goodness and kindness, leadership and forward thinking, and of inclusion not exclusion.
Thanks for reading. Leave a comment for Marti and Susan if you choose.